We receive lots of questions about the risk of lithium batteries in buildings. Find out more about battery fires.
We have had a number of calls about the potential fire risk posed by Lithium batteries. Some concerns have included charging appliances and the risk in common car parks of the potential for electric vehicles to catch fire. In July a Wellington apartment occupant was critically injured when their e-scooter caught fire in their home.
Lithium is a highly-valued but also combustible metal in batteries, but lithium batteries have been used for decades without many problems – the batteries in car keys and hearing aids are lithium cells and most cell phones, laptops tablets, e-cigarettes and ironically even smoke alarms contain lithium batteries without too many problems. Metal fires, however become extremely dangerous once they ignite and are very challenging to extinguish.
We have released two new info sheets on lithium battery fire safety and e-bikes and scooters to help identify the risks and help prevent fires from occurring. Principally most of these are common sense but there are a few points which are well made about looking after the batteries and making sure they are not covered when charging. These are available from the FAQ section of our website.
Vehicle batteries are safer now than they used to be as the newer Li-Fe (lithium/iron) batteries are more stable than the earlier, and unfortunately homonymous, lithium–ion cells that preceded them. In most cases the batteries are only a problem if they are damaged or misused, so having an expert review batteries after an accident – or as most batteries are on the underside of vehicles, after a ‘bottoming out’ incident such as striking a kerb or rock with the underside of the vehicle - is important.
Electric vehicles pose little more risk than their internal-combustion counterparts as these can also catch fire and develop quickly into a real event. It is important they are charged correctly and problems investigated, in the same way fuelling your petrol car safely is also important. There is some heightened awareness at present, but many people will remember the 1980s concerns around LPG and CNG vehicles which never eventuated into serious incidents. Given statistics now show two-thirds of new passenger vehicles being sold in New Zealand are either battery-electric or a petrol/electric hybrid, we should expect electric vehicles and lithium batteries to be a more common part of the community.