Ryobi’s relatively new line of USB Lithium cordless power tools requires the use of a proprietary battery pack. The same is true for Milwaukee Red Lithium USB.
There are many 3.6V and 4V Max cordless power tools which have built-in and non-replaceable rechargeable batteries.
A lot of tool enthusiasts often complain in unison – why can’t such tools simply use bare Li-ion battery cells in popular sizes, such as 18650 and 21700?
My working theory is that proprietary batteries make it easier for brands to offer consistent performance and charging solutions, and convenient availability for replacement batteries. Proprietary batteries reduce the hassle for most consumers.
For example, not all 18650 Li-ion batteries provide the same level of performance, and it would be too easy for users to select cells mismatched to their tools’ power requirements.
Prompted by readers to start exploring Li-ion rechargeable flashlights, I bought a flashlight that works with 16340-sized batteries. Unsure of its power requirements, I asked the maker for recommendations. The battery they could personally recommend has been long-discontinued, and they could only point me to brands that other users have chimed in positively about. That helped a little, but not really as the battery brand in question has several battery sizes and styles in that size, each with difference performance profiles.
Selecting a charger was a separate hassle.
At the enthusiast level, one can usually figure things out with a bit of research and Q&A.
Tool brands can’t put that burden onto users; it’s in their interest and most users’ benefit for tool brands to offer customized cells. If you need another battery for Ryobi USB or Milwaukee RedLithium USB tools and accessories, you can find the Ryobi at Home Depot, and the Milwaukee at any store their USB tools are sold.
But, it seems there are other reasons on top of that.
In 2021, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued the following safety warning: Serious Injury or Death Can Occur if Lithium-Ion Battery Cells Are Separated from Battery Packs and Used to Power Devices.
It starts off with:
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is warning consumers not to buy or use loose 18650 lithium-ion battery cells. These cells are manufactured as industrial component parts of battery packs and are not intended for individual sale to consumers. However, they are being separated, rewrapped and sold as new consumer batteries, typically on the Internet.
The warning continues, with mention about how some loose 18650 battery cells are potentially hazardous when handled, transported, stored, charged, or used to power devices.
Rechargeable lithium cells without proper protection that are not installed in a device or as part of an integral battery (“loose cells”) are potentially hazardous to consumers when handled, transported, stored, charged, or used to power devices. Specifically, these battery cells may have exposed metal positive and negative terminals that can short-circuit when they come into contact with metal objects, such as keys or loose change in a pocket. Once shorted, loose cells can overheat and experience thermal runaway, igniting the cell’s internal materials and forcibly expelling burning contents, resulting in fires, explosions, serious injuries and even death.
In addition, thermal runaway can occur in loose cells if consumers use them in inappropriate chargers that allow for charging beyond the cell’s specifications. Unfortunately, a growing number of small consumer products, such as vaping devices, personal fans, headlamps, and some toys, are using loose 18650s as a power source. CPSC is working with e-commerce sites, including eBay, to remove listings selling these loose cells.
Do not use loose 18650 lithium ion cells that are separated from battery packs. They are often misused as a stand-alone consumer battery, but do not have protection circuits.
This isn’t a straightforward warning. It talks about consumer products that require the use of loose Li-ion cells, but also of battery cells of ambiguous origins.
These cells are manufactured as industrial component parts of battery packs and are not intended for individual sale to consumers. However, they are being separated, rewrapped and sold as new consumer batteries.
Are they talking about 18650, 21700, and other types of Li-ion batteries in general, or batteries parted out from battery packs for resale?
The US CPSC warning points to their general battery guidelines, which looks to have been published a couple of years ago, seemingly following the rash of self-balancing hoverboard fires.
Components and battery-powered products comply with applicable voluntary standards;
New components and products that are not yet subject to voluntary standards be designed considering the best practices from similar voluntary standards;
Battery-powered products be designed with a system approach addressing thermal protection, charge and discharge protection , and use in product, including:
- Cells suitable for intended loads and conditions and manufactured with good quality control
- Battery packs with proper Battery Management Systems, including charge control, short-circuit protection and cell balancing
- Chargers that comply with applicable voluntary standards and are suitable for product
- End-product systems (including cells, batteries, chargers, and product) are tested together for safe function and appropriate conditions.
I haven’t been able to navigate OSHA or UL guidelines, but I would bet they have similar requirements.
I understand that OSHA-approval for jobsite use requires that tools and products be certified by UL or another nationally recognized testing laboratory (NRTL). Is that possible if rechargeable Li-ion batteries can be used other than those a tool is kitted with?
Is there any user-replaceable bare-cell device that is UL listed, or otherwise NRTL-certifed?
Some flashlight makers utilize replaceable rechargeable Li-ion cells that feature built-in USB charging ports. Often, I have found, it’s difficult to source comparable bare cells; most don’t make it easy to select replacement cells other than their own.
