Fire Risks Involving Lithium-Ion Batteries: The Problems These Batteries Pose And The Emerging Techniques To Counter Them


There is a growing reliance on lithium-ion batteries to power electrical devices, including mobile phones, lap-top computers, charging packs, e-cigarettes, electric cycles and scooters, and electric motor vehicles. Their use has been accompanied by some specific fire risks that pose problems for both the public and the fire and rescue services.

Failure of lithium-ion batteries can be without warning, triggered by a chemical chain-reaction known as thermal runaway. These failures may be related to a variety of factors, including sub-standard manufacture, overcharging, exposure to high temperatures or mechanical damage. Thermal runaway results in battery explosion, the release of highly toxic, explosive, gases that often lead to fire. The higher the energy density of the battery, the greater the likelihood the resulting fire is more difficult to extinguish, but even small batteries can cause serious fires.

Because of the portable nature of the devices in which these batteries are used, they may be scattered around the home or carried in personal clothing. As a result, fire exit routes may be blocked by burning electric bikes, scooters or mobility vehicles and burns may result from the failure of mobile phones or e-cigarettes. Therefore, there is a need to alert the public to the risks associated with these batteries, as well as how they should be charged, stored and recycled. For instance, careless disposal of these batteries is now estimated to cause about 40% of fires in recycling centres.

The fire industry has responded with some innovative solutions to containing and extinguishing the fires resulting from lithium-ion batteries However, the effectiveness of each type of technology is yet to be established and there remains no single ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with these incidents. Whilst they remain rare, some of the most serious fires have been caused by battery failures in electric motor vehicles and at battery manufacturing plants. As the need for batteries with an ever-larger storage capacity increases it can be anticipated that the more serious fires, which are prone to re-ignition and can take some time to extinguish, will grow.

Currently, there are no national or international standards to test methods or devices to extinguish lithium-ion battery fires. The standards will need to keep pace as the drive for green energy solutions progresses.


The presentation will be given by Phil Clark, Emerging Energy Technologies Lead, National Fire Chiefs Council and University of Warwick.

Phil, an operational firefighter from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, is seconded to The National Fire Chiefs Council in the role of Lead Officer to co-ordinate the UK Fire and Rescue work for all matters concerning Emerging Energy Technologies. The role operates across the workstreams of Prevention, Protection and Operations, as the new technologies cut across all areas. He works with all UK Fire and Rescue Services, Government Departments and support industries, in the creation of guidance to ensure the technologies can be introduced and maintained in a way that ensures safe communities, environments and firefighters.

Currently, his focus is the issues that the UK Fire and Rescue Services face in relation to Lithium-Ion Batteries in all sizes, from e-scooters, e-bikes, e-vehicles to domestic and Grid Scale Battery Energy Storage systems.

The presentation will be Chaired by our Under Warden, Peter Holland CBE, QFSM, Chief Inspector, Crown Premises Fire Safety Inspectorate at the Home Office.