Avoiding the Dangers of Lithium-ion Battery Fires
After investing in a new fleet of electric vehicles or promoting their value to your staff, their safety—or rather, the safety of the lithium-ion batteries on which they run—is becoming a major concern for many businesses.
By the end of September 2022, the number of such fires had soared by almost 150% over the previous year and had continued to rise rapidly.
Increasingly, we are seeing more instances of electric cars catching fire while left on charge. Also, the devastating results when smaller vehicles, such as e-scooters and e-bikes, catch fire while being charged inside a property.
What is the problem?
Lithium-ion batteries have been flagged as being particularly dangerous because they can produce a vapour of toxic gases and lead to fire or explosion if damaged or overheated.
Particular focus has been on the number of fires caused by exploding lithium-ion batteries in e-scooters and e-bikes. Many of these fires have been attributed to conversion kits or batteries purchased online, which don't meet the correct safety standards.
What are the warning signs?
Before a failing lithium battery catches fire, there are often a few warning signs. If you see any of these signs, you will need to take immediate action to stay safe and reduce the risk of fire.
- Heat: It's normal for batteries to generate some heat when charging or in use. However, if your device's battery feels extremely hot to the touch, there is a chance it's defective and may start a fire.
- Bulging: A battery bulging or swelling out of shape is a common sign of it failing. Similar signs include any type of lump or leak from the device.
- Noise: Failing lithium batteries have also been reported to make hissing or cracking sounds.
- Smell: If you notice a strong or unusual smell coming from the battery
- Performance: A failure to fully charge or longer charge times
If your battery shows any of these signs of failing, immediately turn off the device and unplug it from the power source. Call the device manufacturer or retailer for further instructions.
The above advice comes from the London Fire Brigade's #ChargeSafe website and can be passed on to your staff or incorporated into your Electric Vehicle Safety Policy.
If you've spotted the warning signs, make sure you report your faulty battery to your local Trading Standards office.
How can you reduce the risk of fire when you charge an e-bike or e-scooter?
- Keep an eye out for warning signs that your battery might be failing and becoming a fire risk.
- Never leave your battery to charge when you are out or while you sleep.
- Make sure your battery and charger meet UK safety standards.
- Let your battery cool before charging it.
- Unplug your charger once the battery has been charged.
- Fit smoke alarms in the area where you charge your batteries.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute has also recently warned retailers and the public to avoid non-compliant devices. It is urging the public to:
- Only purchase e-bikes, e-scooters, chargers, and batteries from reputable retailers.
- Never buy counterfeit batteries or chargers and ensure that any device you use displays a valid UKCA or CE mark.
- Check that separate components, such as batteries and chargers, are compatible with one another.
- Register your product with the manufacturer to validate any warranties on components, including batteries. Registering makes it easier for manufacturers to contact you in the event of safety or recall information.
- Check that any products you have bought are not subject to a product recall. You can do this by visiting Electrical Safety First's website.
Other risks associated with lithium-ion batteries include:
Maintenance workers: Fires in electric vehicles powered by high-voltage lithium-ion batteries pose the risk of electric shock to maintenance workers from exposure to the high-voltage components of a damaged lithium-ion battery. A further risk is that damaged cells in the battery can experience uncontrolled increases in temperature and pressure in a process known as thermal runaway, which can lead to hazards such as battery re-ignition or fire. The risks of electric shock and battery re-ignition or fire arise from the "stranded" energy that remains in a damaged battery.
Safe disposal: Campaigners, local councils, and safety experts are raising fire concerns over the dangers of incorrect disposal of lithium-ion batteries. Experts are warning that this is likely to lead to an increase in recycling plant fires.
According to the not-for-profit organisation Material Focus, nearly 700 fires a year are caused by batteries that have been thrown into household waste. In particular, lithium-ion batteries are said to be responsible for over 200 of all waste fires occurring in the UK each year.
Lithium-ion batteries should never be placed in the same bins as regular rubbish or recycling. Instead, check the relevant local authority's website for the safe way to dispose of the batteries.
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