It would be fantastic if you could roll up to a project with a flashlight, digital level, heated accessory, cordless screwdriver, and other such devices powered by customized (and protected) 18650-sized Li-ion cells, from all different brands that can work with the same off-the-shelf protected cells.
But that’s not happening.
I thought this because of “it’s best for the brand and majority of everyday users” considerations, but it seems there are governing body and perhaps UL or test lab guidelines that must also be navigated.
Let me ask you a question. What would you do if you were a tool brand?
Some of you will say “I’d let them use whatever battery they want.” Okay – how do you advise a first-time user about which battery and charging options are available?
It’s a messy debate. I can see both sides of the coin.
The question to ask is – what needs to happen before 18650 and other Li-ion battery sizes are treated in the same manner as AA or AAA primary or rechargeable cells (such as NiMH)?
Until that happens, there are two choices – built-in non-replaceable batteries, or proprietary battery packs.
The enthusiast flashlight industry has moved towards rechargeable Li-ion batteries, but how many are UL-listed? How many products that use bare 18650 cells (protected or not) are sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, or Walmart?
The FAA keeps a running list of lithium battery incidents involving smoke, fire and/or explosions at airports or on aircraft.
The primary mitigation is to submerge the battery in water.
Just wondering when the FAA will require removing the battery from your pacemaker before boarding the plane because it might catch fire!!
Naw. It’s already surrounded by “water”. Hmmm.
It seems like almost every week our local news radio reports on a house or apartment fire related to Lithium-Ion batteries. Yesterday’s story was about one an unlicensed day care center in a residence leaving several children injured – one in critical condition. Some past incidents have been even more serious – resulting in multiple deaths. Most seem to be related to e-bikes not tools or flashlights – but one has to wonder what new regulatory action will be taken if the trend continues.
A lot of those cheap overseas items come with super sketchy recycled batteries that may have faults. No wonder they have issues.
FDNY keeps track of lithium related fires. Many are due to e-bikes or scooters it seems. There’s a mini ecosystem in NYC for tenants of NYCHA buildings for illicit battery recharging, as tenants are not metered for electricity. People have died in these fires.
The only way I see broader adoption of loose lithium cells is if they are either self extinguishing, or a specific chemistry less prone to thermal runaway.
I got a couple sofirn lights last year that use 18650 but i quickly realized that it was a research rabbit hole so I just checked the box to get flashlight plus batteries and charger that the manufacturer had selected. For me this is no better than the situation with olight using customized cells. It was still way cheaper than my milwaukee redlithium usb stuff.
If the batteries fail I’ll probably try to find the exact same spec product, but I’ll have to learn which things matter. Choosing batteries is definitely not the part of life I want to invest my time on. Way more fun to try to figure out the arcane click patterns that let you configure the open source anduril flashlight UI!
I love a Sofirn C8F that I finally finished modifying to use 6x SST-20 4000k 95cri LEDs and a Ledil Anna series optic.
I had not considered that for an “outsider” researching batteries would be a chore.
For 18650 lights, I rather like the Samsung 30Q though I haven’t looked to see if there is a better option out these days. :^D
***They*** warning continues, with mention about how some loose 18650 battery cells are…
Thank you, *fixed*!
To make money, NO OTHER REASON. Same reason why Apple puts an identification chip into their chargers and locks down everything, from their appstore to their ring tones.
I examined dozens of premium battery packs, they all use Samsung sells, all use same or similar controllers, the only major difference is the hookup, that’s all. If this doesn’t say “so you only buy from us” then I don’t know what does. Trying to spin it any other way sounds dishonest and plain stupid!
Not only do they get to sell you the tool and the battery, they also lock you into their “system”. If cells were universal then what guarantees the manufacturer that you keep coming back for their tools?
It would be great for the consumer if you could buy a 18v lithium battery and it would work in your Milwaukee drill, Bosch Jigsaw, Dewalt sander, etc. But it would be far worse for the manufacturers’ bottom line. More competition, better, cheaper products for consumers.
I know there have been many numerous times where I looked at a tool and said “That Dewalt product is better than the Milwaukee offering, but I have a bunch of Milwaukee batteries so I’m kinda stuck using those (Or buying into a whole other ecosystem). How many different types of batteries and chargers do you want to buy and carry around with you?
Somehow standardization occurred with AA, AAA, C, D… It could be done with lithium cells.
Standardization did happen with those cells… But the gulf between the good and bad batteries is still quite wide. For devices where the performance doesn’t really matter like a remote control that gulf is fine. For cases where the device is coming up against the limits of the battery it does. I knew a diver who relied on a lot of AA batteries for critical safety lights, and he had some choice words for a lot of crappy battery manufacturers.
