Defend Against Metal-Free Lithium-Ion Battery Fires with Sprinklers

August 23, 2012 - Lithium-ion batteries can combust, melt a laptop or wreak other kinds of havoc when stored improperly. Fortunately, a fire sprinkler system can minimize metal-free lithium-ion battery fire damage.

Though they're the battery of choice for most of today's electronics - including cell phones, video cameras and more - lithium-ion batteries are also a fire hazard and have been linked to at least two fatal cargo plane crashes since 2006. Earlier this spring, the U.S. Postal Service banned all international shipments of electronics with lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries can catch fire when dendrites - tiny lithium particles that form fibers - accumulate inside the battery. This causes short-circuiting, which then causes the battery to overheat and combust.

In a recent study, the Federal Aviation Association reported several other major findings about lithium-ion batteries' inherent fire risks:

  • The ignition of a single battery produces enough heat to ignite adjacent batteries

  • Halon 1301 fire extinguishers are ineffective in suppressing a lithium-ion battery fire

  • A relatively small fire source is sufficient to start a lithium-ion battery fire

  • Batteries fuse together when exposed to flame, causing the fire to spread

Where Halon 1301 fire extinguishers fail to extinguish metal-free lithium-ion battery fires, water succeeds. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries don't contain lithium metal, and therefore won't react with water. Whether you're storing lithium-ion batteries in a warehouse, commercial property or private residence, a reliable sprinkler system can help prevent extensive damage if a fire breaks out.

If you're dealing with a battery that does contain lithium metal, use dry sand or table salt to extinguish any fires that might occur.

Lithium-ion batteries aren't the only culprits, however. Many nickel- and lead-based batteries can also cause fires. When it comes to flammable batteries, the old adage is true: It's better to be safe than sorry. Virtually all nickel battery fires can be controlled with water. Never use water to extinguish a lead-acid battery fire - instead, use CO2, foam or dry chemical fire extinguishers.

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