How Do You Put Out a Lithium-Ion Battery Fire?

August 11 2017

How Do You Put Out a Lithium-Ion Battery Fire?

Issues with exploding cell phones, e-cigarettes, and laptops haven't gone away, even years after the Samsung Galaxy 7 recall of 2017. 

In the aviation industry alone, the FAA has reported a total of 265 incidents involving smoking or burning lithium-ion batteries between when these batteries came on the market and August 2019.  

These lithium-ion batteries (or li-ion batteries) are considered safe to use, but with growing usage from millions of consumers, failure is bound to happen occasionally.

How to extinguish a lithium-ion battery fire

Let’s cut right to the chase. Despite their name, lithium-ion batteries used in consumer products do not contain any actual lithium metal. Therefore, a Class D fire extinguisher is not to be used to fight a lithium-ion battery fire. Class D fire extinguishers, which contain dry powder, are intended for combustible metal fires only. Since lithium-ion batteries aren’t made with metallic lithium, a Class D dry powder extinguisher would not be effective.

So, what kind of fire extinguisher should you use in this scenario? Lithium-ion batteries are considered a Class B fire, so a standard ABC or BC dry chemical fire extinguisher should be used. Class B is the classification given to flammable liquids. Lithium-ion batteries contain liquid electrolytes that provide a conductive pathway, so the batteries receive a B fire classification.

Why do lithium-ion batteries catch fire?

Should you worry about your cell phone spontaneously catching on fire? Don’t worry; the chances of it happening are slim.

There are two basic types of battery failure. The first involves a defect within the manufacturing of the battery, and when the defect is discovered the batteries are typically recalled. Just last year, the Samsung Galaxy Note7 smartphone was recalled over fire hazard concerns.

The second type of battery failure is hard to pinpoint. It’s usually the result of a stress event such as vibration, an electrical short, or could simply be a fluke. As Battery University explains:

A mild short will only cause elevated self-discharge and the heat buildup is minimal because the discharging power is very low. If enough microscopic metallic particles converge on one spot, a sizable current begins to flow between the electrodes of the cell, and the spot heats up and weakens. As a small water leak in a faulty hydro dam can develop into a torrent and take a structure down, so too can heat buildup damage the insulation layer in a cell and cause an electrical short. The temperature can quickly reach 500°C (932°F), at which point the cell catches fire or it explodes.”

With the increasing rates of lithium-ion battery fires happening to consumer electronics, this has been a frequent topic asked of Impact Fire. Assess your fire extinguisher needs today, so that you can be prepared, protected and safe no matter what.

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