That’s not to say the impetus here isn’t purely around profit, that’s the only thing any corporation exists to do. But there are also secondary engineering reasons for certain things. 18v batteries (and charge control circuitry) are unfortunately simply not created equally, as seen by all the cheap garbage knockoffs you can buy that fail early or dangerously over-heat.
It’d be good if an option for future OEM battery pack systems would include a pack version that’s perhaps more costly but repairable, especially after the product line becomes extinct.
While it would be cool to see… I doubt any significant fraction of the consumer base would buy such a thing.
I suspect that most individual buyers don’t consider what the breakeven point is when they buy a new tool or battery. Heck, I’ve bought most of what’s in my shop based on the fun I get out of its hobby use – not on some dollars and cents breakeven analysis. I might try to coax an old tool/battery to last a bit longer before it gives up the ghost – but I don’t cry when it is time to replace it.
In our businesses – when we bought an oddball tool – we sought to recoup its cost immediately on the job for which it was bought. For regular use (non capital) tools (including batteries) we sought to breakeven in six months to a year. For more expensive tools and machinery – we’d put them on a depreciation schedule – but certainly did not have expectations that tools would last forever. When the switch from NiCad/NiMh to LiIon – there was not many tears shed over the need to replace tools that were fully paid for many times over. Our experience with servicing many cordless tools was also different from the past corded tools. In many cases post-warranty servicing of cordless tools did not make sense to us based on cost and features – compared to buying new.
So, my take is that battery pack repair – might appeal to some DIY’ers and individual users – but probably not to businesses.
Right to Repair laws may help a lot in this regard. They are starting to gain traction. At the end of December New York State passed the first right to repair law in the USA, that apparently covers consumer electronics, which seems the closest springboard to tool batteries. The basic idea is to prevent manufacturers from designing and doing tricks to prevent the consumer from doing reasonable repairs on what they buy. Of course that will be a cat and mouse game of the manufacturers gaming the products to stay out of the scope of the specifics of the law, and then the legislators revising the wording to catch up.
Something like 16 other like minded states have Right to Repair laws under consideration.
The EU passed a EU wide Right to Repair law a couple of years back. It apparently didn’t cover consumer electronic, instead focusing on big ticket items like major appliances. However, there is a lot of political support to extend it further in scope. EU is important to us because it’s a consumer market roughly the same size as North America’s population, so manufactures will have less excuses to say they can’t feasibly design to Right to Repair, because the European version of the battery/tool has already been a proven pathfinder.
Right-to-Repair Laws may help – but we will need to do a wholesale reversal of our mindset about repair or replace decisions. When I was a teenager, television sets had started to become common and so was the tube tester at the local drugstore and the TV repairman that came to your home. Today, not so old TVs that don’t work so well – just end up in the dump. One more thing for us and our descendants to not only worry about – but hopefully change for the better.
Reply to latest by Fred. I would say the push for Right to Repair laws is partially due to at least some part of the population having a change in mind set. In the EU debate, a lot of the rationale is environmental, avoid going to the land fill. Objectively and non-politically I can say many environmentalists in the USA share ideas with their counterparts in the EU.
“Standardization” did occur with Lithium cells, thats what the 18650, 20700 references are about. The difference here is current and capacity. If you don’t believe that, go stand in a river with a bag of charged cells. Start with the AAA, work your way up to an 18650, shorting them out with a jumper lead*. You’ll see what I mean after a bit.
*This is a facetious comment. In no way am I suggesting you actually try this experiment. If you do, it’s at your own risk. I mean no harm to the fish in the river.
I know your suggested proof test is facetious, but keep in mind that the ‘standardization’ of which you speak is technically only a mechanical standardization (18650 = 18mm x 65mm , 21700 = 21mm x 70mm, etc.)…. again, no standardization of chemistry, ratings, etc.
Even the AA amd AAA battery “standards”, though ubiquitously *expected* to be a given voltage (despite not indicating a chemistry and capacity ratings) are not *actually* standard. You can find many examples of AA form factor lithium-based primary battery cells, for example, have a nominal 3.6V+ rating, for specific applications… and an not-surprising number of reviews on sites like Amazon regarding how “these destroyed my device” or “these didn’t even work nearly as well as my Alkalines or Eneloops”, etc.
There’s certainly some pricing issues, especially with the single 18650 plastic wrapped ones but there’s a flipside. The manufacturer knows exactly which battery they are dealing with spec wise. Most consumers are not going to read anything to figure things out. If said device requires an 18650 with protection and an amp draw of at least 15 amps most people are just going to pop whatever they have on hand into because it fits and a battery is a battery. The number of phone calls to tech support because something doesn’t work because of an incorrect battery goes away, not to mention the amount of lawsuits because of user error causing fires etc. If you’ve never worked in a customer service role you can never understand the depths of user stupidity and confidence that they are not wrong.
