Why Do Lithium-Ion Batteries Catch Fire?

I have recently seen quite a bit of social media that focuses on lithium-ion batteries catching fire or exploding but nobody explains the reason for this, hence this article will offer an explanation into why lithium-ion batteries catch fire and how to prevent this.






It could be that I dropped into a specific rabbit hole on this topic but my social media has been picking up a lot on lithium-ion batteries that have caught fire or exploded. While the emphasis is on creating views and likes, little in the way of an explanation has been offered as to why this could be happening and how to prevent it. Hopefully, this article will explain why lithium-ion batteries might catch fire and what steps you can take to prevent this, particularly as refers to anyone who uses power tools that incorporate lithium-ion technology.



The Rise of Lithium-Ion Technology

I have watched as power tools move from being powered by electricity (corded) to NiCad (nickel-cadmium) to Li-Ion (lithium-ion) over the years and how this advancement has had a huge impact on how we use power tools and other appliances in and around the home. NiCad gave us portability and the freedom to use power tools wherever and whenever we needed them and Li-Ion gives us extended battery life and an eco-friendlier option to NiCad batteries. Li-Ion batteries are faster to charge, and offer more power and an extended lifespan over NiCad batteries. But like many modern conveniences, we tend to overlook proper care and maintenance procedures. Several factors affect Li-Ion batteries and these are:




Heat is probably the worst enemy of lithium-ion batteries and this, combined with the other factors listed below, can quickly affect performance and lifespan. There is a reason why some power tool suppliers offer air-cooled battery chargers and that is to keep the heat as minimal as possible.


It is public knowledge that temperatures above 60 degrees C (140 degrees F) adversely affect lithium-ion batteries - beyond repair. Above this temperature, accelerated degradation will occur and there is a risk of batteries catching fire or exploding.


What some people tend to forget is that leaving batteries in a hot environment such as a motor vehicle or leaving power tools with batteries attached outdoors in the sun increases the heating process to extremes.




Always remove lithium-ion batteries from power tools when not in use and store lithium-ion batteries in a cool, dry place




According to several research laboratories, leaving lithium-ion batteries to overcharge is one of the reasons why these batteries may catch fire or explode. Overcharging also reduces battery capacity and decreases lifespan. The main reason is, once again, due to heat generation and the possibility of a 'thermal runaway' in which the heat in the battery cells continues to rise and cannot be stopped.



Overcharging will not be absorbed and lithium-ion batteries must be removed from the charger once the charging cycle is complete. A good practice to follow is to charge lithium-ion batteries to 60% before placing them in storage. Batteries that are fully charged or discharged cause the battery cells to deteriorate over time.



Any appliance or device using lithium-ion batteries should be used within the recommended guidelines issued by the manufacturer and stored in a cool, dry place when operated.





Although this article is intended for power tools that incorporate lithium-ion batteries, it applies to lithium-ion batteries used in any situation.





From a personal point, I have installed a lithium-ion inverter at home that is excellent when it comes to load shedding or power outages. Despite being in a coolish environment (my lounge) there are times when the unit feels like it is heating up and to counter this I purchased a floor-standing fan that is kept on all the time. It might be overkill but then again it might not. I would rather spend R400 on a fan than spend thousands to replace the inverter.






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