Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

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James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry.James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
September 7, 2023


Lithium-Ion batteries. A guide to the fire risk that isn’t going away but can be managed

Lithium-ion battery fires

BRE investigates causes and consequences of lithium-ion battery fires in new research

In collaboration with Electrical Safety First, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) fire safety research team has carried out tests into lithium-ion battery fires – the dangers of which are being increasingly well documented.


Credit: Perry van Munster/AlamyStock

The research work involved a series of tests on lithium-ion batteries used in e-scooters and e-bikes, to understand what causes them to fail and observe what happens when they do.

The results demonstrate the explosive nature of lithium-ion battery fires, says the BRE, as a result of a process known as thermal runaway.

The tests were commissioned by Electrical Safety First, a charity campaigning to reduce deaths and injuries caused by electricity in UK homes.

The charity says it is concerned around the increasing number of incidents from such batteries. In a report published earlier this year, the charity found that fires from lithium-ion batteries in e-bikes and e-scooters had claimed four lives in the first three months of 2023.

Tests demonstrate explosive dangers of lithium-ion fires

A series of methods were used to test the batteries and understand what caused them to fail. These included:

  • Crushing
  • Penetration with sharp objects
  • Dropping from height
  • Overcharging with an incorrectly specified charger
  • Placing battery terminals next to each other to create a short circuit
  • Placing them close to a heat source

During some of the tests, the BRE reported that cells inside the battery would fail, causing a state of thermal runaway, where heat from one of the cells ignites those next to it. Battery failures led to explosions, toxic gases, flames, sparks and significant amounts of smoke generation.

The BRE’s Raman Chagger, Principal Consultant (Fire Safety), says the work is intended to highlight the extent of the dangers associated with lithium-ion battery fires, but there is lots more still to do to.

He explains: “With the increasing use of lithium-ion batteries there is a growing fire risk, with these tests highlighting the dangers associated with them.

“Further research is required for the industry to properly understand and mitigate these risks, and we at the BRE are keen to carry out further investigation in future tests. We would welcome collaboration and support for further research, so please get in touch with us if this is something you are interested in.”

Watch the video of the BRE carrying out the tests, here >>

Advice from Electrical Safety First

To reduce the risk of fires, the charity recommends, among other things, to:

  • Regularly check the condition of the battery
  • Stop using/charging the battery as soon as you notice any damage and replace it
  • Only use the charger supplied with the battery
  • If the original charger is not available, obtain a replacement from the original manufacturer
  • Don’t leave items on charge continuously
  • Charge your batteries in a safe place
  • Ensure that you have adequate early warning systems in place (in case of fire)

Read more about the dangers of lithium-ion battery fires in IFSEC Insider’s eBook: Lessons from FIREX 2023 >>


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