Today, lithium-ion batteries are found in many electronics, from smartphones to medical devices to cars. They provide reliable power with recharging capabilities. However, the popularity of this type of battery requires knowledge of what to do in the event of a lithium battery fire. Specializing in flame-retardant materials and fabrics, Tex Tech is an industry expert in handling this type of hazard.
Learn the risks related to lithium batteries, how to prevent a fire, and what to do to put out a lithium battery fire.
Why Do Lithium Batteries Catch Fire?
If a lithium battery overheats, it can burst into flames. This thermal instability, referred to as thermal runaway, happens when flaming gases are vented from the lithium-ion cells in the battery. The overheating of one failing cell causes a chain reaction in the other cells. The reaction can happen within milliseconds to hours, depending on how quickly each cell fails. The exothermic heat given off during the reaction may be sufficient to start a fire.
Triggers for lithium battery fires include:
- Short circuits. Improper storage, damage, and metal dust left over from manufacturing can cause circuits to short, leading to combustion.
- Overheating. Extreme temperatures on loading docks, cargo holds, or tarmacs can lead to overheating or fire during transit or storage.
- Rough handling. Dropping a battery or jostling it excessively during transport or use can set off thermal runaway.
- Physical damage. Damage from shredding or dismantling a battery during recycling operations can result in an explosion.
- Wet/humid conditions. Rainwater, salty air, and humidity might cause short circuits and trigger thermal runaway even without prior damage to the battery.
How to Put Out a Lithium Battery Fire
In the case of a lithium battery fire, there are several ways to extinguish it based on the size and type of battery.
Class D fire extinguishers are effective against lithium-metal battery fires. Lithium-ion battery fires are Class B fires, indicating the presence of flammable liquids, so a standard dry chemical or ABC extinguisher can put them out. Lithium battery fire extinguishers counteract the liquid electrolytes in the battery that create conductive pathways.
Small lithium batteries contain very little lithium, so they can be doused with water. To put out large lithium-ion battery fires, use a foam extinguisher containing CO2, powder graphite, ABC dry chemical, or sodium carbonate.
In battery pack fires, each cell may burn on a different timeline. Place the battery pack in a protected outdoor space to allow it to completely burn out.
If a fire cannot be extinguished, let the battery burn out in a controlled way. Prevent the fire from spreading by soaking the surrounding area with water.
How to Prevent a Lithium Battery Fire
Recognizing the warning signs of a failing lithium battery is paramount to preventing a fire. Unusual heat, noise, smoke, odor, or swelling are all indications that the battery is failing.
Follow these tips to prevent a lithium battery fire from taking place.
- Buy batteries from reputable manufacturers.
- Never try to recharge non-rechargeable batteries.
- Once a charging cycle is complete, disconnect the battery from the charger.
- Use the charger that came with the battery or one approved as compatible by the manufacturer.
- Keep batteries away from extreme temperatures.
- Charge batteries in a fire-safe charging bag, if possible.
- Inspect batteries after they are first installed and periodically after recharging. If they appear damaged, do not recharge.
- Remove lithium-ion batteries from items before storage.
If a charging device emits excessive heat, unplug it from the power source and store it away from combustible objects until the device has cooled down. If necessary, replace the battery or call the fire department.
Choose Tex Tech for Lithium Battery Fire Safety
Lithium-ion batteries allow us many conveniences. To use these power supplies responsibly, we should be aware of how to prevent and put out lithium-ion battery fires. Though these events are rare, it is best to be prepared.
Tex Tech is a leading manufacturer of high-performance industrial textiles, including flame-retardant fabrics for high-temperature or fire applications. Contact us or request a quote to learn more about how our products and capabilities can serve you.