Lithium Battery Safety: How to Prevent Fires

Lithium batteries are the new energy power batteries. They have started a new revolution in electric cars. People are thinking about their potential for storing energy. With advances in technology, lithium batteries are growing fast. They are now used in business. But there have been many accidents with lithium batteries catching fire. This makes people worried about their safety. This fear slows down their use.

On the 20th of 2023, a bus from Anhui to Nanjing caught fire. Thick smoke was everywhere. A lithium battery in a passenger’s backpack started the fire. The driver didn’t notice it at first. When he did, he stopped the bus and opened the doors. The fire was big. Two people died and five got hurt.

On March 5, 2023, there was a big fire in the Bronx, New York. Seven people got hurt. The fire chief said a lithium battery in a scooter started it. She said this type of fire is explosive. It’s hard to put out and very dangerous. The scooter might have had an “illegal” battery.

John Goodenough says that lithium batteries are mostly safe. But we must use them right.

Elon Musk says lithium battery fires are rare but can happen. He thinks they are safe.

People worry about lithium battery. But they are popular because they last long and have a lot of energy. They are the heart of electric cars.

1. From Charging to External Factors: Unpacking Reasons for Lithium Batteries Fires

Characteristics of Lithium Battery Ignition: Rapid ignition, prolonged burning time, high combustion temperature, difficulty in extinguishing, and potential for long-term spontaneous combustion and even explosion.

Lithium batteries primarily rely on the movement of lithium ions between the anode and cathode to charge and discharge. Fundamentally, overcharging and short-circuiting are the two primary reasons for lithium battery explosions.

Overcharging typically occurs during the charging process of the battery. Due to resistance in the battery, a significant amount of heat accumulates during charging. Protective mechanisms within lithium batteries detect voltage and can provide some protection against overcharging. However, if overcharging continues for an extended period with persistently high voltages, dendritic short-circuits can form within the lithium-ion battery. This results in increasing temperature and pressure, leading to the risk of explosions or fires.

Short-circuiting mainly happens during battery usage. As a lithium battery operates, its temperature consistently rises, but the battery still maintains regular heat dissipation. If external factors cause the battery’s temperature to rise excessively, it can damage the battery’s separator, leading to a short circuit. This results in an accumulation of heat and triggers a chain chemical reaction, causing the battery to explode or catch fire. MANLY Battery is a professional lithium battery manufacturer in China. Every battery comes with short-circuit protection, overcharge protection, over-discharge protection, overvoltage protection, overcurrent protection, and circuit balance, designed by a professional R&D team. This ensures customers have no safety concerns while using the batteries.

Other reasons for lithium battery ignition include:

  1. Battery Cell Quality Issues:
    • Internal short-circuit: Poor production quality control and environmental control during battery manufacturing can lead to contamination, which punctures the separator and causes an internal short-circuit. This results in a rapid temperature rise, leading to explosions or fires. That’s why storage batteries, which often come from smaller factories with outdated technologies and management, are riskier.
    • High internal resistance: This can generate excessive heat during the charge-discharge process, leading to potential fire or explosions.
    • Unstable battery performance: Poor raw materials or inappropriate electrolyte formulas can lead to unstable battery performance, causing fires or explosions under high current charge-discharge conditions.
  2. PACK Process Issues: Lithium batteries are inherently flammable and explosive. If quality control during the PACK process is lax, it can lead to fires.
  3. Charger Issues: Most lithium battery fires occur during charging. If the overcharge protection function of a charger is not comprehensive or sensitive, it might inflate the battery, compromising its internal structure and leading to potential fires.
  4. External Causes: These mainly include external circuit short-circuits and short-circuits caused by physical impact or collision. Therefore, a robust shell and good workmanship are crucial for battery protection.

2. Storage Tips for Longer-lasting Lithium Battery

  1. Always buy approved lithium battery products and tools. Brands like CATL, BYD, CALB-TECH, Gotion High-tech, and MANLY Battery are good choices.
  2. Remove and store batteries separately when not using lithium battery products and tools.
  3. Don’t keep lithium batteries in wet or hot places. Stay away from flammable things.
  4. Unplug batteries once they’re fully charged. Don’t charge for too long.
  5. Don’t squeeze or drop lithium battery products and tools during daily use.

Lithium battery safety: how to prevent fires - manly

3. Understanding Lithium Battery Fires: Challenges and Solutions

3.1 Unique Aspects of Lithium Battery Fires

Lithium battery fires are becoming more common with the rise of electric cars. For firefighters, these fires have unique characteristics.

First, these fires burn hot. If a factory or warehouse catches fire, the smoke is thick, and visibility is low. This makes it hard for firefighters to assess the situation.

Next, if one lithium battery catches fire in a storage facility, others nearby can ignite quickly. This chain reaction is fast and hard to control.

Also, some types of lithium batteries release toxic gases when they burn.

Lastly, using lots of water to put out the fire is problematic. While the high heat requires cooling with water, submerging lithium batteries can cause shorts, leading to more heat.

3.2 Fire Extinguishers

Research on extinguishing lithium battery fires is gaining attention. At a recent car industry expo, several reports focused on these fires. However, they mainly summarized characteristics, not in-depth firefighting methods.

Germany, the US, and the UK lead in this research.

Germany tested ways to tackle electric car fires. They found using water works but needs a lot. Adding F-500 and Firesorb improved results.

US research showed that lithium battery fires are caused by overheating. Cooling is key. Water-based extinguishers worked best for portable device fires, while gas and powder types weren’t as effective.

The UK focused on in-flight fires from portable device batteries. They found Halon and FE-36 as effective extinguishers and made them mandatory for airplane fires.