You’re in charge of a major tool brand. What would you do differently?
Since you asked…
I would invite all cordless tool brands to a meeting. There, I would pitch adopting a common standard. Those who do not join the standard, will soon be crushed by the marketplace. If team Red, Teal, Blue, Green, and everybody else joins together – team Yellow is destroyed. Pick any colors you want. If you think this cannot happen, well it already did. Sony Betamax vs. VHS. Sony had the superior format. The rest of the industry agreed on a competing (inferior) VHS format. And they won. Edison vs. Tesla – DC vs AC. 120 volts. Unleaded gasoline. Having the gas pedal on the right. Driving on the same side of the road. The list goes on and on and on. So why would a major tool brand do this? The first major to do this, gets to destroy their major competitor, reap huge PR benefits by solving a major industry problem, and create additional markets for their power sources, i.e increased sales.
That’s what I would do.
But I also think that most CEOs can be successfully replaced by an Excel spreadsheet. Profit up – bonus all around. Profit down – layoff 10%. Save a lot of money by having a spreadsheet run the company. But spreadsheets don’t establish new standards.
“NO OTHER REASON” simply isn’t true.
There’s lots of differences in capacity, build quality, protection circuitry and discharge rates between 18650-sized batteries. Getting a mismatch might just result in poor performance – or it might result in something catastrophic.
You certainly could build tools compatible with any 18650-sized cell and put the onus on consumers to select the right ones. I’m not debating that. That happens now with many flashlights.
However, the “enthusiast” flashlight market has a steep learning curve. You get the wrong discharge rate and your fancy flashlight might not even be able to access it’s highest brightness settings. You put an unprotected cell in and you might destroy it, burn yourself or start a fire. You get the wrong charger and you can ruin an expensive battery in a hurry.
On the other hand, if you select an appropriate cell you can get truly impressive results for very reasonable prices – I appreciate the attraction.
BUT… there’s a reason those flashlights aren’t sold in-store at Home Depot. Tools designed in the same way won’t be either.
Completely wrong. Those are only the differences that are obvious. Samsung, LG, etc. all make different specifications of cells for given standard sizes. The anode and cathode will have different surface areas, the electrolyte can be different, the insulation, etc.
All these amount to different real world performance characteristics. There’s always a compromise. The capacities, rated currents, and cost are all determined by the sum of the parts. Lithium isn’t just lithium, there’s literally dozens of lithium cell chemistry variations that are utilized regularly.
I’m a flashlight enthusiast. Yes, there are a lot of options out there but you don’t need to over think it. High drain cells are only useful for hot rod lights (and even then only for tens of seconds of peak performance). Just determine if your light requires a flat top or button top, and then if it has LVP or not (i.e. if you can use an unprotected battery or need a protection circuit). Then get a middle of the road cell from a name brand, e.g. Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, etc. You won’t go wrong with that strategy.
To your bigger question, I think allowing any ol battery would be a huge headache for tool manufacturers. It would introduce a gigantic variable that would allow consumers entirely new ways to screw things up. With the way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised to see govt restrictions on the sale of loose cells.
Many that follow Stuart’s reviews and articles, are so much more tech savvy when it comes to batteries than the average person on the street.
“Then get a middle of the road cell from a name brand, e.g. Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, etc. You won’t go wrong with that strategy.”…this comment. You say a “middle” of the road battery like Panasonic, Samsung and Sony. To the average person, those names sound like top of the line premium.
I am a flashlight enthusiast, in that I have many and like collecting them. But on the battery side, I know very little. I recently bought a Noctigon Emisar D4V2. It came with no battery, but…”Works with flat top, high drain, unprotected battery only, like Samsung 30Q”…was the recommendation on the website.
I was going to get 4 for free shipping but then got only 2, and also 1 Samsung 25R 2500mAh 20A & Samsung 20S 18650 2000mAh 30A…with all the flashlights I have, I figure I might need these.
I know the bare essentials of batteries, yet probably know more than most common folks on the street.
So to Stuart’s point, and 1 thing I do know about batteries, the choice of no name, unheard of batteries coming out of the Asian markets, the chances of tool problems, fires, and even explosions would probably go up 10x or more.
For every 1 person that knows their batteries, how many are there that don’t, but see so many cheapy no name brands and buy them.
Regardless I still hate the situation. I use made in Japan Orbtronic 18650 cells in my flashlights and I wish I could just pop one of those suckers in and out of the myriad of devices that run of 18650 3.7v 3500mah or similar power requirement devices. Because I can’t easily do that, I avoid devices that require a proprietary battery, especially ones where when the battery can hardly hold a charge and the whole device has to be thrown away unless you tear it apart and solder in a new battery or battery pack. If Zebralight made flashlights that run off Milwaukee usb batteries or if Milwaukee made lights that could compare to Zebralight in all areas including brightness/run time, beam pattern, color temperature, and that beautiful user interface that lets me customize my lighting outputs and modes and lets me access them so easily and efficiently then I might consider a change.
