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fire

A flaming embarrassment

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 11:59 -- Gerry Woolf

Looking for ways to make lithium-ion batteries safer? Well, don’t go to a battery safety conference, because you won’t learn much! At least I didn’t when I went to Cambridge EnerTech’s battery safety event last week in Arlington.

There’s a lot of interesting science around in terms of working out what happens when you short circuit a lithium-ion battery on a very expensive high energy X-ray source (the images are fantastic) but how that helps you, the manufacturer, prevent whatever that “natural” causative agent might be for this to happen seems about as likely as predicting the next self-styled lunatic with enough money (and guns) to carry out a massacre in the USA. 

It can’t be done.

As the Donald said: “This is not a guns issue.” And as to battery fires and failures, perhaps they are not a lithium-ion issue. If we didn’t have so many portable devices and electric vehicles, this would not be an issue at all… Of course, you’d have to plug your not-so-smart phone into a wall socket each time you wanted to check your mail and we’d all be connected ‘wiredly’ to do so much that we now take for granted. Or fire granted?

And this brings me to my final topic for this excuse for conference spleen venting… battery stand-up comedy!

It’s a new comedy form that is being developed by Joseph Nowikowski, almost the last act on the two-day event. Nowikowski, a fire investigator, managed to achieve laughs from fire scenes— before and after. Radio-controlled cars bursting into flames, caught on camera (security) in ‘man caves' all over the Union, dog teeth marks on a punctured battery found under a burned out sofa (we kid you not), not to mention the litany of stories of exploding vaping devices (missing teeth thrown in for more good measure) and laptops left charging on beds. All down to lithium-ion.

Nowikowski was right on the money. Sure, the insurance companies will pay out on the fire because they allow for peoples’ stupidity… but if they can show a defective battery was to blame, they’ll be after you. Another investigator in the audience said they had 120 open files on fires, with lithium batteries ‘in the firing line’, so to speak.

Nowikowski didn’t quite say, “if you can charge it, don’t leave it unattended”, but if I had felt like misrepresenting him, I could have sold that story to the so-called British newspaper, The Sun.

Joe public has no idea about the number of fake phone chargers there are in circulation, nor can they tell if a product has a BMS capable of detecting overcharge or thermal runaway in its earliest phase. They have no knowledge of UL and Interek’s safety standards and they like to buy cheap and nasty electronic products (‘cos they’re cheap!).

One day, the catalogue of errors that are ‘crap cells’ with flammable electrolytes will turn into the perfect storm and somewhere, perhaps, a lot of people will die, just like they did in London (thanks to flammable building materials) this summer. For other chemistries, it’s the equivalent of Weinstein’s alleged sex misdemeanours.

Isn’t it time you guys named and shamed?

 

Australia issues draft home storage fire-risk rules

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 10:41 -- News Editor
Australia issues draft home storage fire-risk rules

Proposed regulations in Australia that would prioritise fire safety for the use of lithium-based batteries inside homes have been opened to consultation.

The draft regulations by Standards Australia follow reports that emerged earlier this year that new guidelines could ban the introduction of on-site lithium-ion battery storage in homes.

 

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No-fly lithium looks very possible

Fri, 11/20/2015 - 15:47 -- Gerry Woolf

There are few inside the battery industry who haven’t seen a video of a lithium-ion cell going into thermal runaway, shooting out flames and gas like some kind of giant firework.

There are enough battery specialists who can appreciate and calculate the release of energy from such devices and have the imagination to visualise the domino effect that could take place when one defective cell goes wrong in a pallet containing maybe several thousand cells.

There are plenty of battery specialists who’ve come across the unscrupulous and counterfeit battery manufacturers beyond the Middle East. Lithium-ion batteries are classed as dangerous goods for good reason: they store considerable quantities of energy and they can fail, due to faults in manufacture, poor quality control or poor design. Even the best have been caught out— GS Yuasa and Boeing.

Thanks to the US Federal Aviation Authority we now know that just ten18650 cells— a tiny fraction of those in a Tesla car, can create enough heat and gas to blow open a 737 cargo hold.

The situation gets worse if the cells are fully charged… partially-charged cells produce less gas, apparently. Long term, it appears that costly containment of lithium-ion cells and batteries would be the only risk-mitigation one could reasonably put in place, as is being formalised for the fixed lithium batteries providing back-up power in civil aircraft.

Containment will add to weight and cost and it doesn’t take a genius to see that manufacturers will be limited in the number of cells being air freighted.

Aviation is still incredibly safe— if you are one of these unlucky ones, IATA have shown quite conclusively that the number of “battery incidents” which have resulted in deaths is just one incident in ten years. Weather, loss-of-control and even depressed pilots have killed more.

But it’s not a comforting thought to consider that beneath your feet on many commercial jets is a stack of batteries that might just turn your plane into a flaming coffin at cruising altitude.

Even if no ban on air-freighting of lithium-ion happens wouldn’t it be pertinent for manufacturers to start considering global warehousing of the product and transport by sea and land? We now know the best fire suppressant, (halon) won’t work in a hold fire, so if such an event happens and you can’t land in minutes, it’s a catastrophe.

Once this story fully emerges properly in the public domain, rationality won’t prevail. Not carrying lithium-ion cells (as some carriers have already adopted) will be a sales advantage to freight carriers and passenger operators alike.

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