Only way to fight lithium battery fires is to let them burn?

The following commentary by Steve MacDonald has been republished with permission from GraniteGrok.

If we ignore all the hard truths about lithium batteries — like inadequate resources, child labor, carbon footprint, manufacturing and disposal problems — a world with more of these in them has created a challenge for firefighters. There’s no easy way to put them out.

“The lithium-ion battery adds a different degree, when we talk about the fire dynamics of it,” FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Frank Leeb said at the briefing. “These rooms flash over in just a mere matter of seconds.”

The problem is that lithium-ion fires burn extremely hot and are virtually impervious to conventional firefighting methods that use water or foam. In fact, lithium reacts very badly to water, which is really a problem if firefighters are attacking a fire for which they don’t know the cause.

You’ve probably heard or seen stories about EVs lighting up, sometimes taking out homes or bus depots. What you may have missed is that there is a wide range of “mobility devices” with similar types of batteries. The ones in the laptop, phones, fitness devices, and so on are mostly safe, and while they can light up, they rarely do.

Larger lithium cells in cars, bikes, or (I suspect) even wheelchairs are creating risks, especially in apartment population-dense cities. New York City “Chief Fire Marshall Daniel Flynn says this is almost the 200th fire caused by a lithium-ion battery from a micromobility device just this year in New York City.”

New Hampshire has been adding apartment complexes like mad since Sununu got his state-wide zoning board packed with developer buddies. Have we considered the risks to other tenants created by mobility devices on the premises that come with this added risk? Should we?

As the NYFD says, there is no easy way to put a lithium battery fire out. Water makes things worse. Foam is ineffective. The best course of action is containment. And that’s a huge issue if any of these buildings (or any building) have below-ground parking with office or living space above it, though I’m not aware of any in the state.

Image courtesy of Public domain
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6 thoughts on “Only way to fight lithium battery fires is to let them burn?

  1. Leave it to Vermont! Progressives pushing hard to make all SCHOOL BUSSES….EV’s….and the lithium battery for a school bus will run much the legnth of the bus, directly under children’s seats. Can you imagine the cost of the liability lawsuits if a mandated lithium bus explodes and 20 innocent childern die? WHO is liable? …Every single climate Progressive who attempts to force busses be lithium running?

    WHY on earth would anyone risk it, if diesel is safe, easy and available. Furthermore, how will kids get to school…if it is 20 below zero and the EV batteries die? HOW long does it take a huge buss to charge?

  2. Don’t forget California said ‘don’t plug in those vehicles” there is not enough juice in the lines. How convenient and appropriate!

  3. Lithium is the most earth unfriendly mineral to be using. From the huge pit mines to garner it to the toxic pools it has to settle in, it makes oil look like flowers on a sunday. Where are all the greenie weenies who adore mother earth and harped on fracking? This is more human unfriendly then any oil product has ever been and much less available. It’s not only flammable it’s unsustainable… ironically the same excuse for not using fossil fuel. Maybe after a few dozen buses with passengers flame out killing everyone they might change their tune but right now I doubt it. Conn. had a bunch of their elec. buses catch fire in the charging yard and has delayed using them because of it.

  4. Envision a short circuit when you cannot immediately disconnect the power source. People with MGAs were familiar with this in the fifties. The horn, however, did have a fuse so there were probably few horn instigated dashboard fires. The Lithium-Ion battery stores in itself the power that energizes the fire and until that energy is spent the fire cannot be put out. Protecting the surrounding environment and controlling temperature is all that can be done. Perhaps emergency vehicles that can drop huge blast containment mats over the burning vehicle? We’ve had the technology to produce electric vehicles for over a century – but we don’t have the technology safely to store and recharge the amount of energy necessary for their operation. That same problem killed the electrics a century ago. And Buttigieg’s proposal to spend five billion taxpayer dollars on coast to coast recharging stations is lunacy. It’s not how we got nationwide gas stations. Let profit seeking entrepreneurs do it. Let them compete with one another to keep our prices down. It’s the American way, Pete.

    • Some fires do not need oxygen to burn very hot, like a welding torch, which has two flammable gases to keep the fire going, until the gases are used up

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