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Tips for Preventing Fires With Lithium-Ion Batteries

Tips for Preventing Fires With Lithium-Ion Batteries

Posted 3/27/2024

Alt Title: Lithium Ion Battery Fire Prevention

Lithium-ion batteries are the powerhouse behind many of today's portable electronics, electric vehicles, and renewable energy systems. But their widespread use brings to light significant safety considerations, particularly the risk of fires and explosions due to overheating, damage, or improper handling. 


Tip #1: Use the Correct Charger


One of the simplest yet most effective ways to prevent lithium-ion battery fires is to use the correct charger. This sounds simple – but it’s critically important!


Each lithium-ion battery is designed with specific voltage, current, and charging profiles in mind, tailored to maximize performance and safety. The charger that comes with your device, or one approved by the manufacturer, is calibrated to match these specifications precisely. This ensures the battery is charged optimally, preventing overcharging and overheating, which are common causes of battery fires.


When an incompatible charger is used—one that delivers power at a rate that's too high or too low for the battery—it disrupts the delicate balance within the battery cells. Overcharging a battery can lead to excessive heat generation, potentially causing the battery's internal structure to degrade or, in extreme cases, leading to thermal runaway, a condition where increasing temperature causes further increases in temperature, often resulting in a fire or explosion.


If the original charger for your device is lost or damaged, obtaining a replacement directly from the manufacturer or an authorized dealer is the best course of action. While third-party chargers can be tempting, especially due to their lower price point, they may not always adhere to the same safety and quality standards. If you must choose a third-party charger, opt for one from a reputable brand and ensure it's listed as compatible with your specific device.


Tip #2: Follow Manufacturer Guidelines


Adhering to manufacturer guidelines for lithium-ion batteries is not just about following instructions – it's about ensuring the safety, efficiency, and longevity of your electronic devices. 


When you purchase a device powered by a lithium-ion battery, it comes with a set of guidelines or instructions from the manufacturer. These guidelines cover various aspects of battery usage, including charging, storage, operating temperatures, and handling. They are tailored to the specific design and requirements of the battery and device, taking into account the chemistry of the battery, its capacity, and its intended use.


One of the critical components of manufacturer guidelines is the charging recommendations. These include using the correct charger (as previously discussed), but also specify the ideal charging practices such as:


  • Charging cycles: Instructions on how often and to what extent the battery should be charged to optimize its lifespan. In other words, do you let it get empty before charging? Or can you constantly top it off, even when the battery is above 50 percent charged?


  • Charging environment: The guidelines will discuss the ambient conditions suitable for charging, usually specifying a temperature range and advising against charging in direct sunlight or extremely cold conditions. These are more than suggestions – they are requirements for safe charging.


Tip #3: Avoid Extreme Temperatures


Speaking of the charging environment, lithium-ion batteries are sensitive to extreme temperatures. Exposing batteries to high temperatures can cause the electrolyte within the battery to become unstable, leading to a risk of fire or explosion. 


Similarly, charging batteries in very cold conditions can lead to plating of the metallic lithium on the battery's anode, which can also pose significant safety risks. To prevent this, store and charge your batteries in a temperature-controlled environment, away from direct sunlight, and never leave them in a hot car.


Tip #4: Inspect for Damage


Damaged lithium-ion batteries pose a significant fire risk. Even a small puncture can lead to an internal short circuit, causing the battery to overheat rapidly. Regularly inspect your batteries for any signs of damage, including swelling, leaks, or unusual odor. If a battery appears damaged, it's crucial to stop using it immediately and dispose of it properly, following local regulations for battery disposal.


Tip #5: Store Batteries Properly


Storing lithium-ion batteries properly is extremely important for maintaining their health and safety. Incorrect storage can lead to reduced battery life, degraded performance, and in some cases, catastrophic failures such as leaks, fires, or explosions.


A lot of people don’t know this, but when storing lithium-ion batteries, you should keep them at the right charge level. Manufacturers often recommend storing batteries at a 30 percent to 50 percent charge state. Storing a battery at full charge for extended periods can stress the battery, accelerating degradation and leading to capacity loss. 


On the flip side, storing a battery in a fully discharged state can lead to deep discharge, making it impossible to recharge the battery in the future. Keeping a battery at a partial charge mimics the conditions of regular use, helping to maintain the battery's integrity and prolong its lifespan.


Using protective cases or sleeves during storage can shield the battery from accidental impacts and reduce the risk of a short circuit, especially if the battery terminals come into contact with conductive materials. Furthermore, we recommend keeping batteries away from metallic objects such as coins, keys, or jewelry, which can create a bridge between the positive and negative terminals, leading to a short circuit.


Preparing for Lithium Ion Battery Fire Risks


Despite taking all necessary precautions for prevention, it's essential to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Lithium-ion battery fires can be intense and difficult to extinguish due to the batteries' chemical makeup. Therefore, having specialized fire suppression and detection systems can mitigate risks and minimize damage if an incident occurs.


Lithium-ion battery fires are not like typical fires. They can reach extremely high temperatures and are fueled by the battery's chemicals. Traditional water-based fire extinguishers can be ineffective and may even exacerbate the fire. These fires can also release toxic gasses, making them particularly dangerous.


  • Specialized Fire Extinguishers. For areas where lithium-ion batteries are stored, charged, or used extensively, having fire extinguishers designed specifically for electrical fires is crucial. Class D fire extinguishers, which are typically used for metal fires, can also be effective in lithium-ion battery fires. Some newer extinguishers are designed specifically for lithium-ion batteries, using a compound that cools the fire and coats the fuel source, preventing oxygen from sustaining the fire.


  • Fire Detection Systems. Early detection can reduce the damage caused by a fire. Smoke detectors should be installed in areas where lithium-ion batteries are used or stored. However, because lithium-ion battery fires can escalate quickly, consider installing more advanced detection systems. Thermal imaging cameras and heat detectors can provide early warnings before a fire starts by detecting abnormal heat patterns, which are indicative of a failing battery.


  • Fire Suppression Systems. In facilities with large quantities of lithium-ion batteries, such as data centers, warehouses, or electric vehicle charging stations, a more comprehensive fire suppression system is necessary. Clean agent fire suppression systems, which use gas to extinguish fires without leaving residue, are effective in such environments. These systems can quickly suppress fires without damaging the surrounding equipment or the batteries themselves.


Cease Fire Detection and Suppression Systems


At Cease Fire, we believe in helping individuals and businesses create safer environments where fire does not pose a serious threat or risk to human life or other valuable assets. We do this by offering cutting-edge fire detection and suppression technology. Feel free to browse our website or contact us today to learn more!