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Lithium (ION) Battery Fire Safety Starts Here…

Even though electric vehicle fires are rare, they are hard to fight!

Electric Vehicle (EV’s) sales have increased strongly in recent years, and this trend is expected to continue.

In most EVs, Lithium Ion Batteries (LIBs) are used as energy storage.

LIB’s come in many varieties, with different packaging and chemistries as well as how they are integrated into modern vehicles.

Cell types and numbers depend on performance. To use LIBs safely, the cells need to be kept within a defined voltage and temperature range.

These limits can be exceeded as a result of crash or fault conditions and thus damage the LIB’s causing them to vent and burn.

If allowed to escape, gases released in this process may pose a threat to personnel.

Those handling the aftermath of a crash need to be aware of the risks posed by EVs and how to handle them.

Although EVs present new risks, there is no evidence that they are less safe than conventional vehicles.

LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES ARE MAKING OUR BUILDINGS EVEN MORE FIRE PRONE

Those lithium ion-batteries are making their way into our buildings. Here, they collect energy from solar cells and provide us with smart energy consumption. However, they also constitute a fire hazard that is difficult to manage.

Power storage makes sense. Having solar cells on your roof allows you to store energy during the day and use it at night.

If a lithium-ion battery gets too hot, it will, at some point, suffer a ‘thermal runaway’, which is when the electrolyte in the battery vaporises, eventually causing the cell to rupture.

Whether the cell explodes or releases vaporised electrolyte, a highly flammable gas is immediately released. It is because the vaporised electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries is combustible. It has more or less the same fire properties as propane, which you will be familiar with from the liquid gas in lighters.

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TOXIC GAS AND DIFFICULTY EXTINGUISHING

If overcharged or misused, batteries can heat up. A battery management system prevents this. It can also happen if a fire breaks out in a building where a power pack is installed. At a battery temperature around 100 degrees, there is a risk of gas being emitted. Different lithium-ion batteries have different electrolytes that react at different temperatures.

The gases from the battery are ignited immediately if they escape when there is already a fire in the room. If there is no source of ignition and the gas escapes from the batteries, it will accumulate as the individual cells, which make up large lithium-ion batteries release it, thus causing a bigger and more serious explosion.

Lithium-ion batteries don’t only release gases when they burn. Batteries can also release a large number of toxic gases, such as hydrogen fluoride, even in small doses.

There is some research that has been conducted into how you fireproof buildings with batteries or how you approach batteries in a building with a view to extinguishing them if they catch fire.

This is a Meta-Review of Fire Safety of Lithium-Ion Batteries: Industry Challenges and Research Contributions. In this paper, they examine the safety challenges faced by LIB industries across sectors and compare them to the contributions found in various review papers in the field. The comparison identifies knowledge gaps and areas for future research.

Research and industry agree on the importance of understanding thermal runaway at the component and cell levels, as well as developing prevention technologies

Here is the link to the review here 

Research is necessary because, for example, different batteries react differently to water. You can extinguish a lithium-ion battery using water in reasonable amounts. However, spraying water on a lithium battery can create hydrogen gas, a flammable gas. In terms of fire technology, this means different batteries require different initiatives.

Currently, we know little about how to deal with this. Battery types vary depending on whether it’s a large system in an industrial setup or a smaller system in a domestic setup, and often customised solutions are needed.

Large power packs can use, for example, aspiration smoke detection systems, which take regular samples of the air to detect a fire, inert gas, and possibly, sprinkling.

LITHIUM-ION BATTERY FIRES IN AUSTRALIA SPARK SAFETY CONCERNS

A recent fire caused by a lithium-ion home battery system in Adelaide, has prompted authorities to urge solar and battery owners to be vigilant about maintenance.

The 2021 fire at a vast energy storage site in Australia most likely sparked by a coolant leak completely incinerated two giant Tesla batteries.

On July 30, a fire started in a 13-tonne lithium “Megapack” battery, which is the size of a shipping container, and spread to a second battery.

Over the last three years, there have been reports of around 40 utility-scale lithium-ion battery fires worldwide.

Lithium-ion batteries cause 15 to 20 fires a year, according to Ben Muller, area officer for West Kimberley at Fire and Emergency Services. “It is a trend that is increasing”, he said. Muller suggested installing extra smoke detectors in lithium-powered rooms.

WHERE ELSE ARE LITHIUM ION BATTERIES USED THAT COULD POSE A THREAT TO BUILDINGS?

LIB’s are required for a broad range of technology and equipment, including:

  • Mobile phones
  • Laptop computers and devices
  • Forklifts
  • Medical equipment
  • Electric tools
  • Security and alarm systems

It is advised to avoid handling, transporting, or storing LIBs in environments where there is:

  • Excessive heat, direct sunlight, exposure to fire or open flame, smoking, lack of ventilation overcharging, deep discharging, short circuiting and tampering or damage to the battery.

REDUCING RISKS WITH LIB’S

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You can minimise the chances of a battery fire or explosion by providing cool, dry, and well-ventilated storage for your batteries. Choosing a battery charging and storage cabinet can improve the safety of your operations if you’re using multiple Li-ion batteries as your employees will have a specific area where they can safely charge and store the lithium-ion batteries.

There has been considerable attention given to prevention measures resulting in new scientific developments in battery components and materials, while compartmentation, detection, and suppression technologies are inspired by traditional fire technologies, which are less effective for LIB’s fires and require more
research.

In the unfortunate event that these fire mitigation efforts have not been able to prevent fire, the proper use of the type of fire extinguishers can be crucial.

LITHIUM ION BATTERY FIRE EXTINGUISHER

F-500 LIB Fire Extinguishers are a great multi purpose stainless steel fire extinguisher that delivers a solid level of fire protection. It is the first agent proven to extinguish lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries without reigniting them. Non-corrosive, non-toxic, non-hazardous, and fully biodegradable.

How does a F-500 (Lithium Ion Battery Fire) extinguisher work?

An extinguisher works by removing one of the elements (heat, oxygen, fuel) needed for a fire to flourish. A lithium-ion battery burns at an extremely high temperature ( > 1000°C) and does not require oxygen to burn. By penetrating the surface of the burning fuel, the F-500 Li-Ion particles within the mist remove the heat and stop the reaction between the electrode material and other components of the battery, bringing the fire under control.”

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This video below clearly demonstrates the advantages of using the F-500 model in these events.

Reach out to our team if you’d like to discuss any of the solutions mentioned above to mitigate any fire hazards related to the use of Lithium Ion Batteries in your building or with your equipment.

We sell, install, and certify all fire equipment, including F-500 fire extinguishers.