Lithium jump starters and fire danger?

Submitted: Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:05
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Was impressed by the capabilities of the lithium jump starter batteries as outlined in the forum and then the price and compact nature of them.
Doubtless most of you have seen the stories about lithium batteries bursting into flames associated with those little two wheeled stand up run abouts that have suddenly come on the market.
Most airlines are anxious about lithium batteries and there have been laptops that have burst into flames.
Has anyone seen any reports about the possibilities of fire with the lithium jump starters? And what are the optimal circumstances that may cause a lithium battery to burst into flames?
With those questions resolved I am inclined towards getting one.
Yours tropically, Harry
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Reply By: Member - KeithB - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:13

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:13
My understanding is that the new Lithium batteries are Lithium-Iron-Phosphate (LiPo4) and are stable and very safe. They are the ones that are now going into many upmarket campers and caravans. But you do need a dedicated charger.
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Follow Up By: Bigfish - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:20

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:20
SSB make the Lithioum IOn Phosphate batteries for motorcycles. These only require the normal charging system as fitted to the motorcycle. Brilliant battery. With regards to cars I think they make a larger battery but it is very expensive.
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Follow Up By: harryopal - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:21

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:21
Thank you Keith. And around what price are the dedicated chargers and how big are they? I had assumed the jump starter would charge from a dashboard cigarette lighter plug.

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Reply By: Frank P (NSW) - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:28

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:28

I have installed lithium batteries (LiFePO4) in my Karavan and consequently have done a bit of prior research.

My understanding re the risks is this:

1) Lithium batteries can provide huge currents in relation to their size. If the battery is shorted and the short circuit can take the current and the battery is big enough, the battery can overheat and even explode. If the battery is a decent capacity the output should be fused.

2) They can bloat and explode if severely overcharged. A proper lithium charger will stop charging altogether when the battery if full. If a charger does not detect "full" (in my case 14.4 volts) and continues to pump amps in, then problems occur.

I believe the issues with those two - wheeled stand-up toys was associated with charging, which leads me to believe crappy chargers not designed for the batteries were supplied in the package.
One would hope that the lithium jump starters have a properly designed charger in the pack or supplied alongside.

Also, there are different lithium technologies, just as there are different lead acid technologies. Lithium-cobalt (commonly called lithium-ion (without an R)) is more fussy than lithium iron phosphate (iron with an R), and often called Life batteries as the "Life" is extracted from the chemical symbology, LiFePO4. These are stable as, and can be charged with most lead-acid charging systems that have a max voltage around 14.4V. But they can be abused, especially with a short circuit.

The batteries themselves are not unsafe, they just have to be handled correctly and with respect.


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Reply By: RobAck - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:38

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:38
Your comments are interesting and point to the need to clearly understand the difference between Lithium Iron (LifePO4) and Lithium Ion (LiCoO2) the latter of which is the dangerous one. Recollect 2013 and a Boeing 777 to start with.

The chemistry and technology around the LifePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) is considerable different from the Lithium Cobalt Oxide of the LiCoO2 batteries and there remains a considerably need to help users of both types understand how to manage them.

To understand this I suggest going to this link Redarc-Collyn Rivers article and reading Collyn Rivers informative article on the subject.
The failures you have described sound more like LiCoO2 battery issues as I am not aware of any in the LifePO4 area apart from where home builders have put together cells to make a battery without understanding the specifics required to correctly engineer, charge and maintain them.

I am completely comfortable with the safety of the LifePO4 battery and charging systems that are commercially available. We have them fitted to our Ultimate camper to power my CPAP machine via the inverter, charged and maintained by a RedArc BMS 30S2.

What we are continually finding with this subject is the need for the industry to actually put some decent information out to help potential purchasers sort out the chaff from the wheat.

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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:54

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:54
Excellent post, Rob. Agree 100%


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Reply By: Robin Miller - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:58

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 18:58
Basic problem is caused by internal shorts , made more likely by thin seperators and small bits of metal from manufacturing processes.

Then because they are so powerful the internal shorts can cause an overheat.

Has to be put into perspective though as they are basically reliable , but there are so many and consequences are so noticeable.

Its still not a mature technology so sometimes they can be fantastic and sometimes not so.

Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: RobAck - Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 19:52

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016 at 19:52
LifePO4 is a quite mature technology and chemistry. It is used by the majority of the solar storage manufacturers as well as Tesla amongst others as well as playing a considerable role in defence and mining amongst other areas of business.

