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October 31, 2022

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Lithium-ion battery fires

Lithium-Ion battery fires – Your questions answered

The webinar ‘Burning Issues Surrounding Lithium-Ion Battery Fires’ presented by Matt Humby from Firechief in October prompted many questions both during and after the event. Here we cover some of those asked most frequently, or that there wasn’t time to answer in the session itself.


To watch the session back in full, where further questions were answered, click here >>


What are the fire risks associated with electric vehicles?

The question of the safety of charging electric vehicles (EVs) in underground car parks proved to be of particular concern. Some commercial property owners asked why their Fire Risk Assessments haven’t flagged this as a significant risk, while others have voiced the opinion that the UK should follow the practice of some European countries and ban EVs from charging in sub-basement car parks.

Although it is true that there have been several fires reported, there is not yet enough data to evidence how much of a problem this may become. However, good practice would be to avoid installing underground car park charging points if possible and site them in the open instead – but not close to any escape routes, or areas which could impede safe evacuation. It is recommended that EV charging points at workplaces should not be sited near assembly points or flammable storage tanks, etc.

This in turn brings up the bigger question of the safety of installing high voltage charge points in close proximity to buildings and other infrastructure. This is becoming an increasing concern for property insurers, and it is important that organisations give careful consideration as to where charging points are located. According to insurance broker and risk advisors, Marsh, failure to do so could result in requests from insurers for charge points to be relocated, incurring significant expense and ultimately insurers could even limit or refuse cover where clients decline to relocate charge points.

It is clear that proper standards are needed around the siting of charge points in general but in the meantime, Marsh has provided the following guidelines:

  • Notify your insurers that you intend to install charging points and undertake a fire risk assessment.
  • Locate charging points externally where possible instead of under canopies or inside other enclosed areas of the building. For multi-storey car parks, charging points should be installed only on the open air/roof/top deck, whenever possible.
  • No charging should be undertaken within 10 metres of any combustible materials or within 15 metres of hazardous installations
  • Ensure the nominated charging area provides suitable space for vehicles to park and connect safely.
  • Ensure there is sufficient electrical infrastructure for the electrical supply at the point of installation. The circuit should be dedicated to the use of the chargers, and not be part of a ring main or used for other purposes.
  • Provide employees or tenants with adequate training covering the safe use of such chargers.

The storage of electric bikes at places of work and residential buildings is also worth mentioning here. According to RISC, whenever possible, electrically assisted bicycles should be stored and charged outside the premises, ideally in a secure detached single storey structure.

How should Lithium-Ion batteries be recycled and transported?

Lithium-Ion batteries should be recycled at the end of their working life rather than being sent to landfill, in order to protect the environment. Waste batteries should be stored safely outside a premises and protected from the effects of the weather while awaiting disposal by a specialist contractor or the supplier, in accordance with the requirements of EU Directive 2006/66/EC (ref. 17). The terminals of waste batteries should be protected to prevent shorting between batteries occurring (FIA RISC Authority report ‘Recommendations for fire safety when charging electric vehicles’).

However, lithium-ion batteries which have been damaged, should not be disposed of in either general waste or in recycling containers. Damaged batteries should be removed from a building and placed in a container of sand or similar inert material such as vermiculite, located well away from buildings and combustible materials.

Where lithium-ion batteries need to be transported, they should be packaged to ensure that they cannot be punctured, dented, or crushed as a result of any foreseeable accident. Containment products such as the Firechief Lithium Battery Fire Resistant Container have been specially designed for this purpose.

How can the public be educated on the risks of Lithium-Ion batteries?

There is a real and urgent need for local authorities and refuse organisations to run education campaigns to help the public understand that discarding batteries in their general waste is a dangerous fire hazard. If batteries, or electricals containing batteries such as mobile phones, laptops, and e- cigarettes, end up inside bins or recycling lorries with other materials, they are then crushed in the waste and recycling process. This increases the chance that the battery could be punctured and self-combust – a process which is called Thermal Runaway – becoming a real risk that it will set fire to surrounding dry and flammable waste and recycling.

Clearly these fires have the potential to endanger both the public and waste truck operators by causing fires on streets, and waste centres across the UK, while costing local councils millions of pounds. One refuse handing organisation has reported losing three Refuse Collection Vehicles in last 12 months alone due to fires started by lithium-ion batteries in discarded devices.

According to the Environmental Services Association (ESA), 48% of all waste fires in the UK each year are caused by Lithium-ion batteries, costing £158 million annually to waste operators, fire services and the environment. This fire risk is increasing all the time, so it is especially important for education on this type of fire to be given.

Research also found that as many as 45% of householders are unaware of the fire risk if they don’t safely dispose of batteries, with a quarter of householders unsafely throwing them away. In addition, 40% of householders are unaware of any information regarding how they should safely recycle their batteries (Material Focus).

What advice can you offer on mitigating the risks of Lithium-Ion battery fires?

e-Scooter-FireLithiumBattery-22Insurance companies such as Zurich and Aviva have become much more aware of Lithium-Ion battery fire risks and report a significant uplift in related claims over the last three years.

Preventative measures:

  • Treat lithium-ion batteries and the devices which contain them, with the respect they deserve. Protect the batteries against being damaged through crushing, puncturing or immersion in water as this increases the risk of fire
  • Always use the charger that came with your device. If you need to buy a replacement, choose a branded, genuine product from a supplier you can trust.
  • Avoid storing, using, or charging lithium-ion batteries at very high or very low temperatures
  • Don’t leave items continuously on charge after the charge cycle is complete, e.g., don’t leave your devices plugged in overnight
  • Battery experts recommend that a good charging range is from 20% up to 80% and then recharge from 20% back to 80%. Lithium-ion batteries don’t perform well when they are constantly charged from 1-2% up to 100% and back again
  • Ensure that wherever you charge a device, you still have a clear exit from the room or property in case of fire
  • Never charge a device such as a mobile phone under items such as pillows. Lithium-ion batteries need to be kept within a good temperature range, with good circulation of air around them. Always charge them on a hard surface
  • When you travel, avoid keeping all your items containing lithium-ion batteries together, especially on a plane
  • Avoid fast charging an aged or low-performing battery

Containment measures:

  • Stop using the battery and/or charger if the temperature of either (or both) rises more than 10ºC (18ºF) on a regular charge.
  • If a Lithium-ion battery overheats, hisses, or bulges, immediately move the device with the battery away from flammable materials and place it on a non-combustible surface. If at all possible, put the battery safely outdoors to burn out.
  • Bear in mind that moving a battery which has gone into thermal runaway can cause re-ignition and the combustion process to start again for up to 10 hours after it started. Specialist products such as the Firechief Heavy Duty Lithium-ion Battery Fire blanket help to stop the spread and contain the fire.

What standards apply to Lithium-Ion battery fires and tests?

The question of standards is frequently raised, however, there is no separate class of fire as yet. Also, there are no recognised test standards for lithium-ion battery fires in the UK (BS certificate) or in Europe (EN certificate) or in North America (UL certificate). The standards now need to catch up!


Additional resources:

 

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