View Full Version : Lithium batteries

4th Feb 2014, 04:08
On the local BBC Radio news this morning is an article about the fire risk of lithium batteries on aircraft, with a report about someone's phone battery that decided to ignite on a US aircraft. (Nothing to do with Dreamliners.)

The things can be quite spectacular if they do go off, lithium will happily burn in air, and water will only make matters worse because it'll react with that to produce hydrogen.

They seem to be more concerned with cheap dodgy counterfeit batteries bought on the internet than those from a manufacturer. How long before we have to provide proof of origin before being able to take laptops and phones on aircraft?

As an aside, one of the IEEE safety standards contains a test where a battery is deliberately shorted. The test terminates when (1) the battery is fully discharged, (2) it catches fire or (3) explodes. Only (1) is considered a pass.

4th Feb 2014, 07:47
UPS Airlines Flight 6 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UPS_Airlines_Flight_6)

On September 24, 2013, the GCAA released its comprehensive, 322-page report on the crash, which found “with reasonable certainty” that the fire which caused the crash originated in a cargo container which held thousands of lithium batteries.

4th Feb 2014, 08:42
Speaking as one who has done some research on the issue of putting Lithium batteries on aircraft, I would suggest this is the media scare mongering at it's best! Yes the batteries can deflagrate at a lovely rate, but the probability of it happening compared to the number of batteries in existance is really small.

If the chemical reaction runs away, the battery gets hot and can break through the case. The main reasons for the chemical reaction running away are either you heat it up, short circuit it, over charge it, or you drain it below the minimum voltage.

The down side it that if you have a lot of these batteries stored together, deglagration from one can heat the next one leading to a chain reaction. Air transport of lithium batteries is possible but they need to be carried in packaging that keep them seperate, cant allow the terminals to be shorted and things like that. The FAA, CASA, IATA, all the regulators have rgulations on their cariage and use in aircraft. spare batteries should be carried in hand luggage and have the terminals taped up to prevent short circuits.

Like so many things, a bit of common sense will prevent an incident. If the batteries look like they are getting worn or damaged, ditch them and get new. Don't let them roll around loose in bags and pockets, and switch the kit off if you are not using it in flight.

Water is in fact the best way to put out a Lithium fire according to the FAA, it won't necessarily put the flames out but it will reduce the temperature of the battery which will stop the reaction. Don't use ice though as that will insulate the battery quickly and the reaction will continue.

Search the FAA website for Lithium, you'll find the regs easy enough.

4th Feb 2014, 09:17
My last (Remington) razor which had nickel-metal hydrate batteries got so hot on charge that I couldn't hold it in my hand. I know these don't exhibit thermal run-away, but not being happy with it I disposed of it in an appropriate manner, i.e. left it down at the recycling bins for the Maroccans to take away.

4th Feb 2014, 09:30

"Air transport of lithium batteries is possible but they need to be carried in packaging that keep them seperate, cant allow the terminals to be shorted and things like that. The FAA, CASA, IATA, all the regulators have rgulations on their cariage and use in aircraft. spare batteries should be carried in hand luggage and have the terminals taped up to prevent short circuits."

And you'd leave all that to the general flyer who flies once a year or so ?

4th Feb 2014, 09:55

Sorry I didn't make that clear. The packaging requirements are for the bulk carriage of batteries as air cargo, after sitigeltfel made refernece to the UPS flight that crashed.

For those of us that fly passenger on a less that regular basis, airlines like Qantas have instructions that spare batteries are to be carried in hand luggage with the terminals taped up with the likes of insulating tape. This is how I normally carry my spare camera batteries when I fly.

4th Feb 2014, 09:58
A Tin box is all you need!, ask the FAA & Boeing!

http://api.viglink.com/api/click?format=go&jsonp=vglnk_jsonp_13915115030616&key=1e857e7500cdd32403f752206c297a3d&loc=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pprune.org%2Frumours-news%2F519857-ups-747-dubai-final-report.html&v=1&ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com.au%2F&libId=fcbcca32-898a-4dd9-a802-62b739ff97de&out=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.gcaa.gov.ae%2Fen%2FePublication%2Fadmin %2Firadmin%2FLists%2FIncidents%2520Investigation%2520Reports %2FAttachments%2F40%2F2010-2010%2520-%2520Final%2520Report%2520-%2520Boeing%2520747-44AF%2520-%2520N571UP%2520-%2520Report%252013%25202010.pdf&title=UPS%20747%20Dubai%20Final%20Report%20-%20PPRuNe%20Forums&txt=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.gcaa.gov.ae%2Fen%2FePublicati...013%252 02010.pdf

4th Feb 2014, 10:06

OK, no worries.

I used a couple of clear plastic flip lid battery holders, it does it all in one go.

With all the issues that seem to be around Lithium Batteries - and it is the cheap, no quality control one's that I think about, it will be interesting to see what happens down the track.

