Blaze Fire Investigation Blog

As an industry leader, BlazeFire fire investigators combine industry best practices with scientific knowledge, proven methodologies and experiential skill to deliver sound origin and cause opinions. We have years of experience finding the origin and cause of Structural, Vehicle, Marine and Hazardous Environment fires.

Industries we serve include Insurance, Legal and Manufacturing. Our consultations cover Large Loss Operations, Case Reviews and Code Interpretation.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Categories
    Categories Displays a list of categories from this blog.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Team Blogs
    Team Blogs Find your favorite team blogs here.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Lithium Ion Batteries: Cause or Victim?

Posted by on in Case Reviews
  • Font size: Larger Smaller
  • Hits: 647
  • Subscribe to this entry
  • Print

Lithium Ion batteries are ubiquitous in today’s electronic environment.  Everything from cell phones to hoverboards to electric vehicles run on Lithium Ion batteries.  This type of battery is attractive to manufacturers because of its relatively high specific energy.   This means there is more energy per unit of mass in a Lithium Ion battery than there is in other types of batteries.  The high specific energy is great for packing a lot of power into a small package.  But upon failure, that same energy can be released in a dangerous fashion.

 

In that way, the Lithium Ion battery is not unlike other electrical failures.  We know that electrical failure in an appliance or circuit can cause a fire.  We also know that in a fire environment, the breakdown of insulation systems can cause an electrical failure on a circuit or appliance.  During a fire investigation, an investigation team has to determine if the evidence of failure noted after the fire was a cause of the fire or a victim of the fire.

 

Similarly, a Lithium Ion battery can fail and cause a fire or it can fail due to being attacked by a fire.  

 

There have been well documented failure modes of Lithium Ion batteries that result in a thermal run-away condition.  The thermal run-away condition can result in a pressure build-up internal to the battery cell that is relieved by a venting with flame.  The heat generated in the battery cell can ignite near-by combustible materials such as a plastic housing.  Even more dangerous is the possibility of the battery cell contents being expelled under pressure causing the flaming battery to rocket across a room and ignite combustible materials. 

 

However, when a Lithium Ion battery is subjected to fire temperature, these same failures can occur.  The fire temperatures induce a short in the battery and the energy that remains in the battery is dissipated, sometimes with spectacular results.  The shorting of the battery cell due to being attacked by a fire can cause the cell to expand, can cause the cell to vent with flame, and can cause the cell contents to be expelled.

 

After a fire it is difficult to tell if the damage to the Lithium Ion batteries indicates that they caused the fire or were a victim of the fire.  The investigation team must apply the same type of methodology to the Lithium Ion battery evidence as it does to evidence of more traditional electrical failures.  In order to determine if the batteries caused the fire, other questions must be answered.

 

1.       Is there physical evidence that the batteries failed?

2.       Were the batteries located at the point of fire origin?

3.       Can all other possible causes of the fire be eliminated?

 

If the investigation team can answer yes to these three questions, they are well on the way to an opinion that the Lithium Ion batteries failed and caused the fire.

 

 

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_lithium.jpg

  Lithium Ion battery pack that was fully discharged and burned in a fire.  Note that the cells remained largely intact and did not expand.  This is due to the relatively low energy remaining in the cells at the time of the fire.

 

 

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_lithium-2_20170131-175645_1.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_lithium-1_20170131-175644_1.jpg

Expanded Lithium Ion battery cell and expelled Lithium Ion battery cell.  These are examples of battery cells that were fully charged at the time they were burned in a fire.

 

Trackback URL for this blog entry.