These aren’t any ordinary fires. They burn hot, they spread fast, and they’re incredibly difficult to put out. In some cases, the temperatures involved are such that the fires have actually re-ignited after having been extinguished. (More on that below.)
On the surface, they can be said to happen because of a phenomenon called thermal runaway, but it’s a lack of awareness of what this actually means that’s the real killer.
We hope this article answers any questions you have about thermal runaway and Li-ion fires so you can use your batteries to power your operations safely and responsibly.
What is thermal runaway?
Thermal runaway causes
Causes of thermal runaway include:
Understanding lithium-ion thermal runaway temperatures
The rise in lithium-ion fires is attributed to the increasing prevalence of Li-ion batteries in various industries without adequate consideration for safety risks. Li-ion batteries are considered relatively safe up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), but temperatures exceeding this threshold can make the battery unstable, leading to thermal runaway.
In the event of thermal runaway, Lithium-ion fires catches fire at temperatures around 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit– and reach up to 1110°). Most concerningly, llithium-ion battery fires are prone to reigniting, because the lithium salts in the battery are self-oxidizing, which means that they can't be "starved out" like a traditional fire.
How to avoid thermal runaway
There are several steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of thermal runaway.
- It’s important to use high-quality Li-ion batteries with built-in safety features, such as overcharge and over-discharge protection. A high-quality battery is reliable and will set you off on the right foot from day one.
- Avoid exposing the battery to high temperatures, as this can cause it to deteriorate.
- Don’t leave your batteries on charge unattended, as this greatly increases the chance of them overcharging (and overheating)
- Proper storage and handling of Li-ion batteries can go a long way towards preventing thermal runaway and ensuring safe and efficient operations.
How to extinguish a thermal runaway fire?
Specialist equipment is required to effectively extinguish a thermal runaway fire. Traditional methods, such as water, are less effective at bringing down the fire’s temperature due to the fact that thermal runaway keeps releasing more energy and raising the temperature again.
If you have invested in specialist storage solutions appropriate for your battery types, they may contain dedicated suppression systems and hazardous gas extraction to clear the air. Between them, these systems will help to control the fire, while the integrity of the storage solution should act to contain it.
Are lithium-ion batteries safe?
While Li-ion batteries are generally considered safe to use, the recent rise in reported Li-ion fires highlights the need for better education and training around the risks involved.
These fires can cause catastrophic damage if left unchecked, so don’t let thermal runaway catch you out. Follow the recommended steps, such as investing in adequate storage equipment and sticking to best practices, and make sure your team is doing the same.