As someone said on another thread one day, on an aircraft, it's not like in a car where you can stop and throw it out the window !

I won't leave my recharger recharging bateries, NiMh or Lithium if I am out of the house. Even ery good quality Eneloop batteries get warm to hot when fully charged.

4th Feb 2014, 10:59
A Tin box is all you need!, ask the FAA & Boeing!The containment system has been operationally proved to work in a recent incident, but they haven't solved the problem of Lithium Ion batteries' tendency to self-immolate.

tony draper
4th Feb 2014, 11:25
Isn't Lithium itself a pretty nasty substance to be floating round in particulate form in a confined space?,we installed some line amps on the Tyneside Metro that used Lithium transistors, they came with pages of warnings as to what to do if they went tits up ie on no account try and remove or dispose of same on site and return under armed guard to the manufacturers.
Or am I getting mixed up with some other lethal elemental metal?
Ere come to think it may have been Beryllium transistors.

4th Feb 2014, 11:26
Blacksheep, indeed. I would be happier though if the containment vessel were a 'redundancy system' rather than one that appears all too often to be a first line of defence to a 'runaway thermal event'....I reckon there did exist a time, not all that long ago, when solving a problem was better than coming up with a device intended to minimise the hazard of a known weak point

tony draper
4th Feb 2014, 11:33
Why dont they make these batteries with a plastic cover over the bare contacts that has to be broken off before they are installed?
Those El Quada chappies will be rushing out to the bazar now to buy up every Lithium battery in sight.

4th Feb 2014, 11:37
From my ALM times in the RAF I seem to remember on our Annual Ground checks always discussing lithium and it's dangers. As I recall the IATA has 9 DG classifications and Lithium could quite easily have been placed into any of those categories because when it goes wrong it goes horribly feckin wrong :eek:

4th Feb 2014, 11:44
Mr D,

You are thinking of power transistors (AFAIK, all RF power types) with beryllium oxide in the package, chosen because of its very low thermal resistance.

4th Feb 2014, 11:50
Guess what powers all the Emergency Locator Transmitters on board every airliner.

tony draper
4th Feb 2014, 11:50
You are probably correct Mr R, it were quarter of a Century ago and one's memory grows dim.
To bad for those folks with implanted lithium batteries powering their pacemakers.:uhoh:
"Is it just me or is it getting warm in here"

4th Feb 2014, 12:16
Funny how most retailers can't or won't ship lithium batteries via the usual express courrier services which involve air-transport at some stage. As these are apparently now considered as "dangerous goods" for air-transport.

However, they will and regularly do ship say, a mobile phone or other appliance/device also containing a lithium battery which powers it etc. via air-transport. Apparently, when doing so, they're not required to declare the lithium battery, just the phone, camera etc., so by-passing the usual UN / IATA regulations and declarations...?!

Whatever (and not withstanding the dramatic UPS cargo aircraft which caught fire and crashed in UAE a few years ago), perhaps someone here could explain why one passenger aircraft carrying several 100s of passengers, each carrying perhaps 2 or 3 appliances/devices containing lithium batteries is OK. Transporting income-lucrative packages containing phones / cameras etc. "with their lithium batteries" on behalf of the usual express courrier services is also OK. But transporting even a single small lithium battery "all by itself" is virtually impossible...?! :rolleyes:

Sounds like lots of notmyjob'sworths being unable to, or not wanting to determine what is or is not actually dangerous or hazardous to any degree of precision...?

4th Feb 2014, 12:27

Over 35 years ago now, one company came up with a pacemaker using decay of plutonium to power it, presumably with a thermocouple or two. It didn't catch on because people worried about the plutonium, the available power was too small for more advanced designs, and cardiac surgeons were missing on the income from changing the pacemaker after 10 to 15 years. Plus pacemaker designs were evolving to give more facilities. But because of this, pacemakers in bulk are still hazardous air cargo.....

Pacemaker batteries are deliberately made high impedance to limit the available fault current, typically one to two thousand ohms. Voltage is about 2.6 volts, falling to about 1.2 or so at end of life. Depending on the demand on the pacemaker, the life expectancy is about 10 to 12 years, but could be (but rarely) at extremes of around 6 and 18 or 20.

tony draper
4th Feb 2014, 12:43
I understand pacemakers have to be removed before one is cremated, not that one would mind by then of course.
Dunno what they are going to make of me Positronic Brain laying there glowing red hot on the grate when they have finished doing me.

4th Feb 2014, 13:24
FSL, Ian Banks addressed that in (I think) The Crow Road, which begins "It was the day my grandmother exploded". Best ever opening line.

4th Feb 2014, 13:42
Bear in mind that although lithium (as a metal) is pretty nasty in terms of being able to burn freely in air (and difficult to extinguish) lithium ion cells used in laptops, 'phones, DVD players etc do not contain metallic lithium.

