Li-ion battery fire hazards: reducing the risk

Wormald

Tuesday, 28 November, 2023


Li-ion battery fire hazards: reducing the risk

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are commonplace in most businesses and are often used in products such as power tools, vehicles and energy storage systems.

However, despite their common use, Li-ion batteries pose significant safety risks. This is due to the presence of a flammable and volatile liquid electrolyte solution. In fact, more than 450 fires across Australia have been linked to Li-ion.1

Li-ion battery hazards are varied and can lead to severe injury or death. Often, these hazards can arise from low-quality batteries, unsafe charging practices, environmental or external factors — such as when Li-ion batteries are exposed to heat or moisture, or when products containing Li-ion batteries are repurposed or modified.2 Risks include incidents such as explosions and fires that are difficult to extinguish and that could spontaneously reignite.

Understanding and implementing safety measures is essential to mitigate these risks. Here, fire protection company Wormald outlines five steps organisations can take to keep their workers safe from Li-ion-related fire hazards.

1. Proper storage and management

The storage environment of Li-ion batteries greatly influences their safety and longevity. Optimal storage temperature ranges from 5–20°C, as excessive heat can shorten battery life and escalate fire risks, while cold conditions affect device efficiency and can require more frequent charging.

2. Avoid overcharging

Overcharging can cause unstable conditions within Li-ion batteries, leading to thermal runaway. This involves an uncontrollable increase in temperature, which presents a significant fire hazard. To prevent overcharging-related risks, users should limit charging time, avoid leaving devices to charge overnight and maintain battery charge levels between 50 and 100%.

3. Handle batteries with care

A punctured battery can lead to short-circuits and electrolyte leakage, which can trigger chemical reactions that generate heat, damaging the battery and surrounding areas. Proper handling ensures the safety of the user and extends the battery’s lifespan. Users should also take care to dispose of Li-ion batteries correctly to avoid creating additional risks.

4. Don’t overlook cleanliness

Li-ion batteries attract dust and grime, which can be a fire hazard. Regular cleaning is essential, especially around vents and ports. A simple cloth can be used to clean these areas for mobile devices, optimising battery performance and reducing fire risks.

5. Purchase from reputable suppliers

It’s crucial that users buy batteries from reputable manufacturers. The market is flooded with counterfeit products that appear genuine but may be made with inferior materials and lack adherence to safety standards, which can lead to short circuits or power surges. Users should check credentials and compliance with safety standards, such as those outlined in the Australian Government’s Electrical Equipment Safety Scheme (EESS).

While it is possible to reduce the risk of fire and hazards from using Li-ion batteries, understanding how to correctly respond in the event of an incident is essential to help keep homes and businesses safe. In the event of ignition, the immediate action is to cut off the current supply, ideally by flooding it with water. However, the flammable nature of Li-ion batteries often means that the safest response is to evacuate the area and seek professional help.

[1] https://www.unsw.edu.au/newsroom/news/2023/03/seven-things-you-need-to-know-about-lithium-ion-battery-safety

[2] https://www.accc.gov.au/about-us/publications/lithium-ion-batteries-and-consumer-product-safety

Image credit: iStock.com/ilbusca

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