Why lithium battery fires are increasing and here’s the ultimate safety guide
Lithium battery fires are getting more and more common to here’s the definitive and ultimate guide to keeping you as safe as possible,
All our everyday personal electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops, iPads and e-cigarettes are powered by lithium batteries.
But so are scooters and wheelchairs and all lithium batteries have the potential to overheat, catch fire and even explode. If it’s in your mobile phone or e-cigarette it can literally be a rocket in your pocket.
This is known as thermal runaway and happens when one cell in a battery overheats it can produce enough heat – up to 900°C (1652°F) – to cause adjacent cells to overheat. This can cause a lithium battery fire to flare repeatedly and they are then very difficult to put out due to their intensely high temperatures.
Major cities around the world including London and New York have had serious fires caused by lithium batteries overheating on e-scooters and e-bikes. Many have been left in communal exits in flats which have made it very difficult for people to escape once the fire has taken hold.
Firefighters in Michigan recently rescued two people from an apartment fire caused by an electronic wheelchair battery that went up in flames in an assisted living complex.
The electronic wheelchair’s lithium-ion battery was charging when it caught fire.
Fire Chief Mike Kennedy said: “This had thermal runaway and when these take off it has explosive gas. Basically, this created a jet of flame that set the chair on fire and also set the apartment on fire.”
The last place you want this to happen is in the confined space of an aircraft which is why many airline operators now carry lithium battery fire containment bags on board.
The world’s best-selling fire containment bag for personal electronic devices on aircraft is the award-winning AvSax (www.avsax.com) which are now on more than 16,770 aircraft operated by over 100 airline companies. They have been used 33 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017.
AvSax won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the UK in 2018, the highest award any business in the UK can get for innovation and the company that devised it, Environmental Defence Systems Ltd based in Yorkshire, England, is looking to use the technology in places such as recycling centres which have a lot of fires caused by lithium batteries.
So here the main reasons lithium-ion batteries can catch fire and the definitive guide on what you can do to prevent it from happing.
- Don’t charge your device on beds, sofas or other soft furnishings as they will easily catch fire if the battery overheats. So if you charge your battery under your pillow while you’re asleep stop doing that now.
- Don’t leave your phone or any other PED on charge overnight. Only charge it when you’re awake and around so you can quickly deal with any problems.
- Don’t use cheap battery chargers – only use the official charger that came with it or, if replacing it, spend a bit more on getting one from a reputable manufacturer. Alternative chargers bought on the internet may be cheap but are unlikely to meet safety standards which could lead to them causing the device to overheat and catch fire.
- Follow the device’s manufacturers’ charging instructions … don’t leave it charging for hours and hours. Charging a device or battery without following manufacturer’s instructions may cause damage to rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. For example, some manufacturer chargers provide power to the battery on and off before it is fully charged to avoid overcharging, but ultra-fast chargers may not carefully distribute the power in this way so don’t use them unless the manufacturer’s instructions include them as an option.
- Damage to a personal electronic device can set the batteries into thermal runaway if they get crushed – and on planes this can happen if the phone slips into a seat and then it’s put into the reclining position. Damage to a mobile phone, laptop or any other PED includes dropping, crushing or puncturing it. All these can cause a short circuit leading to the battery catching fire.
- Be aware of charging your PED in extreme temperatures. 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 on the anode, increasing the risk for failure. This is known as lithium plating. Also keep your device away from extreme heat. Never put it next to a fire as it can cause the battery to overheat and catch fire.
- Never put lithium batteries into the luggage hold on aircraft. If they catch fire they burn with such an intensity they would overwhelm the aircraft’s automatic sprinkler system.
- Never put lithium batteries in your household rubbish as they will get crushed and can spark a fire at waste centres. Almost half of all fires at these centres are started this way, causing millions of pounds damage.
- Remove lithium batteries from any appliances or toys before throwing them away.
- Always recycle your lithium batteries. Many supermarkets have battery collection points.