How to Put Out Lithium Battery Fire

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According to the FDNY, lithium-ion batteries ignited 60 fires in locations across the five boroughs of New York between January 1 and May 3, 2022. Also according to the FDNY, there have been 66 injuries and five deaths in fires involving lithium-ion batteries and 121 investigations so far this year involving lithium-ion batteries.

This article will discuss lithium batteries, their use and potential dangers, and what to do if a battery fire breaks out.

What Are Lithium-ion Batteries?

According to the Clean Energy Institute at the University of Washington, lithium-ion batteries are “an advanced battery technology that uses lithium ions as a key component of its electrochemistry.”

Who Uses Lithium-ion Batteries?

Some food delivery workers rely on lithium-battery-powered e-bikes and e-scooters. Some people keep them in their homes.

Residents also ride their battery-powered lithium bikes to work.

Lithium-ion Battery Fires

While lithium-ion batteries offer several advantages (greater energy density, hold charges well, and higher voltage per cell) compared to other rechargeable battery technologies, there are significant fire safety risks with Lithium-ion batteries. Lithium is highly combustible and has highly reactive components. Lithium is also volatile when damaged and tends to overheat and spontaneously combust.

According to the Clean Energy Institute, they can also be damaged at high voltages, which results in thermal runaway and combustion in some cases. This has caused significant issues, as with the Boeing 787 fleet, which was grounded due to onboard fires. Because of the risks associated with these batteries, several shipping companies refuse to ship batteries in bulk by plane.

Lithium batteries necessitate safety mechanisms to limit voltage and internal pressures, which can increase weight and, in some cases, limit performance. According to the Clean Energy Institute, the batteries can lose capacity and fail “after several years.”

A Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Can Be Deadly

Earlier this year, a 5-year-old girl and a 36-year-old woman were killed in a fire inside a Harlem public housing apartment, which officials believe was caused by an exploding electric scooter battery. The father of the girl was seriously injured.

In December 2021, a battery fire broke out in an apartment building in Manhattan, killing one man and injuring three others. The cause of the fire was an e-bike battery.

How to Prevent Lithium Battery Fires

The FDNY recommends following the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and storage when using a lithium battery. “Always use the manufacturer’s cord and power adapter made specifically for the device.” If a battery overheats, discontinue using the battery immediately. Other measures to prevent Lithium-ion fires include:

  • Be sure the building has appropriate sprinklers. In a fire, Lithium-ion batteries behave similarly to unexpanded plastic commodities, according to large-scale testing.

  • Store Lithium-ion batteries at temperatures ranging from 40 to 80°F for extended periods.

  • Do not store fully charged batteries for extended periods.

  • To reduce the risk of thermal runaway caused by damage, manufacturing defects, or internal failures, keep any Lithium-ion batteries in storage for an extended period charged at levels below 30% charge capacity. Because fully charged Lithium-ion batteries have a higher energy density, they are more likely to generate significant heat due to short-circuiting caused by internal defects.

  • Charge a lithium battery in a secure location. Battery chargers and charged batteries should be at least three feet apart from other combustible contents in larger format batteries, such as those used in mobile equipment. To charge small format batteries safely, keep the charging stations at least one foot away from other combustible materials.

  • Before disposing of batteries, cover the battery terminals. Also, make sure to cover the battery terminals with insulating material. This will help prevent the terminals from contacting metal or other battery contacts, which could shorten the battery circuit and cause an unintended energy discharge.

  • Never use potentially faulty batteries.

How to Extinguish a Lithium-ion and Lithium Metal Fire

Battery University provides the following advice for dealing with a lithium battery fire:

Because they contain little lithium metal, small Lithium-ion batteries can be submerged in water. A Class D fire extinguisher can be used to extinguish fires from lithium-metal batteries. Note: Lithium metal batteries cannot be recharged as with Lithium-ion batteries.

Larger battery fires should be extinguished with foam, CO2, ABC dry chemical, powder graphite, copper powder, or sodium carbonate.

If the fire cannot be put out, you must let it burn in a controlled manner, dousing the surrounding area with water to keep it from spreading.

If you have a battery pack, each cell may burn at a different rate when hot, so leave the pack outside until completely depleted.

Ronemus & Vilensky: Fire Injury Attorneys

The law firm of Ronemus & Vilensky specializes in fire injury losses, including those caused by lithium batteries. We have the experience and knowledge to help you get the compensation you deserve for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, and more. Contact us for call 212-779-7070.