Almost every electronic device is now powered by lithium-ion batteries – but they can and do catch fire.

A report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the USA has revealed the main causes and what people can do to ensure their devices ranging from mobile phones to laptops are as safe as possible. It is estimated that in the US alone there were 25,000 incidents of lithium-ion batteries overheating or catching fire in just five years.

The report warns: “While lithium batteries are normally safe they may cause injury if they have design defects, are made of low quality materials, are assembled incorrectly, are used or recharged improperly or are damaged.”

So here’s the ultimate guide to how lithium-ion batteries can be damaged, leading them to overheat and potentially catch fire.

* Physical impacts that can damage lithium batteries include dropping, knocking, crushing, vibrating, and puncturing. 

* Damage to all types of lithium batteries can happen when the temperatures are too high such as above 100°F or too low such as below freezing (32°F) during charging. Charging in temperatures below freezing can lead to permanent metallic lithium build-up (i.e., plating) on the anode, increasing the risk for failure.  

* Charging a device or battery without following manufacturer’s instructions may cause damage to rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. For example, some manufacturer-authorised chargers will cycle the power to the battery on and off before it is fully charged to avoid overcharging. But ultra-fast chargers may not cycle power so do not use them unless the manufacturer’s instructions include them as an option.

In February 2018 the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the USA published a report on High Energy Density Batteries which revealed that more than 25,000 overheating or fire incidents involving more than 400 types of lithium battery-powered consumer products happened over a five-year period. 

The devices catch fire when the batteries that power them go into what is known as thermal runaway. This happens when heat released during cell failure can damage nearby cells, releasing more heat in a chain reaction.

* The problem of fires in personal electronic devices on passenger planes seems to be growing. One way to tackle such incidents on planes is to use an AvSax fire containment bag which can deal with fires in personal electronic devices and are now carried on aircraft operated by 65 airline companies across the world – including some of the biggest and best-known.

AvSax  – which won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2018 - has been used 28 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017.

More than 13,000 AvSax are now carried on aircraft worldwide. Deployment is so effective that extremely expensive diversions to alternate airports are avoided. 

* Written by Andy Hirst at AH! PR