Lithium-ion battery fires

Lithium-ion Battery Fires An Overview

The Lithium-ion battery was invented in 1982. These batteries are completely different from the standard lithium battery. Lithium batteries are the standard non-rechargeable batteries and are very safe. Lithium-ion batteries, however, are rechargeable and this is where the problems come from. Lithium-ion battery fires are not common but the odds can be increased by the wrong practices. These batteries are not unsafe as such but they certainly have their risks.

As these batteries are rechargeable they store lots of energy relative to their size. As they are so small, they are very accessible and therefore are used for all different rechargeable products of all different shapes and sizes.

As the technology has developed for these Lithium-ion batteries, they have been able to hold more and more energy relative to their size, and this is what has made them more dangerous as time has progressed. In the modern household, they can be seen everywhere from our phones, watches, laptops, earphones and even more recently popular e-bikes and e-scooters which have been shown to be the most dangerous in the latest statistics. There have been 102 fires associated with e-bikes and scooters so far in 2023. This then forecasts to 338 for the whole year. This is a massive increase from the 227 fires caused by electrical scooters and bikes in 2022.

Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere but how are they dangerous and what causes them to start fires? Most of the time Lithium-ion batteries are safe and will never start a fire with safe and sensible usage, but when they are used with little care, this is when they can be a danger.

Overcharging

One of the causes of the Lithium-ion battery actually setting on fire is when the battery is overcharged. This is when the battery is constantly being charged over its optimal charge window and even still past 100%. The biggest culprit for this is people such as phone users who leave their phones charging overnight, every night. This then eventually over time wears the battery out until just one time it could explode and burst into flames.

This is also a growing problem with e-bikes and e-scooters as they are another common item that is left to charge for extended periods of time. Lithium-ion batteries have an optimal window of charge which is 30-70% and maybe 20-80% for some products. If a battery is kept in this window at all times, the wear on the battery will stay minimal for a long time, therefore leading to longer life of the battery and less chance of it starting a fire.

Overheating

Another factor is whether the battery is overheating. Overheating can be caused by many different things such as blocked ventilation or overexposure to direct heat such as the sun. With electrical cars or EVs using large Lithium-ion batteries to function, these can also have this as an added risk. In a few situations overheating due to being in extreme heat for too long has led to fires in the batteries of the electric cars. These fires are usually very dangerous as an EV has a huge Lithium-ion battery in it which then will explode into flames if this problem occurs. The battery itself is spread along the whole bottom of the car. Some cases of this have been involved with Teslas that have gone up in flames by overheating. 

Another common reason for Lithium-ion battery fires being caused by overheating is leaving products such as phones charging under objects like pillows or blankets where ventilation is poor. These fires are dangerous as they are likely in or under a very flammable material and would allow the fire to spread with ease.

Spreading knowledge and knowing about the dangers of Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries is important as they are a growing danger in the modern home and in modern life in general. With these fires’ spontaneous nature and their huge dangers, e-bikes and e-scooters have been banned from all London transport systems after a number of fires on the network caused by these rechargeable vehicles. 

Disposal

Li-ion battery fires can sometimes occur after the disposal of the batteries themselves. These can happen if the battery is penetrated or crushed. These scenarios are a danger when disposing of and maybe even still at the end of the life of one of these batteries. 

When a Lithium-ion battery is penetrated, this can lead to the potent electrolytes leaking through the hole in the battery, which then often creates a chemical reaction that releases heat. This in turn heats the other cells in the battery and can lead to thermal runaway.

Thermal runaway is when a cell of the Li-ion battery enters a self-heating uncontrollable stage which leads to an explosion and then a fire. This is a huge danger when disposing of these batteries, on a domestic scale officials recommend placing and leaving the batteries in salt water for at least two weeks and then disposing of them as hazardous waste. If one of these batteries were to get to landfill and get damaged this could lead to thermal runaway and then turn into a huge fire causing the whole site to get engulfed in flames. So when disposing of and dealing with damaged Li-ion batteries please take great care.

Dealing with Lithium-ion battery fires

So if a Li-ion battery fire does occur, what are you supposed to do and how do you deal with it? If you know about fire classification, you may think these would fall into Class D fires (flammable metals). However, this is incorrect. This also means they cannot be extinguished with the Specialist Class D extinguishers like flammable metal fires can.

However, there are some types of fire extinguishers that can extinguish these very dangerous fires. Some of the latest products that are being developed and produced are AVD Vermiculite fire extinguishers and EV fire blankets. The EV fire blanket is specifically designed for electric vehicles and is placed directly over the electric car to maintain the fire. These fires are much harder to put out as these fires burn at around 700℃ to 1,000℃ and can burn for up to 24 hours. But with the EV fire blanket, it can drastically reduce this time by depriving the fire of oxygen. 

The AVD Vermiculite fire extinguishers are products aimed to try to target all types of Li-ion battery fires. They are a water-based extinguishing system with vermiculite particles suspended in the water to act as a smothering tool to stop the fire from receiving oxygen. These extinguishers are designed to deprive the fire of heat and oxygen and act as an electrical barrier. Currently, there is no British standard for these types of extinguishers and technology, so the companies that produce them are working hard to get them certified for use industrially.

Firexo

However, there is one fire extinguisher that stands out in this field. That is the Firexo all-purpose fire extinguisher. This Firexo extinguisher can be used on all types of fires, including Lithium-ion battery fires. The Firexo extinguishers that we sell have the Kitemark to BS EN3 which means that are approved to British Standards. They also have the CE mark.

These extinguishers are non-toxic and biodegradable which makes them some of the most groundbreaking products of the fire industry. To find out more about Firexo click HERE.

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