Like anything manufactured the quality of systems, process and control is vital. Hence the need to be very clear when purchasing something in this space that it is from a reputable supplier given the bulk of manufacturer is in the hand of a quite small number of quality suppliers. Charging and maintenance are part of the key in ensuring these batteries, like all of them actually, provide the user with the best possible experience, reliability and value for money. Right now LifePO4 is very expensive compared to the older battery technologies who also experience failures I may add. So value for money is not clearly evident for the average purchaser unless they have a specific requirement for the higher performance that the LifePO4 offers

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Follow Up By: PhilD - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 00:38

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 00:38
It all depends on the USD exchange rate and how you work out "expensive". I am a 400 Ahr lithium pack that gives me the equivalent of 7 100 Ahr AGM batteries at about 27% of the weight, assuming discharge on AGMs should not exceed 50%. I will get many more cycles hopefully out of the lithium, which cost me about 25% more than AGMs when the exchange rate was better than now, plus my time understanding and configuring the battery management system, etc. Great system for high levels of use, but I agree not needed by everyone. It is very important to have the right charging algorithms and battery management system.
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Follow Up By: 9900Eagle - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 11:14

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 11:14
Robin, I have to agree with all you have said about the small jump start packs and how they were manufactured. There would not be much clearance inside and you would hope the insulation was up to scratch with all that horsepower sitting in there.

With all the brands out there, I would imagine some use dodgy manufacturing practices.
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 13:34

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 13:34
Hi Eagle

Rather than dodgy practices I rather say its just a lack of design focus on all of the issues.

They have made great strides on little aspects that simply don't come to attention of those outside the field, they will get there though and eventually they will be an even better product.

In approx 1992 , in conjunction with some other R & D engineers , we were working on the for runner of what is now called an E-Tag, an attempt was made to use the technology but an amazing little thing prevented there use , that was that when you switch on the Li battery , the power was not instantly available, it took about 30 milli-seconds (1/33 rd of a second) .

Meaningless most would say - but in that time a car at 300kmh will travel nearly 3 meters and be out of range of the detecting beam.

( 300kmh capability is required to insure no vehicle can escape detection)

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Reply By: Ron N - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 00:25

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 00:25
You can get the major thrust of the safety angle of Lithium-Ion batteries from the fact that no passenger aircraft are allowed to carry them as cargo.

They can only be carried in the hold of dedicated cargo aircraft and only after careful and thorough packing and restraint processes are carried out.

They don't like being roughly handled or twisted, because the separators break so easily.
Once you have a fractured separator, you have a short circuit, and uncontained or unattended short circuits lead to fires.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: member - mazcan - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 11:16

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 11:16
hi RON
by what you have stated then they would not be suitable for rough track conditions such as the likes of eg.CSR /Gunbarrel hwy corregations etc and continued travel on aussie outback roads
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 12:27

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 12:27
Hi Mazcan - Well, I'd have to say, if travelling long distances on rough roads, you'd be best advised to treat Li-ion batteries as the equivalent of your best china - pack them well with plenty of soft packing material - and ensure that they're placed in a position, that if by chance, one does start to short-circuit - you can get to it easily, and get it out into the open, where smoke and flames can be dispersed and subdued.

They don't explode when they short circuit - they merely start to smoke, and as the heat level builds up, they can actually burst into flames.
In the cargo hold of an aircraft, where no-one is normally positioned to see what's going on, smoke detectors, fire suppression systems, and hold fire liners are installed to deal with cargo hold fires.

Smoke detectors alert the crew to smoke in the hold - crew can access the hold to attack hold fires with hand fire extinguishers - and if the crew are unable to suppress a hold fire with hand extinguishers, the ventilation to the hold is sealed, the hold is flooded with fire suppressant, and the aircraft makes an emergency landing.

The planning and design of aircraft fire suppression is such that the system is not designed to put out fires completely, it's designed to suppress the fire for long enough to prevent major damage to the airframe that would make the aircraft uncontrollable, and allow the crew time to make an emergency descent and landing.

Many pilots are leery about carrying Li-ion batteries, but with careful handling and packaging and with the full knowledge of what is being carried and where and how, the risks can be reduced to almost zero.

The airlines are getting very touchy about any Li-ion batteries being carried by passengers, and in particular spare batteries, and how they are packed.

When travelling by air, I carry spare Li-ion batteries for camera and laptop in a small plastic parts box with compartments - and each battery is wrapped in plastic foam packing sheet to ensure no movement can take place during travel.
It's also important to ensure that the battery terminals are totally unable to come into contact with any metal, that might create arcing and short-circuiting.

Every time I've boarded an aircraft lately, the counter staff ask if you're carrying Li-ion batteries, and want to see how your spare Li-ion batteries are packed.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Thursday, Mar 10, 2016 at 13:20

Thursday, Mar 10, 2016 at 13:20

interesting comments.

I am presently considering fitting a LiFePO4 battery in a light aircraft to run some auxiliary equipment (HF Radio, Satphone, iPad etc). It would be charged by a semi-flexible solar panel glued to the wing. The advantage of this battery is the light weight, compared with say a lead acid battery of equivalent capacity. I am keen on a battery other than the existing SLA as I don't want to interfere in any way with the plane's electrics, even to the point of not using the cigarette lighter socket for the iPad.

