The Risks & Safety Measures of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Published: 26/06/2024

The Risks & Safety Measures of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-Ion batteries have seamlessly become an integral part of our daily lives, powering our phones, laptops, vapes and even electric vehicles. As the demand surges, the global market for these batteries is set to skyrocket even further, with an anticipated 30% annual growth until 2030, primarily driven by the growing use of electric vehicles¹.

The allure of lithium-ion batteries is understandable - they are compact, lightweight, and boast high energy density and longevity. However, with their growing popularity, Australia is also seeing an increase in lithium-ion battery fires. With more than 1,000 fires in Australia over the past year, many are questioning just how safe lithium-ion batteries are².

Risks from lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries that are well-made and used properly are relatively safe. Batteries that are badly manufactured, damaged or misused, increase the risk of fire, explosion, and the release of toxic gas. As well, fires caused by lithium-ion batteries reach extremely high temperatures very quickly and are very hard to extinguish due to their thermal runaway.

Thermal runaway can be explained as an exponential positive feedback loop. When the battery starts to generate heat, the temperature rises, this then increases the reaction speed, which further generates heat, increasing the temperature again, now at an even faster rate, and so on. Lithium-ion battery fires can go from temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius to over 1000 degrees Celsius in just one second³. On top of this, when they burn they generate their own oxygen, providing more ignition for the fire.

This makes lithium-ion battery fires hard to extinguish. A lot of water is required to help cool down the battery to stop the fire from progressing, but unfortunately it won't extinguish the fire. As long as the battery still has energy, the fire will keep burning. It may even appear to have been extinguished and reignite hours or days later.

With new technology comes new risks

Fortunately, battery technology is evolving all the time. A lot more is known about lithium batteries now than before, leading to a number of positive changes making them safer. Some solutions have included changing some of the materials they make batteries with, others incorporate technology that monitors temperatures and automatically shuts the battery off when it gets too hot. An example of this technology in action is when your smart phone warns you that it is too hot when it has been left in the sun, or the dashboard screen in your car automatically shuts off on extremely hot days. It is often the absence of these new technologies in cheap or badly manufactured batteries that make them unsafe.

How to safely manage lithium-ion batteries

You may be surprised to learn just how many electronic items use lithium-ion batteries, including digital cameras, smart phones, laptops, watches, vapes, portable power packs, solar energy storage, electric vehicles, bikes and scooters, and even medical devices such as pacemakers. It is estimated that each household will have an average of 33 items powered by lithium-ion batteries by 2026². If your electronic item is rechargeable, there's a good chance it has a lithium-ion battery to power it.

Here are some important tips to follow to reduce your risk of fire:

  • Charge batteries on hard surfaces that won't ignite, such as tiles or concrete
  • Store and charge large batteries such as those found in e-bikes and e-scooters, and power tools in the garage, away from living areas
  • Do not charge batteries while sleeping or unattended
  • Once the device is fully charged, unplug from the charger
  • Only use chargers that have been manufactured by the same company as the device, and are made for that type of device - just because the charger fits, doesn't mean it has the right technology
  • Only use chargers that have the Australian Regulatory Compliance Mark Tick
  • Purchase electronic items from reputable companies as they are more likely to meet safety standards, use high quality materials, and adopt leading technology, and on the off chance there is a fault in the model, they will issue a product recall
  • Dont use and charge batteries that are swelling or bulging, leaking, or overheating
  • Don't use and charge the device if it is cracked, dented, punctured, or crushed
  • Don't put them in your regular household waste, take them to a specialised recycling centre listed here.

For a comprehensive guide on lithium-ion batter safety, visit the Fire and Rescue NSW Website.

How to recycle lithium-ion batteries

Electronic items that have reached the end of their life are referred to as e-waste. E-waste does not belong in your household bin and should be recycled at an e-waste disposal facility. Throwing lithium-ion batteries into your everyday waste bins creates risk for yourself and others. Unfortunately, Canberra's recycling plant is the perfect example. In 2022, it burnt down due to a lithium-ion battery fire and is still out of operation. They currently send their household recycling waste to NSW and VIC. This is why it's so important to dispose of these batteries properly.

Reducing risk for your business

Business owners can minimise their risk by taking several proactive measures to ensure the safety of their premises. As with individuals using lithium-ion batteries, businesses should also prioritise safe storage and charging, as well as purchase electronics from reputable companies. In addition to these, businesses should follow building regulations, including building codes relating to fire safety, and invest in fire extinguishers specifically designed to combat lithium battery fires. Most businesses will be familiar with managing electrical risks with regular testing and tagging as part of the workplace code of practice7, which will contribute to managing your lithium-ion risks too.

How Coverforce can help

Ensuring your business has the right insurance coverage can help safeguard you against various accidents and incidents. Our insurance brokers can guide you in selecting the most suitable coverage for your needs, review your sums insured, and alert you to emerging risks, such as lithium-ion batteries. For more information, get in touch with your local Coverforce Office today.

The information provided in this article is of a general nature only and has been prepared without taking into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. If you require advice that is tailored to your specific business or individual circumstances, please contact Coverforce directly.



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