Powering Up Safely: A Guide to Lithium-ion Battery Safety
Lithium-ion batteries can be found in every home and workplace. They are commonly used in work equipment (such as cordless tools and other battery powered devices) as well as mobile phones, laptops, electric vehicles, e-scooters and the like. They are a popular choice because of the amount of power they provide (usually 100-watt hours per kg) and they are rechargeable, appealing to the move towards the wider adoption of renewable energy sources.
Because of the pervasiveness of lithium-Ion batteries in everyday life, it is easy to overlook the hazards. If lithium-ion batteries are overcharged, exposed to heat or damaged they can catch fire or explode, resulting in injury or death and serious damage to property. Below we highlight the main hazards and look at some of the ways you can reduce the risks.
Are lithium-ion Batteries Unsafe?
Generally the answer is no, provided that they are used strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations. Lithium-Ion batteries contain a flammable electrolyte fluid which if broken or cracked can allow moisture and oxygen into the batteries which oxidises the components causing a heat reaction. Lithium-Ion batteries are sensitive to high temperatures and can catch fire or explode. Such an event may also see the release of noxious & hazardous gasses into the atmosphere.
How can a lithium-ion battery fire or explosion occur?
There are several situations in which the safety of lithium-ion batteries can be compromised. Here we highlight some of the more common ones.
• When the separators within the batteries thin
• Improper use, i.e. heat
• Disassembly – the general rule is not to take them apart
• Piercing or impact damage
• Incorrect charging
• Thermal runaway (this is when a Lithium-Ion battery malfunctions internally causing a release of energy, resulting in a rapid almost uncontrollable self-heating state)
What are the risks associated with using lithium-ion Batteries?
Property damage: A lithium battery fire can cause extensive damage to the device in which it is housed, as well as to the surrounding property. This can include damage to buildings and equipment therein, often leading to serious interruption to the business activities
Liability: Manufacturers, distributors and sometimes retailers of devices that contain lithium-ion batteries can be held liable for damages caused by a malfunctioning battery/device. This can include civil claims from companies/individuals (or their insurers) who have suffered injury and/or property damage
Insurers are seeing an increase in claims caused by lithium-ion batteries catching fire. We have become accustomed to charging batteries of all types but sometimes we overlook the dangers of improper use. It is especially important to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the use and charging of any item containing a lithium-ion battery.
How can I manage the risk of a lithium-ion battery fire?
It is important that people understand the risks so they can take action and avoid the devastating consequences of a fire or thermal run-away.
Here are some of the precautions that should be taken: –
• Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully on use, repair, replacement and disposal
• Do not leave a lithium-ion battery charging unattended or overnight
• Unplug the lithium-ion battery once charging is complete
• Stop charging immediately if a lithium-ion battery gets hot
• Always charge a lithium-ion battery on a non-combustible surface
• Never dispose of a lithium-ion battery in the general waste
• Update your risk assessments and implement fire safety precautions to include the use and storage of lithium-ion batteries
• Install appropriate fire extinguishers
• Seek appropriate expert advice and guidance if significant quantities of lithium-ion batteries are involved
There is no doubt that rechargeable batteries play an essential part in the general adoption of renewable energy in the modern world, but there is a danger that if we do not use these devices properly, we dramatically increase the risks to people and property as well as the global environment.
We hope that this article has been informative and has given you some practical steps to improving and increasing awareness of the risks of lithium-ion batteries together with information on how to use them safely. Please share this with anyone you think will find it useful and if there are any questions about this issue, please do not hesitate to contact one of the team on 01823 442214 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org