Lithium Battery Fires

Lithium batteries can be found in many consumer devices, enabling manufacturers to pack hours of battery life into slim products. But they also pose a fire hazard if damaged or misused improperly.

Lithium battery fires can be difficult and hazardous for firefighters to combat, so the Department of Fire Services has released a checklist to aid fire investigators.

Short circuits

One of the primary causes of lithium battery fires is a short circuit. A short circuit occurs when electrical current takes an unintended shorter route through a battery than it should, leading to an excess of energy which then overflows its cells, creating metal ions which eventually exceed capacity of internal cells and spill outward into their surroundings, producing heat and producing flammable gases that ignite fires.

Thermal runaway is another key cause of lithium battery fires. This occurs when heat generated from the battery is converted into chain reactions that lead to its explosion, typically through microscopic metal particles coming into contact with different parts and creating heat, leading to overheating and release of flammable gases from its cells.

Charging lithium batteries involves moving ions from the cathode to anode through its electrolyte. This movement is necessary for its proper function but could be hazardous if interrupted; that’s why it is crucial that they be charged in an isolated space away from potential sources of heat.

Oxygen production is also one of the primary causes of lithium battery fires, with heated anodes and cathodes producing oxygen gas that can escape through accidental puncturing of the battery case or chemical reactions that lead to internal short circuits in cells.

Lithium battery fires can be difficult to extinguish, and it is best to let them burn in a safe area. Water alone will not do the trick since it fuels the flames while creating toxic hydrogen gas; rather it would be wiser to use foam-based extinguishers or ABC dry chemicals such as copper powder, soda pop or graphite as solutions instead.

Thermal runaway

Lithium batteries are designed to operate within a specific temperature range. When they exceed this limit, however, a series of reactions known as thermal runaway may start that generates flammable gases and fire – one reason lithium battery fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish; water-based extinguishers only serve to cool it while lithium-ion gel extinguishers must be used immediately as soon as the battery reignites or they could reignite days or hours later.

Thermal runaway can occur for various reasons when it comes to lithium batteries, including internal short circuits, lithium plating (the formation of metallic lithium on an anode surface within a battery cell), mechanical damage like puncturing or dropping, overcharging, overdischarging or excess heat sources externally; in rare instances a lithium-ion battery may go into thermal runaway without an apparent cause – known as delayed ignition thermal runaway.

Thermal runaway can be avoided by reducing the temperature of a battery, operating within its specified temperature range and using safe charging procedures. Furthermore, batteries should be kept away from heat sources and disconnected when not being used.

Researchers from a new study have shed new light on what causes thermal runaway in lithium batteries, by studying various factors contributing to it such as battery casing material selection and cell size; statistical regression models for energy release during thermal runaway were also included in this research project, providing manufacturers, EV makers and safety authorities with valuable insight on how they can prevent such runaways in future batteries.

Oxygen generation

Thermal runaway occurs when battery cells experience internal chemical reactions instead of electrochemical ones, producing heat and toxic, flammable gases. As temperatures increase and generate more heat, exothermic reactions accelerate further and produce even more gas; eventually this mixture deflagrates into a white vapour cloud of toxic, flammable gas that mixes with oxygen before igniting nearby cells – potentially starting a chain reaction that spreads and destroys all lithium batteries within an aircraft, vehicle or device.

Lithium battery fires may be rare, yet they can still cause significant disruption and be difficult to manage. One method of suppressing these fires is using cooling agents in liquid or solid form – including powdered graphite which melts at certain temperatures to form an impermeable blanket over the fire; while liquid cooling agents include water as well as engineered non-reactive fluids like 3M Novec line which contain potentially hazardous PFAS chemicals that threaten human health.

When a battery fire starts, its combustion rate depends on both oxygen consumed and heat generated from internal carbon monoxide production (CO). CO-correction for oxygen consumption calorimetry eliminates this effect but may produce systematic errors of up to 10%; when interpreting results from battery fire tests it’s important to take these errors into account; however they’re typically offset by general uncertainties of oxygen consumption calorimetry and assumptions regarding E-factor for battery gases; therefore total heat release from batteries may be underestimated by approximately 2kJ/Wh.

Excessive heat

Fires from lithium battery fires can be intense and difficult to extinguish, potentially resulting in significant property damage as well as the release of toxic gases which pose serious threats to human health. As such, it is crucial that lithium battery fires be prevented at work places as early as possible.

Step one to prevent battery fires is recognizing warning signs. These include unusual heat, noise, odor or swelling which could indicate impending thermal runaway or short circuiting and should be taken immediately in order to avert fires.

Lithium-ion batteries have become one of the most widely utilized energy storage solutions for both consumer and industrial uses, providing powerful portable power solutions to devices ranging from cell phones to electric vehicles. While lithium-ion batteries provide many benefits, improper handling or storage could prove fatal.

To ensure the safekeeping of lithium batteries, it’s best to avoid rough handling. Dropping one can damage its internal components, potentially leading to electrical short circuiting or thermal runaway. As lithium batteries age and cycle more frequently at higher temperatures, their susceptibility to mechanical damage increases with age, cycling frequency and elevated temperature levels.

Battery damage is also susceptible to extreme environmental conditions. When exposed to rain, salty air or humidity conditions, batteries can lose charge quickly and overheat resulting in thermal runaway and venting with flames.

Lithium-ion battery fires can be difficult to put out. Traditional water-based fire extinguishers often cannot fully extinguish these fires and they often rekindle hours or days later; special lithium-ion fire extinguishers do exist, however.


Lithium battery fires have become more frequent and pose an ever-increasing threat to public safety, making extinguishing difficult and leading to significant property damage. Most lithium battery fires result from thermal runaway, which occurs when batteries become overheated; others could occur due to physical damage or charging problems; with proper tools available, firefighters can more quickly identify and address such blazes more effectively.

Lithium battery fires pose one of the greatest threats to buildings, as well as people inside. They can quickly spread fires that cause widespread structural damage that threatens lives inside. That is why it is vitally important that we educate people about the dangers associated with rechargeable batteries.

Recently, battery-related fires have increased significantly across major U.S. cities such as New York and San Francisco – more than doubling since 2012. While most do not result in injury or fatality, many can cause substantial damage to commercial properties and residential homes alike.

However, there are multiple strategies to prevent lithium battery fires, including proper storage and maintenance of them. Furthermore, keeping metal objects and water away is advised, and using fireproof containers when storing lithium batteries should also be considered a best practice.

Physical damage and electrical short circuits are two common sources of battery fires. Battery failure or overheating can trigger thermal runaway, an extreme chemical reaction in which sharp lithium needles penetrate separator cells to cause internal short circuits; cracking the battery case’s shell allows flammable electrolytes into contact with air or heat sources and ignite.

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