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Why are Lithium Batteries Dangerous?

Updated: May 20, 2020

You have probably heard the horror stories; phones, laptops and vapes bursting into flames without warning.

In this post, I hope to give you a brief introduction to where Lithium Batteries are found, what the dangers are and what the causes of incidents may be.

Why are Lithium Batteries dangerous?
Smart Phone Lithium Battery

Why are Lithium Batteries dangerous?

To explain, in short, why Lithium Batteries are dangerous, we need to understand their spread. Lithium Batteries are everywhere! They are in Phones, Laptops, Watches, Toys, Cars, E-Cigarettes and about every other type of electronics you can think of. They are even on Mars, orbiting in space and at the bottom of the oceans!

Lithium Batteries hold more power, deliver it more reliably and hold their charge for longer than most batteries we have used before. This is why they have become so prevalent in recent times. They do however, have a tendency to make the news for exploding!

What causes Lithium Batteries to explode or catch on fire?

Lithium Batteries contain two terminals, the positive (Cathode), and the negative terminal (Anode). These are separated by a plastic film which allows charge to pass through at a steady rate. Lithium batteries are very good at holding power, and over the course of a day in your phone, for example, the power flows from one terminal, to the other until it runs out of power. Once the battery is put on charge, the reverse happens and we can do it all over again.

If this process becomes out of control, or happens too quickly, the battery will heat up very fast and can result in a fire, or explosion. But why does this happen?

Battery faults like this can happen for a number of reasons:

  • Poor manufacturing quality, or poor design

  • Damage to the battery (split, cut, puncture, crushing e.t.c)

  • Becoming too hot

  • Faulty charger

  • Thermal Runaway (this is where one cell breaks down and the heat it creates, causes other cells to break down too, sometimes ending up in an exponential reaction leading to fire or explosion)

This is a problem, but it can be a lot worse depending on where this happens, under your pillow at night, or maybe in the hold of an aircraft - take a look at UPS Flight 6!

How to ship Lithium Batteries?

In order to ship Lithium Batteries safely, we need to comply with the shipping regulations which outline all of the legal requirements and training requirements. If you want to know more about these, take a look at our blog post on How to ship Lithium Batteries.

So that's it. Lithium Batteries are really useful, they perform well but they do have a risky side too. If you have any questions, you can always comment below, contact us or use the live-chat in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. Thanks for reading!

*Notice: This blog aims to give you an introduction to Dangerous Goods, it is not intended as a reference material so always conduct your own research and check anything with your Dangerous Goods Specialist or DGSA before taking any action based on the subjects discussed here.*

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