However, the last thing I need is an incandescent battery behind me at 5000 ft.


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Follow Up By: Ron N - Thursday, Mar 10, 2016 at 14:03

Thursday, Mar 10, 2016 at 14:03
Bob - Li-ion technology is getting better, despite both Cessna and Boeing having major problems with Li-ion batteries.
We all know about the 787 Dreamliner battery problems, but Cessna also had problems in 2011 with the Li-ion battery fitted to the Cessna Citation CJ4 (525C), which resulted in a emergency AD.

One Cessna Li-ion battery caught fire on the ground when ground charging equipment was attached, resulting in Cessna issuing the AD to replace all the Li-ions with Ni-Cad or Lead-Acid batteries.
Since 2013, however, Cessna have changed their Li-ion battery supplier and have lifted the AD and are refitting Li-ions, and saying they are confident the Li-ion problems have been solved.

The Dreamliner battery problem seems to be cured, with greater emphasis on battery construction quality by Yuasa and a fireproof stainless-steel battery box.

However, all these Li-ions are aviation-standard quality batteries. The major, ordinary Li-ion problems, centre around poor Chinese quality control, charging issues relating to incorrect charging or overcharging - and handling and packaging problems.

To utilise on your aircraft, an ordinary (non-aviation-standard) Li-ion battery built in China or some other 3rd-world country, without substantial QC oversight by a major manufacturer, would be asking for trouble, IMO.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Members - Bow & Nan - Thursday, Mar 10, 2016 at 14:49

Thursday, Mar 10, 2016 at 14:49
Ron, Bob is asking about a LiFePO4 battery.
A LiFePO4 battery will not burn and is safe.
"Work interferes with living"

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Follow Up By: Ron N - Thursday, Mar 10, 2016 at 16:01

Thursday, Mar 10, 2016 at 16:01
Sorry B&W, I was a bit switched off there, and forgot Bob was talking about LiFePO4 batteries.

Regardless, for aviation use, fitting anything to an aircraft that is a modification not produced by the aircraft manufacturer, requires approval from CASA and jumping through the hoops to prove it won't affect aircraft safety.

Cheers, Ron.
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Reply By: Rangiephil - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 10:10

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 10:10
Quote LifePO4 is a quite mature technology and chemistry. It is used by the majority of the solar storage manufacturers as well as Tesla amongst others .Quote

My understanding is that Tesla batteries are comprised of hundreds of "subC" ( I forget the ID number) cells made by Panasonic and similar to the batteries in the latest Prius. Tulk HOPES to reduce cost by producing them in his Mega factory. Time will tell.

AFAIK This is different to the larger cells used in Lifepo4 car batteries.

However the jump starters would most probably be the multiple cell type, just like my Ryobi drill batteries .
It always seems to me that this is not really mature technology when you daisy chain hundreds of little batteries , but hey the Priuses seem to be quite reliable. Toyota has good QA.
Regards Philip A
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Follow Up By: harryopal - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 10:24

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 10:24
I suppose another pertinent question is where are they made? We are now importing most of our pharmaceuticals from China and a couple of years ago the head of the oversight body in China was executed for taking bribes to by pass proper testing.
There have been stories on this forum and elsewhere of people buying caravans made with poor quality, Chinese metal and the A frame to the tow bar collapsing.
Manufacturers may seek to impose strict conditions on production in China but I am rather wary of Chinese made stuff. Eventually the Chinese may get on top of poor quality as the did the Japanese when immediately post WW11 Japanese produced goods were regarded as rubbish.
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Reply By: Ozi M - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 16:19

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 16:19
I am a bit wary of them myself, I read that they should not be exposed to high temperatures when stored.
In the car on a hot day it is common for the interior to be up to 50c or 60c, easily hot enough to cook a Lithium battery.
If I am up north, even in winter it can average 37+ for days, if I park and do a walk somewhere I may come back a few hours later to a burnt out wreck in a remote spot.
I bought something else :)
AnswerID: 597186

Reply By: eaglefree - Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 20:02

Wednesday, Mar 09, 2016 at 20:02
Well my experience was many years ago now so things likely have changed and lithium gets a bad wrap for their reputation which isn't right.

Lithium batteries, light and powerful entered the model airplane hobby less than 20 years ago. I had them, less weight means a plane flies better.

My new Styrofoam plane took off and all club members were in awe of this technological up to date aircraft doing loops and barrel rolls. Then smoke appeared and members were pleading for me to land the thing, smoke got worse and it was great! (like how uncle Fester smashes trains) just like a scene from battle of Britain the plan sent more and more smoke trailing behind it, then fire. I was able to guide the thing nearby before it crashed. We scurried for some blankets to put the grass fire out.

Them days Lithium had to be charged a certain way. I think the controller overheated. But they left me with an sight I'll never forget. memories...
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