Lithium Battery Fire

Lithium batteries power an array of devices and products, providing hours of battery life while being slim and portable. Unfortunately, these flammable materials make these batteries vulnerable to fires.

If one cell overheats, it can set off a chain reaction wherein all other cells heat up and explode – known as thermal runaway.


Lithium batteries gain their energy from chemical reactions between cathode and anode electrodes that are controlled by a permeable membrane. If this membrane becomes compromised, all of its stored energy could suddenly transfer at once, sending temperatures through the roof and potentially leading to fire or explosion.

Overheating may be caused by either short circuiting or external damage, which could include dropping, puncturing, or crushing the battery; improper charging/overcharging processes causing heat build-up; high ambient temperatures may also contribute.

Apart from fire risk, lithium batteries that undergo thermal runaway can produce toxic gases that are both flammable and explosive if they escape their casings and release them in close proximity, posing significant harm to people and equipment nearby.

Thermal runaway is one of the primary causes of lithium battery fires on aircraft and other commercial vehicles. When this type of fire starts, a damaged short circuit causes overheating; as more heat builds up within it, self-destruct occurs until either it melts away completely or explodes into an explosion.

There are several steps you can take to help prevent thermal runaway. One way is recognizing warning signs, such as unusual heat, smoke or smell from batteries which are about to fail – unusual heat, smoke or smell from batteries could indicate imminent failure – such as unusual heat, smoke, smell from batteries as they discharge and swelling or burning odor. If these warnings occur on any device in which you own, or access through, please do not attempt to extinguish fire with halon or water; first take steps to cool it down before extinguishing fire with Halon or water as these steps will likely cause irreparable damage.

Lithium battery fires can spread rapidly, so it is crucial that any device involved remains stationary until its fire has fully subsided. Therefore, AvSax battery containment bags should be available on board aircraft for use during emergencies involving lithium-powered personal electronic devices and crewmembers should receive training in handling such situations should an incident arise.

Internal Short Circuit

Lithium battery fires are often caused by short circuits within the battery itself, often as a result of unwanted chemical reactions or physical damage to it. Overcharging or mechanical abuse can create dendrites of lithium that penetrate separator between anode and cathode electrodes and short-circuit it, eventually leading to thermal runaway.

Preventive measures exist that can be taken to lessen the risk of internal short circuits, including ceramic diaphragms and using an ionic liquid electrolyte or maleimide oligomer material such as maleimide. Furthermore, batteries should be designed so as to resist heat accumulation as well as any reactions between positive/negative electrodes; this will lessen short circuit risks as well as thermal runaway and combustion issues.

Key to preventing ISC is the quality of battery design. Cathode and anode electrodes are separated by a component known as the separator, which may become damaged from poor manufacturing practices or off-nominal operating conditions, leading to internal short circuits which may eventually cause thermal runaway.

An effective way to prevent ISC is using a lithium-ion battery cell with a built-in protection system, capable of detecting and correcting errors within its system. Furthermore, this battery should have a high-quality conductive separator capable of withstanding vibrations and mechanical stress as well as being sealed properly against moisture contamination and other forms of contamination.

Many methods exist for detecting ISC faults, both model-based and data-driven approaches being available to detect severe ISC faults accurately. Model-based approaches like battery consistency modeling or least squares estimation methods can accurately pinpoint major ISC faults; while data-driven methods like extended Kalman filter (EKF) or Luenberger observer can also provide effective means for ISC detection.

Tesla’s fire in Bouldercombe involved Megapacks — large lithium-ion energy storage units used to stabilize and prevent outages on the grid. Their intention was to replace fossil fuels, with 3 megawatt hours of electricity storage capacity per megapack able to be stored under normal pressure conditions; however, even without pressure applied they are susceptible to short circuiting and thermal runaway.

Thermal Runaway

Lithium batteries can be safe when operated within certain temperature limits; but once operating outside these boundaries they can quickly enter thermal runaway mode – an irreversible chain reaction which generates high temperatures and toxic gases – making lithium battery fires difficult to extinguish and creating serious risks to people and property in their immediate area.

Heat production can be the first indication of lithium battery fires, whether from abuse (physical damage, being crushed in an airline seat, overcharging with an inferior charger that doesn’t meet safety standards) or normal operations. As the battery overheats, its separator between cathode and anode begins to melt, exposing lithium to air and increasing temperature further. Chemical reactions also produce further heat, further exacerbating temperature rise. At some point during this process, internal temperatures reach critical thresholds where electrolyte begins to decompose releasing large amounts of oxygen that is highly flammable – this leads to explosion.

At this stage, the battery can no longer hold together, and either explodes or combusts, releasing various gases such as hydrocarbons, vapors and oxides which vary in concentration based on battery chemistries used and its state of thermal runaway.

Fire protection contractors must understand the dangers posed by lithium batteries and ensure facilities storing large quantities have adequate safeguards against thermal and electrical breakdowns. A dedicated area for battery storage, charging only when system shut off and with staff trained on how to store these dangerous goods properly will help minimize risks of battery fires.


Monday evening saw an intense fire engulf a lithium battery factory near South Korea’s capital city, likely caused by exploding batteries. The fire consumed the second-floor of the factory containing 35,000 cells; eight people were injured while 22 are believed to have perished – mostly Chinese migrant workers.

Fire officials reported that 22 workers died, 18 being Chinese workers and 2 South Koreans; though their nationalities could not immediately be verified. Firefighters saw bodies being moved out by firefighters from within the building as it burned for 22 hours until its extinguishing was finally achieved. A Reuters reporter witnessed firemen moving bodies out while several hundred employees from primary battery manufacturer Aricell were evacuated after 10:30 am local time when fire officials first reported it as reported at 10:30 a.m. Local fire officials indicated 18 Chinese and two South Korean workers had perished; 18 Chinese workers and two South Korean workers had died before. Their nationalities cannot yet be confirmed immediately.

Experts note that many lithium-ion battery fires are preventable if proper protocols are observed. Following the battery manufacturer’s recommendations or approval when charging and only using approved chargers will help to decrease risk of fires and accidents. Regular inspections as well as replacing past-prime batteries reduce this risk further.

Fire experts emphasize the significance of having an effective safety culture within any workplace. A robust safety program should include training employees on lithium batteries’ risks, mandating wearing protective gloves when handling them and inspecting all electrical equipment before use. In addition, safety systems should include fire alarms that activate when charging batteries are underway as well as emergency exit plans in case any of them do explode unexpectedly.

Though these precautions can help decrease the likelihood of fires, it’s essential to remember that current building, electrical, and fire codes don’t reflect the increasing use of lithium-ion batteries across various applications from electric scooters to automobiles. This creates a potentially risky situation if batteries are made cheaply or stored improperly – an issue Illinois State Sen. Sue Rezin (a Republican representing an area near Chicago’s chemical and energy hub southwest), recognizes. She has advocated for new regulations which would require lithium-ion batteries be marked with warning labels and stored within special fireproof containers – something she believes strongly about.

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