You may already know this but Orbtronic doesn’t manufacture the cells…they just rewrap them (with or without protection). Since Sony sold their battery biz to Murata there are very few (perhaps zero) lithium-ion cells made in Japan anymore – they built a factory in China and trimmed down their catalog some years back. Still great cells from them. That said, most of the Sony/Murata li-ion cells have at this point been slightly surpassed by those from other companies (Samsung and Molicell being standouts in this niche of the market with LG doing a little lately too). Panasonic did similar with most of their cells (and not all eneloop cells are made in Japan anymore, either). The poularity of electric vehicles really shook up the entire cell manufacturing industry in terms of location and supply chains, and that will continue for the foreseeable future.
I’m aware but despite the rewrap they are excellent cells. Lots of battery companies do this.
Oh, yeah, rewrapping is fine. It’s the only way you will ever get protected cells or button tops. Vapcell, Keeppower, EVVA, etc all are good trustworthy dependable suppliers, usually Shocklii and Lishen as well. They don’t always tell you what cell they are using or it may have to change down the line, but they’re usually good. The host of other suppliers in the world can be iffy or outright dishonest, to say nothing of the fakes and those with counterfeit wrappers, filled with aaa cells or…sand.
To me, the issue comes alive when, down the road, batteries start to die. Whether the cells are sealed in a proprietary pack or a tool, they’re sealed in and a royal pain to deal with then they die.
Granted, “industrial” users can wear out the tool in a similar time span to battery life, then they can replace the whole mess. For less-often used equipment, the battery is the weak spot in the lifespan.
I wish it was simpler for those of us who’d prefer to fix something rather than just replace it. And even replacing a battery pack has diminishing options, too, due to a lack of OEM replacements and low-quality knock-off junk replacements.
For me, corded tools become a better option on a lot of equipment.
Well… I hate to say it, but this is one case where there IS actually a bit more to it than that, and not just specifically / entirely a cash grab. As an EE who has worked with quite a few battery-based designs, I feel like I have to chime in. Here are just some key factors that make this “technically” difficult:
1. Battery form factors (such as 18650 and 21700, etc) are merely a mechanical form-factor… and do not indicate actual battery chemistry, performance characteristics, etc. Certain form factors (such as “AA” and “AAA”) are quite ubiquitous, and the market has come to expect certain things as standard (such as voltage range, etc.), even though those are not absolutely consistent between even primary cells and rechargeable cells, for example. With Lithium-derivative cells, however, there is no such “standard” expectation and they are not often clearly labelled in such a way as to indicate what they specifically are (without digging into technical datasheets)… and there are MANY different chemistries. This is very important, however, when you consider the next point(s).
2. Different chemistries of batteries have DRASTICALLY different performance characteristics, charging characteristics, discharging characteristics… all of which weigh into both performance (and more importantly, in many cases, SAFETY) considerations. The charger needs to support the battery chemistry (at a bare minimum), and even if supported, will often require manual configuration of parameters…. which may not be definitively known without deeper investigation (datasheets, again). Failure to abide by these parameters can lead to a VERY unsafe situation (as many Lithium-based chemistries can be quite volatile).
3. Different battery chemistries require different “protections” (Over-current, Over-charge, Over-discharge, etc.); these are often engineered into the battery pack, the physical device, or even split between both, which uses the batteries. This is why having a physical adapter between one manufacturer’s battery to another (example: Milwaukee M18 to Ryobi One+) is not all that you would need; there need to be electronics involved, as the M18 doesn’t include the same necessary protections (as they are built in to charger and the devices themselves) as the Ryobi (which has more protections built into the battery). Same reason it is not always a good idea to use an adapter to have a battery pack designed for one device to attach it to something completely different (example: M18 battery in a Power Wheels child’s play car). The battery, without additional protections, etc., will over-discharge if you are not very careful, and potentially be ruined…or worse, lead to another potentially unsafe situation. There are individual cells available (such as an 18650 with built in “protection”), but again, there is no standardization in the LEVEL or type of protection in these cells.. .and even determining if a cell has any protection at all can be unclear unless specifically spelled out.
4. As a result of the last points, implementing a “lowest common denominator” of support for 18650 cells, as an example, would be very difficult (though not impossible); though to be done in a safe manner, would almost definitely yield sub-par performance — for example, batteries only charging at a ridiculously low rate, because they can’t know the performance characteristics, without even getting into chemistry.. or tool being unable to perform to a level of expectation because it needs to regulate current draw to potentially avoid over-current conditions, etc.
Sorry for the wall of text – but I felt it had to be said. I would *LOVE* it if there were some absolute standardization to such things, so that products actually could be made in such a manner… but unless things were to change with enforceable and/or regulated standards, etc., I really think it is more or less a pipe dream for this to become mainstream.
