How we needlessly put ourselves in danger from lithium battery fires every day (and night)
Most of us are putting ourselves at risk from lithium battery fires every day … and we don’t even know it.
Millions of everyday personal electronic devices (PED) are powered by lithium batteries yet most of us are flouting the safety rules and needlessly putting ourselves at risk of a lithium battery fire.
Leaving your phone on charge all night, charging it on soft furnishings such as a bed or settee or using a cheap charger can all be enough to start a potentially catastrophic fire.
So we’ve put together a handy guide of what NOT to do when charging your PEDs such as mobile phones, laptops, iPads and even vapes .
The danger is that if a lithium battery becomes faulty or damaged it goes into what’s known as thermal runaway.
This 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.
That’s why on planes you’ll now hear the cabin crew telling passengers during the safety briefing to tell them immediately if your mobile phone or laptop starts to overheat, emit smoke or gets lost down the seat.
The last place you want a lithium battery fire is in the confined space of a passenger cabin on a plane at 35,000ft which is why many airlines now carry lithium battery fire containment bags called AvSax (http://avsax.com/) and this technology is being harnessed to deal with lithium battery fires in other industries such as inside recycling centres.
So here the main reasons lithium-ion batteries can catch fire and 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.
- 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.