Portable lithium batteries or power banks as they are now more commonly known have become the 'must have' promotional tech gadget over the last two years. The global market for such gadgets is forecast to grow to $18 billion by 2020! These items while delivering good branding and an increasingly affordable price do bring with them their own dangers however. Power banks when made poorly or when low grade batteries have been used are a fire and public health risk, this risk has led the airlines to designate them 'Dangerous goods' and imposed a total ban on any passenger aircraft transporting them.
Power banks are subject to the same compliance requirements as many other electrical items and need CE, Reach and Rohs. They also need battery reports to allow them onto cargo aircraft and DG handling rules must be followed. Despite these criteria many cheap and low quality / cost models are finding there way into our market even though they meet the minimum legal requirements, this has lead to some damaging publicity for those brands which choose badly. Eg EE, Samsung and many other companies below the national radar who once they are sold a poor batch of power banks, experience an issue and then subsequently ban them for their promotional marketing tool kit !
This issue needs addressing and the chaotic market given some clear quality levels to allow business and consumers to make an informed choice on what power bank they buy.
This quality mark looks to be coming from the world renowned American testing facility ' United Laboratoroes' (UL) has been testing and creating standard around the globe for over 120 years ! This company has now used its vast experience in engineering and testing to make a specific testing accreditation for power banks which is UL 2056. This certification now means that manufacturers and importers can demonstrate that their power banks meet the stringent testing to put marketeer's minds and brands at ease.
According to Alex Liang, UL Principal Engineer, with a glut of power banks in the market, price competition becomes a norm, which results in manufacturers cutting corners, compromising product quality. Common issues include sub-standard raw materials, omission of certain raw materials, cost cutting, use of recycled materials, etc.
UL 2056 covers products including mains power or portable USB chargers. The output of the devices must be a safe voltage and the instant high-energy must also be within the safety limits.
Key tests for power banks include: electrical testing in relation to overcharge, short circuit, etc.; mechanical testing for drops and crashes when in use; verification testing of the marked input/output current and marked capacity; testing of power overload of output ports as well as testing of flammability of integral PV cells (where applicable).
To comply with UL 2056, specific requirements include:
Power banks will remain in high demand over the coming 18 months or until gadget manufacturers enhance the technology in their built in batteries or until the next technology breakthrough takes consumers by storm - this is expected to be wireless charging ...watch this space. Until then our industry must look more at the quality and compliance of what they are selling and less at the profit and how cheap power banks can be bought and sold for if we are to safeguard both consumer and brand health...