They contain small amounts of lithium in the form of compounds on the plates, which isn't itself flammable. The fires you see come from the organic solvent in the electrolyte and the plastic pouches the cells are contained within, rather than being from burning lithium metal.

The main problem with some types of lithium cells is that they have a very low internal resistance and are therefore able to deliver a very high current if they get shorted accidentally. The majority of the cells now used in phones, laptops etc are either deliberately made with a higher internal resistance to limit the short circuit current (Sony for one, and maybe one or two others) or they have an integral cell safety circuit to act as a fuse and limit the short circuit discharge current.

The main risk with lithium cells is during charging, as if over-charged some can overheat, expand and burst, occasionally resulting in a fire. Not really a risk on aircraft, as it would be unusual to be charging something like this on board, but it is a risk at home.

Most of the risk comes from cheap cells made without adequate quality control (mainly from China) that end up in no-brand products. An even greater risk is the no-brand cheap chargers that are supplied with some lithium powered devices, which pose a real risk of over-charging and consequent fire.

El Grifo
4th Feb 2014, 17:04
Yep Magnus !! Now the poor bugger is away down the Crow Road himself !!

Sadly missed !

El G.

4th Feb 2014, 17:47
The carbon-lithium electrodes inside lithium ion batteries are very energetic - while they're indeed not lithium metal, they still react quite vigorously with air and water, if they're hot. The solvent burning is usual the flare-ups, but even when the solvent's gone, and no shorting will occur, the electrode material will also burn.

Certainly there is also a risk from energy being dumped in a short circuit, but the objects themselves can still be a problem. If they're accessible, it can be overcome though.

A plastic bottle of duty free spirits isn't threat-free either, and contains more energy than a lithium battery.

4th Feb 2014, 19:22
The company I work for sometimes has to transport lithium batteries by air to power specialist equipment.To comply with the DG requirements of IATA,we had to have the batteries certified at an approved test facility.The applicable testing is done to the UN Handbook of Tests and Criteria,part III,subsection 38.3.Restrictions on watt hour capacities and insulation/segregation of individual batteries are in place.

http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/t...03en_part3.pdf (http://apicdn.viglink.com/api/click?format=go&key=1e857e7500cdd32403f752206c297a3d&loc=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pprune.org%2Fjet-blast%2F533325-lithium-batteries-2.html&out=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.unece.org%2Ffileadmin%2FDAM%2Ftrans%2Fd anger%2Fpubli%2Fmanual%2FRev5%2FEnglish%2F03en_part3.pdf&ref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pprune.org%2Feditpost.php%3Fdo%3Deditpo st%26amp%3Bp%3D8301049)

It was only after I had convinced them of the necessity for this after reading the various lithium battery threads here on PPRuNe that they realised just how dangerous these batteries can be.The ones in use were name brand Panasonic types packaged by a specialist manaufacturer,not no-name Chinese types and I discovered the intention to fly with them before that started happening regularly.I sent them the link to the relevant parts of the UPS 747 crash report in Dubai along with links to news stories too.

4th Feb 2014, 23:38
I understand pacemakers have to be removed before one is cremated, not that one would mind by then of course.

Quite right. Sloppy undertaker a couple of decades back forgot.
Result: new crematorium furnace needed; ashes scattered over three counties. I was supposed to be there later on that day... hasty rearrangement and formula 1 driving from the hearse driver required.

5th Feb 2014, 03:32
Guess what powers all the Emergency Locator Transmitters on board every airliner.

As was discovered when the 787 at Heathrow decided to call attention to its location recently.

If you incorrectly charge a lithium-ion battery it can plate metallic lithium on the electrode, which is not good. The actual charging process is endothermic, it just has to be controlled carefully, especially as it nears the end. If you manage an internal short then things can get fairly lively quite quickly. Talking to a Li-ion pack supplier recently, it's interesting that they do a nail test, which is where they put a nail through one cell and check that there is no cascade of flames to other cells in the pack.

I've been peripherally involved with shipping primary lithium cells, as in I've heard the swearing of those dealing with the paperwork and seen the packing and the one incident when something got a bit warm. It's also interesting when you're having a custom battery developed, our first samples came from the factory via ground transport, and once approved, they did the certification so that future ones could ship by air. Since then I've seen new packs shipped in something the size of a beer keg, containing no more than half a dozen units with a lot of flame-proof packing around them.

5th Feb 2014, 06:31
Perhaps worth noting that there will be many tens, perhaps hundreds, of lithium cells inside the cabin of pretty much every aircraft in the air at this moment. Every passenger probably has at least one lithium cell powered device with them, many may have two or three. A fair few of these may well be cheap Chinese knock-off replacement cells, bought to replace genuine (and expensive) camera and phone cells, or just contained within no-brand-name devices.

When the safety regs were introduced and enforced on air shipping of lithium cells a few years ago I was amused to note that the cabin would contain a far greater quantity of the things in people's pockets and hand baggage than was legal to ship in the hold without a lot of certification, safety paperwork and additional packaging.