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Lithium Battery Fires: A Growing Concern

Lithium-ion batteries have become indispensable to modern technology, powering everything from mobile phones and laptops to electric vehicles. Despite their efficiency and widespread use, these batteries pose significant risks, particularly fire hazards.

The London Fire Brigade has stated that the fastest-growing risk in the capital is [lithium battery-powered] e-bikes and e-scooters. As reported by the BBC, there was a 78% increase in e-bike fires in 2023 compared to the previous year, with 155 e-bike fires and 28 e-scooter fires recorded.

It’s not just powered transporters that carry such risks. Fires are reported multiple times a year, sparking concern around the proper use, storage, and disposal of lithium batteries. Examples include a storage unit blaze in Surrey last year and frequently reported bin lorry fires.

Multiple risk factors

Lithium-ion batteries are favoured for their high energy density and long life. However, these very characteristics also make them prone to overheating and thermal runaway—a condition where the battery's temperature increases uncontrollably, potentially leading to fires or explosions. The materials within these batteries are highly flammable and reactive, exacerbating the risk when damaged, overcharged, or manufactured poorly.

Several scenarios can lead to lithium battery fires, including:

  1. Overcharging: This increases the battery voltage beyond safe limits, generating excessive heat.

  2. Physical Damage: Batteries that are dropped, pierced, or struck can suffer internal damage, leading to short circuits.

  3. Electrical Short-circuiting: Often caused by manufacturing defects or damage, short circuits can rapidly produce heat and ignite the battery.

  4. Improper Storage: Storing batteries in hot or poorly ventilated areas heightens the risk of thermal runaway.

David Reynolds, Head of Risk Engineering & Surveys at RiskSTOP, said: "Businesses using lithium battery technology must prioritise comprehensive risk assessments and safety measures. Proper risk management includes conducting frequent checks to identify potential hazards, ensuring batteries are stored in cool, dry, and well-ventilated areas, implementing Battery Management Systems (BMS) to monitor battery health and prevent overheating, and educating employees on the safe handling, storage, and disposal of lithium batteries.”

“Effective risk management is essential in mitigating the dangers associated with lithium batteries. Proper storage, regular maintenance, and robust safety protocols are not just recommended but necessary to prevent potentially catastrophic incidents."

Further understanding

We've put together a guide to provide a more detailed understanding of the risks and safety measures associated with lithium batteries. This resource provides essential information for businesses and insurers to safeguard against the emerging risks of lithium battery technology.

If you’d like to register your interest to hear more from RiskSTOP about this topic, please provide your details here and we’ll be back in touch.


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