These are all really important points. Thanks for spelling all this out.
Thanks for the explanation!
I can’t help but think that these issues could be overcome without too much trouble. USB-C Power Delivery requires some communication between device and charger, so the charger can provide the right amount of power. Why couldn’t chargers for tool batteries do the same? The battery could tell the charger what kind of chemistry it uses, what kind of protection it needs, how much charging power it can handle, etc.
And I know there are many lithium battery chemistries, but don’t tool batteries all use the same chemistry?
I know for some manufacturers, they already do something like this with their new batteries. The charger will measure the impedance of the pack, and partially base its charge rate on that measurement. For example, a 12 ah Flexvolt or M18 can handle more current input than an old 1.5 ah pack from either manufacturer.
Throw enough time and money at engineers, and they can solve just about anything, so what you described is perfectly feasible. In fact, I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from design engineer colleagues on a feature or technology that would be amazing for the user or consumer, but it had to be cut because of cost to develop. It turns out that accountants generally don’t like to decrease product margins for something that’s not required (accountant speak for bare minimum).
Not only costs and time involved… but you’re removing the element of ‘standardization’ across platforms, which is what so many people are harping about. The “why can’t I just use regular 18650 batteries??” argument.
What you describe is what manufacturers actually do, and sometimes temper based on cost / profit analysis… and as an engineer, whether it is batteries or anything else, that is a constant issue, unfortunately.
This is true – it certainly COULD be done, and somewhat standardized… But even USB-PD, which you used for an example, only serves to negotiate capabilities of the power source (device supplying power) and the power sink (device consuming power); the burden is on the engineer to design the actual “power” element (be it a battery, batteries in a given configuration, or the output of a power conversion / regulation circuit) accordingly, keeping those things in consideration. Putting that burden of consideration on the consumer would be a massive liability and potential safety hazard.
This is very similar to the way an EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment), commonly mis-referred to as a ‘charger’, works. The electric vehicle and the EVSE determine via negotiation how much power is available from the power source (AC mains, typically) vs how much power the vehicle is capable of consuming (very different, depending upon vehicle) and then safely supplies power. The actual “charger” which knows the vehicle’s battery chemistry, etc, etc, is in the vehicle…. Which has the two-fold benefit of the vehicle knowing best how to charge itself, and the EVSE operating within standardized electric code for branch circuits on a standard electrical system, etc., so you *shouldn’t* pop a breaker. Doesn’t mean you can’t damage a house’s wiring (improper household wiring, improperly sized breaker, overloaded circuit, etc), but if standards are followed, all should be good.
If this were done as you suggest at the battery level, and actually followed by manufacturing, you certainly could standardize pretty well… the caveat being that just DOING that would add design complexity (the circuit that would need to exist on the battery itself to adhere to the standard, the interface for it within the product, etc) which would all add to the bottom line of product development… this versus the battery being, more-or-less, a commodity from the design engineering standpoint. Considering the global trend of “race to the bottom to have the lowest possible competitive price while still making money”… unfortunately, not very likely =( But we can dream, right?
You are looking at it from the charging side, what about what the tool requires? We as a society are used to an item needing AA, AAA or C cells as an example. And any brand Alkaline will work. I bought a Samsung 25R, a Samsung 30Q & a Samsung 20S…all are 18650 but have different amperage, different mAh reserve and also drain at different rates. These are 3 that I bought but saw there were others, that also have different specs.
Add to all this that any product you have and needs AA’s, the ones you buy will fit. I forget which flashlight, but one in particular brand stated that the 18650 has to be 69 mm; 71-73 mm would not fit…or something to that effect.
To me, that is a neophyte when talking Lithium battery options, and yourself, being that you are on this website; we probably have a better understanding than many common everyday people.
I can see lots of problems of problems if Lithium’s did not come in the packs and people could put what they want.
As the post pointed out, safety with Li-Ion cells is a real concern and therefore liability is a huge concern for manufacturers. The same sort of safety concerns predate the use of Li-Ion cells and have resulted in limitations on consumer devices.
No doubt it’salso about money because, insofar as liability is a financial risk to a manufacturer/distributor/marketer/retailer, that’s a money issue that keeps a desirable feature like interchangeable Li-Ion standard size cells from consumers. I don’t believe there are any loose Li-Ion cells like 18650 sold in mainstream retail stores like Home Depot/Lowes/Target/Wal-Mart/etc…, likely for liability and safety reasons. (yes, you may be able to find them on their websites, particularly if they allow third party sellers) If selling proprietary replacement batteries is a desirable revenue stream, then manufacturers aren’t going to leave that money on the table. Last, while I doubt you could get a reputable manufacturer to ever admit it they do it, planned obsolescence to capture future sales seems to be a real thing.
