Lithium battery fires

Submitted: Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 10:48
ThreadID: 137378 Views:2372 Replies:14 FollowUps:16
Just a reminder to those wanting to install Li-ion batteries, that the threat of runaway fire from these batteries is still a very real event - particularly if they suffer damage in some way.

But even without suffering damage, there is still a worrying number of Lithium fires that happen, just with no precipitating damage event.

The full story isn't in yet, but it appears a runaway Lithium battery fire has taken the life of a person using a mobility scooter in Geraldton, W.A.

What is even more concerning, is that bystanders were completely unable to save the gent, due to the ferociousness of the battery fire.
Lithium battery smoke is extremely toxic and can kill you a lot faster than plain wood smoke, because of the toxic chemicals being burnt in an Li-ion battery fire.

It appears there are two areas where care must be taken with regard to preventing Li-ion fires -

1. Only buy top-quality, brand-name batteries, that have been produced under top-class quality control. Numbers of cheap Chinese Li-ion batteries have suspect QC.

2. Ensure your Li-ion battery charger is set up correctly, or you are using the correct charger for your Li-ion battery. Overcharging is a common cause of Li-ion battery fires.

3. Ensure your Li-ion batteries can't get too hot. Keep them out of direct strong sunlight in enclosed areas, or areas where heat is being generated. Ensure that the battery storage area has adequate ventilation to carry away generated heat.

4. Ensure that any possibility of penetrative accidents is minimised. This means that you don't store batteries (permanently or temporarily) where any sharp object could fall on them.

5. Keep a dry powder fire extinguisher located within reach of your permanent Li-ion batteries location, to enable a quick response to any battery fire.

Man dies in mobility scooter fire - Geraldton

ABC News - electric scooter in China catches fire whilst charging

Battery University - safety concerns surrounding Li-ion batteries

Cheers, Ron.
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Reply By: Greg J1 - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 11:20

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 11:20
That poor old fella that died on his scooter. That’s the saddest thing I’ve seen for a long time.

His mobility scooter was probably his life. I know 2 old fellas who get around on these things and they are just as passionate about their scooters as they were with their cars.

Life throws some tough cards for some people.

Cheers Greg
AnswerID: 621708

Reply By: Member - peter_mcc - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 12:15

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 12:15
There are many different type of lithium batteries. Most car/caravan batteries are LiFePo4 cells which are very stable. Yes, if you abuse them enough they have problems but so does a normal lead/acid battery.

Batteries in phones, laptops, etc are a different chemistry - eg Lithium polymer - which isn't as stable. They are more energy dense which is why they are used in phones/etc. Once they get too hot they catch fire and explode.

I don't know what the poor WA guys's scooter used but a quick.

When people say "lithium battery" you need to know exactly what they are talking about - LiFePo4? Lipo? As a comparison, diesel is a lot less dangerous than petrol...
AnswerID: 621709

Reply By: MUZBRY- Life member(Vic) - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 12:56

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 12:56
Gday
So what is the % of these scooters burning ?
Muzbry
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Follow Up By: RMD - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 18:18

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 18:18
Could have been the DPF perhaps!
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Follow Up By: Member - ACD 1 - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 22:15

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 22:15
Very poor taste RMD!

Cheers

Anthony
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Follow Up By: RMD - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 22:49

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 22:49
ACD1
I can't see what you are meaning at all. The reference of Muzbry's,t to a % of fires of scooter batteries was intriguing as he asked a similar question of DPF on Hilux.

The %ages don't really matter if you aren't affected and do matter if affected. Sadly the scooter fire claimed a life, % didn't matter there, it happened for some reason. Luck of draw. No disrespect to the WA fire from me.

Unfortunately some cars suddenly have erupted in flames too and they don't have Lithium batteries. Again percentage isn't the issue.
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Follow Up By: Member - ACD 1 - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 23:43

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 23:43
Perhaps you could have put as much thought into your first response.

Someone's loved one lost their life in one of the most horrendous ways.

I have been present and unable to do anything as a young father burnt to death while trapped in a car wreck as a held his two children that I helped pull out of the car.

A flippant response is less than respectful.

Cheers

Anthony
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Follow Up By: MUZBRY- Life member(Vic) - Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 16:38

Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 16:38
Gday
I think you two need to sit for a while with me and have a chat.Maybe a coffee or two. You seem to think i am some sort of ogre.
I had no answer to the dpf question , and none to the scooter question. I like to know the % ages to most things.
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Follow Up By: Member - ACD 1 - Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 20:18

Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 20:18
All good with your response Muz

My reply was to RMD's.

