Rechargeable Batteries: Storing Up Trouble?

Posted on Posted in General

In this article, Zurich has worked with a leading forensic science firm, Burgoynes, to provide advice on how to safely use lithium powered devices.
The UK is seeing the emergence of battery storage systems to power the likes of homes and offices, to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and conventionally generated electricity. Lithium batteries are increasingly becoming an integral part of all our lives. These lightweight rechargeable cells are also the choice for electronic equipment all around us; In the smart watches we wear, scooters we ride, cars we drive and phones that we use every-day. They have replaced single use batteries to become a more convenient & sustainable power source, but what are the possible downsides of something that we now take for granted?

The Risk of Fire
The London Fire Brigade have reported that in London alone they attend on 24 fires each average week caused by chargers, batteries and cables. Whilst lithium batteries are generally stable, they are sensitive to the way in which they are manufactured, stored and used, and given their high energy density, battery failure is often catastrophic.

Most lithium battery failures are the result of an internal short circuit between the electrodes. This leads to an increase in temperature and internal pressure of the cell, the release of flammable gases, and the cell’s rupture and ignition. The failure of one cell within a battery pack can also cause an increase in temperature of the adjacent cells resulting in failure of the plastic insulator membrane, internal short circuits, and, ultimately, thermal runaway.

Why do batteries fail/ignite?

Manufacturing fault

  • Contamination of raw materials
  • Failure of the plastic separator membrane
  • Poor design

Abuse

  • Mechanical/physical damage: There is a real risk of fires resulting from mechanical damage to batteries left in recycling waste;
  • Water ingress: Resulting in unintended electrical paths leading to rapid discharge
  • Overcharging or charging at the incorrect rate – for example if the wrong charger is used
  • Temperature: Lithium batteries are susceptible to chemical changes if charged or stored at temperatures above or below the manufacturers’ recommendations

According to leading forensic science firm Burgoynes, there are many simple ways to mitigate the risks associated with lithium batteries:

  • Only buy from reputable manufacturers or suppliers
  • Register lithium battery powered devices with the manufacturer / supplier to be made aware of product recalls
  • Always use the correct charger. Just because another charger has the same plug does not mean it will charge the battery correctly
  • If replacing a battery with “after-market” products, ensure that they are compatible with the appliance and the charger
  • Follow manufacturers’ recommendations with regard to temperature and storage
  • Do not use batteries which have been subjected to physical damage, and that are swollen or deformed
  • Dispose of used batteries responsibly.

Alastair Thomson, Zurich’s Head of Property Claims says: “Zurich and our forensic experts Burgoynes are seeing an increasing number of fires involving lithium batteries. Recent claims have involved a battery powered golf cart, an e-bike left in a dining room, and even a fire to a hair salon involving rechargeable clippers (where an incompatible charger was used). These claims, and many others, could have been avoided by following some simple steps and.  At Zurich, we know the many challenges that suffering a loss can bring, we want our Customers to benefit from the huge advantages that lithium batteries bring to our lives, whilst ensuring the safety of our homes and workplaces”.

This article is adapted from an original post by Zurich which can be found here.

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