Duracell, many years ago. announced a program to produce a variety of packaged standard rechargeable battery packs that manufacturers could design their products around. For example, if a design needed a 12v, 40 wh battery, the manufacturer could choose an existing duracell battery pack design and build around it, much like designing around common battery cells. The battery would be a duracell product. I’m not aware that the program went anywhere. As I recall, Duracell’s plan was aimed at laptop computer battery packs and that market was moving very fast.
Sure, we could clamor for government to regulate the marketplace and require interchangeable battery standards. Europe has done something analagous with the USB-C requirement for electronic device charging. I’m not convinced that’s the best way, but it is one path to getting a common standard.
Liability is definitely a major concern for these manufacturers! The battery pack energy paired with the higher injury risk from tools compared to electronics is one of the major drivers behind keeping proprietary battery pack designs.
Although it’s not a daily occurrence, tool companies will often be added into a lawsuit or sued directly for something that a user did that caused property damage or injury. Why would they want to increase their legal risk if they don’t have to?
Some (heavily simplified) examples of arguments from lawsuits are “well because DeWalt didn’t test out this specific use case and didn’t explicitly tell the user they shouldn’t do that, they are at fault for the user injuring themselves”, or “Milwaukee put an indicator light on their crimper that tells the user that they made a good crimp, so despite using the incorrect crimp size and incorrect material, it’s Milwaukee’s fault that the electrical connection failed” These arguments don’t always succeed, but they do draw out the lawsuit and increase the cost for parties involved.
With that being said, I do think that standardizing battery interfaces for power tools would overall be good for the consumer. It’s my opinion that this would drive battery costs down, and help increase innovation in that space. The exact details of the design should be formed in conjunction by regulatory commissions and the major tool manufacturers, not one or the other. After all, what would the point of a standard interface be if if the design details are kept secret by the manufacturers?
The protection devices physically change the sizes of 21700 and 18600 cells, so that introduces a little more mud in the water as some devices (especially chargers) are very tight and won’t accept every cell.
Yep. I have a flashlight that will not accept “protected” 18650 as that protection adds about 4mm of length.
Never mind that generally “protected” cells can’t push the high current that the light wants.
So then here’s my question: I bought an off-brand replacement battery for my Dyson vacuum, but despite checking the specs it still didn’t physically fit into the Vac. So rather than chuck it, I dismantled the pack and now have 8 of the 18650 cells sitting in a drawer. Can someone tell me DEFINITIVELY if they’re Useless? Hazardous? I’d hate to have to dump them without being certain…
General info: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/used-lithium-ion-batteries
You can find a local recycling center at https://search.earth911.com/?what=Lithium-ion+Batteries .
Probably best that it didn’t fit because asking 18650 to do that load is…well, that’s why the Dyson batteries don’t last very long. We have one at the office that gets abused by people running it in “max” all the time…the heat generated is rather incredible.
I’ve disassembled about seven Dyson packs now, and the cells they use are just all over the board, and frankly none of them are as good as they could be using, especially for the price they ask. The ones with 18650 in them are old. They moved to 20700 for awhile and I think may still be using those (they are a poorer performing early cell from Molicell….Molicell makes other excellent cells, however). I heard that they may have finally opted for good 21700 cells but I won’t know until we need another one probably later this year.
The Dyson packs (all but one of them) have been the biggest pain in the rear to tear down out of all the packs I’ve done from laptops and other stuff…basically have required new wraps on all the cells.
The cells you have from your knockoff are certainly usable. The knockoff packs generally are crap and many are unsafe because thus far the companies making those don’t seem to understand the high drain circuits and cell choices for something as powerful as a vacuum. I’m saying that because there’s no standard choice of cells in those knockoffs. You could have a high drain low capacity cell or something with more capacity but higher resistance that may not be suitable for high drain applications (without excessive thermal controls, etc). They’re likely fine for most flashlights although the resistance and voltage sag characteristics may not be ideal for lights.
You might be able to find your cell on secondlifestorage.com to identify what you have (some info may be discernable on the wrappers, secret decoder ring not required). batterybro.com may also be helpful if it’s a cell from the major manufacturers.
If you decide to get rid of them, see if you can safely drain them, then cover the terminals and give them to Best Buy or Battery Junction or whoever will recycle them in your area. Or maybe give them to someone who can use them. Just be sure the wraps are in good condition (heat shrink wraps can be had for like $1.00/dozen) and there are no significant dents anywhere. Spot weld nibs can be carefully removed and smoothed.
I just love hearing about “vapers” who put bare, high discharge capable, lithium cells in their pockets.
Then they’re REALLY SURPRISED when their pants catch fire because the cell was shorted by whatever is in their pockets.
Granted, even a basic AA and a paperclip is kind of dangerous but 20-40A capable lithium cells take that to another level.
