Lithium-ion batteries are thought to be starting fires at recycling and landfill sites.

A severe blaze at a site in Scotland is now thought to have been started by a battery and it’s not the first time one is suspected of sparking a major incident at rubbish dumps.

The battery is believed to blame for setting 300 tonnes of refuse on fire at a building in Dunbar used to collect rubbish before it is put into landfill.

It took more than 40 hours to bring under control on January 22.

The site is operated by Viridor and the company’s Scottish landfill manager Barry Falgate said: “With the increasing use of lithium ion batteries in everyday household items, fire risks are growing day-by-day and we are urging everyone to ensure they put the right stuff in the right bin and they dispose of batteries safely.”

Lithium batteries are found in just about anything these days from mobile phones and laptops to children’s toys.

If they get crushed or damaged it can lead to a what is known as thermal runaway. When this happens one cell overheating in a battery 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 or even explode.

The Environmental Services Association which represents the UK’s resource and waste management industry reports that of the 510 fires reported by ESA members across the UK in 2017-18, a quarter (25%) were attributed to lithium-ion batteries, up from 20% in the previous year.

In the USA a New Hampshire landfill site has suffered seven fires in the past 10 months.

Its waste manager Marc Morgan said: “The weight of machinery driving over a cell phone or tablet embedded in a pile of garbage is enough to cause a small explosion.”

This rise in lithium battery fires is also happening on aircraft which is why cabin crew now often include in the safety briefing a warning that if passengers lose their mobile phones down seats they should alert the staff and not try to retrieve it themselves. If they do the phone could get crushed in the seat mechanism, sparking a thermal runaway fire.

One way to tackle such incidents 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 more than 30 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017.

More than 13,500 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