Cheers

Anthony

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Reply By: terryt - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 13:11

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 13:11
Could be a good idea to wait till they find out what happened before scaremongering.
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Follow Up By: Member - Bigfish - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 19:01

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 19:01
Your idea of scaremongering must be different to mine. He was only alerting people to a real life possibility. Plenty of people out very ignorant when it comes to anything mechanical or electrical..
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Reply By: Malcom M - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 13:36

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 13:36
Lots of different types of Lithium. Some are more dangerous than others. Some quite safe.

I assume you know which type your blanket statement refers to?
AnswerID: 621713

Follow Up By: Member - Bigfish - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 19:02

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 19:02
I,d say all batteries. Common sense just aint so common for many..
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Reply By: skulldug - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 14:01

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 14:01
Ron,

Very sad story. Here’s one about an old age pensioner that spontaneously combusted.

Pensioner catches fire

I think there are a few things that can be done to prevent this too.

Don’t leave them out in the sun.

Don’t drop sharp objects on them.

They can also get a bit hot under the collar when they are left alone with an internet connection.

Sheeesh
AnswerID: 621714

Follow Up By: Greg J1 - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 14:11

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 14:11
Sorry skulldog, can’t find the humour in that. I hope I don’t laugh when you catch fire.

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Follow Up By: skulldug - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 16:39

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 16:39
Greg,

I was going to contribute my own experiences to an earlier thread but I decided not to because of the hysterical nonsense that lithium batteries seem to attract. Ron's post is the perfect example.

Thanks for the kind wishes anyway.

Skull
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Reply By: Keith B2 - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 14:57

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 14:57
My understanding is that fires in LiPO4 batteries as used in the RV industry are very rare.

But if they are in a fire cause by something else, they will burn with great ferocity. I am installing some now and am thinking about a remotely activated CO2 system for the battery compartment.

Keith
AnswerID: 621715

Reply By: 9900Eagle - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 16:38

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 16:38
I haven't read anywhere that it was a lithium battery so maybe wait until that is confirmed

It may have had a LA golf cart battery in it for all we know.

AnswerID: 621716

Follow Up By: Bill R5 - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 18:33

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 18:33
You saved me the trouble of saying exactly that mate..... nowhere did it mention lithium in the article. I'd venture a guess that the vast majority of mobility scooters are (still) powered by LA batteries.
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Follow Up By: 9900Eagle - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 19:33

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 19:33
Bill yes I know where you are coming from. I know one thing, most fires the total heavy trucks are started by good old fashioned lead acid batteries.
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Reply By: Frank P (NSW) - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 18:50

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 18:50
Ron,
I generally look forward to reading your informative posts, but this one I find a bit unnecessarily alarmist.

The Geraldton and ABC links do not mention battery types or chemistries, so on the face of the info presented cannot be linked to lithium batteries. I would think any battery suitable for the respective applications, or their chargers, could start a fire in the right circumstances.

Just as there are various chemistries or flavours of lead-acid battery technology, so there are with lithium.

Some of the more energy-dense technologies are more critical and less tolerant of operator, installation or manufacturing errors, as Sony and Samsung found out with their lithium polymer batteries and Boeing with its lithium ion.

There is a world of difference between lithium ION and lithium IRON but people often confuse the terms because they sound the same. I suspect you may be a victim of that confusion.

The batteries we are discussing for recreational use in RVs are lithium IRON phosphate, LiFePO4. These are the ones readily available to the recreational market and are what posters here in EO are referring to as lithium batteries. This chemistry is inherently more stable than the lithium ION batteries you posted about.

Cheers
AnswerID: 621717

Follow Up By: Ron N - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 21:49

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 21:49
Frank, I wasn't trying to be unnecessarily alarmist, I'm sorry if my post was interpreted that way.

However - the simple fact remains that Lithium batteries, of any type, still pose a potentially-serious fire risk, particularly in transportation.

As a result, there is plenty of transportation warnings that many of the above readers might also interpret as "alarmist" - but the risks are real, and the fire history of Lithium batteries prove that the risk is still of great concern.

I would really like to share your opinion that Lithium-Iron-Phosphate batteries are very safe - but the following technical article makes no such distinction between safety levels of the various types of Lithium batteries.

I'd like to believe contributors to this thread are mature enough to have a robust and intelligent, and wide-ranging discussion, over the potential fire risk of Lithium batteries - however some contributors here don't appear to possess that level of maturity, judging by the level of comment.