The vaping device market is instructive. There have been multiple instances of people injured by vaping devices because of Li-Ion overheating, explosions, etc. From what little I know about vaping products, the better-known and marketed branded products all have non-replaceable batteries and the products using consumer replaceable cells are largely unknown import brands sold through a variety of middlemen that obfuscates the liability for any damages from their design problems.
“From what little I know about vaping products, the better-known and marketed branded products all have non-replaceable batteries and the products using consumer replaceable cells are largely unknown import brands sold through a variety of middlemen that obfuscates the liability for any damages from their design problems.
Not to be ugly, but you don’t know much and you shouldn’t spread misinformation about batteries given what little knowledge you have about them. Nothing in your quote is even remotely close to being accurate.
At usps we banned lithium batteries from the mail for some time. If you ship them you have to have a special tag. They are very dangerous— watch what happen to this UPS flight-
Ryobi. 20 year old tool. Brand new tool. Same battery.
Problem is Ryobi batteries are garbage. They burn out way faster than other brands, so while the physical connection might be consistent, you’re going through way more cells.
Just to clear it up a bit…some wisdom from the vaping world where these batteries first showed up for me.
I believe the CSPC warning is referring to cheap 18650 unbranded cells that were flooding the market for a while. You may have read an article in the past about eCigs exploding. This was the cause. The super cheap non-consumer grade batteries lack and sort of protection and will overheat if shorted. They can be easily identified by the fact that they have two flat ends. A consumer grade 18650 will cost about 3-4x as much (~$12-15 each) and be clearly printed with current ratings. They will have a “button top” on the cathode which contains a overcurrent protection device.
You should never sub an unprotected battery in a device where you can exchange the cells as if the loose cell is shorted, it may explode. The unprotected cells are made specifically to be used in permanent casings such as a removable laptop battery brick where they are generally soldered in place and protected from shorting.
Hopefully that clears it up a bit.
“They can be easily identified by the fact that they have two flat ends”… This is absolutely incorrect and you should not be spreading this information around.
Button top and Flat top are not indicators of the battery characteristics/performance. They are just two different forms the batteries are offered in. I have both button and flat top batteries that are from the same manufacturer with identical model numbers, you have to know your device and that is what determines if you buy button or flat… The problem arises when we buy cheap/knockoff/fraudulent/rewrapped/fake cells.
Google “illumn batteries”… they are the only place I will buy cells from.
“The unprotected cells are made specifically to be used in permanent casings such as a removable laptop battery brick where they are generally soldered in place and protected from shorting.
Again, this is absolutely incorrect information. In fact, it’s a flat-out lie. I’m not trying to be down on you, but you need to go do some more research. I use unprotected cells every day in multiple devices, safely.
This type of misinformation right here is the reason they don’t sell tools that will take loose cells.
I agree completely. The average consumer is extremely uneducated in battery chemistry, and they obviously know that. The “it fits, so it must work” mentality is the school of thought most buyers subscribe to which is the wrong idea with lithium battery chemistries. There’s too many different cell specifications for standard sizes. At least casing it to make it proprietary ensures some level of meeting minimum specs and quality. It doesn’t mean knockoffs won’t be far behind but people looking to save a buck will always be out there.
A question for Stuart. The common belief is that proprietary batteries is all about a cash grab and also locking you into their system, which I believe to be true to a certain extent.
In Europe, they have the CAS system I know you are familiar with, as well as systems with proprietary batteries.
Do you have any connections you could ask, or have access to sales stats?
Have sales changed for Metabo since the inception, and just recently joined Fein. Any kind of feedback would be good and this could give an indication on how important proprietary batteries are.
Just wanted to add, as much as proprietary batteries can lock customers in, it can also lock out any who have already started with another brand.
As a long-time user of 18650/16340/21700 etc. for various uses (RC cars, flashlights, vape, laser pointers, etc) I can tell you that it is not cut and dry and you can’t just hand over unprotected Li-Ion cells to the average person. There is a lot of knowledge that has to be obtained before jumping in. Safe storage, charge rates, discharge rates, etc., and we haven’t even gotten into fake/fraudulent cells/rewrapped cheap cells/and the counterfeit cells that run rampant in the marketplace. (forgot to add the vastly different chargers, some that are very unsafe!)
Would I want tools that take my own 18650s, yes sir, please!!! But it comes down to the average person and the lack of knowledge. Maybe one day… there is always hope, right?
I have hesitated a long time before jumping in. Actually, I think the proprietary stuff is total BS. The answer is quite simple, and it is already in place. Temperature. You just monitor the charge or discharge temperature. And the thermocouple is already in place, as the third conductor of the battery pack. If the pack gets too hot, you reduce the charge rate. If it gets too hot during discharge, shut down the device and flash a warning light. That’s all that is required.