NCBI - Transportation Safety of Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 23:15

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 23:15
Ron,

It is worth noting that lead acid batteries are also classed as hazardous cargo.

That NCBI article is a very academic study pertaining to aviation transport of lithium batteries. Its aim is to show that any risks associated with air transport of lithium batteries can be significantly reduced by transporting them in a discharged state. The thrust of the paper is not relevant to the use of lithium batteries in a land-based RV environment.

Nevertheless, it highlights the need for the batteries to be handled correctly and loaded and stored appropriately in an aircraft cargo hold. In Table 2, in the first two incidents there were fires near the batteries but it could not be determined that the fires were caused BY the batteries. In all the other incidents the fires were attributed to the batteries being mishandled, poorly packaged or being short circuited externally (presumably by something falling on them). It's not the batteries themselves that were the problem, it was what was done to them.

IMO the risks discussed in that article are not representative of the risks in recreational use we are talking about here on EO. We are not talking about pallet loads of batteries stacked amongst other cargo. We are talking about a single battery or maybe two or three, restrained as you would a lead acid battery bank, presumably in a closed compartment or otherwise separated from recreational paraphernalia, in service with an appropriate battery management system.

Yes, there are risks, just as there are with big lead-acid battery banks. Properly and appropriately mitigated with physical restraints, physical isolation, fusing, insulation, quality cabling and BMSs - what we do with any battery installation - the risks in day to day use for each type (lead acid and LiFePO4) become as acceptable as any other recreational activity.

To that end I agree 100% with your points 1 to 5 in your opening post.

Cheers Frank
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Reply By: Member - shane r1 - Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 21:45

Monday, Oct 22, 2018 at 21:45
Your point 5. Having an extinguisher close to the batteries.

A local guy here had a fire in his dual cab canopy to do with his fridge.
He told me his extinguisher was next to the fridge , so it wasn’t a great place to have his fire extinguisher mounted as he burnt his hands getting it.
So the placement of extinguisher’s need a bit of thought too.
Cheers
Shane
AnswerID: 621718

Reply By: Iza B - Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 07:56

Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 07:56
I am not aware of any mobility scooters that use Li Ion or LifePo4. Been doing a bit of research on drive train stuff in mobility scooters.

I am also unaware of anyone "Dropping in" a Li ion battery in a RV situation. Current interest of mine because I have been building both technologies from discrete cells for EV projects.

I remain sure the sky is not falling and will return to an "alert, not alarmed" state.

Iza
AnswerID: 621719

Reply By: CSeaJay - Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 15:56

Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 15:56
I just went through the process of buying a mobility scooter for my dad. Looked at both brand new and secondhand, many models,
Each and every one had AGM batteries. This makes sense to me regarding their application.
My point is that I am not sure it was a lithium battery that caused this poor gent's accident?
AnswerID: 621725

Follow Up By: Ron N - Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 22:48

Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018 at 22:48
No-one knows at this stage, what battery was in the scooter, and we won't know until the coroner produces his report.

But - there are a range of Lithium batteries being recommended for mobility scooter use, their useage in increasing, as scooter owners desire better battery life - and this scooter fire event has all the hallmarks of a runaway Lithium battery fire, which produces a very rapid and ferocious burn rate.

I find it hard to believe that a lead-acid battery short-circuit would produce such a rapid fire, that the rider would not be able to dismount - even if he/she was very slow in their movements.

I await the coroners report with interest.

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Iza B - Wednesday, Oct 24, 2018 at 08:57

Wednesday, Oct 24, 2018 at 08:57
Good try Ron, but, we don't know.

Have attended several fires started by simple tech lead acid batteries, I can attest to the fast and furious rate of burn possible.

If you are having trouble understanding how a mobility scooter rider might have have trouble dismounting, pop down to the local retirement home and notice the number of people who require the help of two assistants to get into and out of their mobility aid.

Iza
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Reply By: Craig H4 - Wednesday, Oct 24, 2018 at 13:45

Wednesday, Oct 24, 2018 at 13:45
One would think that you would find out if a lithium battery was actually involved BEFORE you create a thread titled "Lithium battery fires".
Alarmist threads like this are the reason I rarely bother to participate in forums any more.
AnswerID: 621743

Reply By: froggy88 - Friday, Nov 02, 2018 at 17:09

Friday, Nov 02, 2018 at 17:09
Please Ron do some research before scaremongering. lifepo4 which is the chemistry used in rv installations are perfectly safe.
Don’t lump them with other lithium chemistries.
AnswerID: 621920

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