Thursday, July 25, 2024

Know the risks

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Many portable devices today are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. These types of batteries pose a higher risk of fire than others.

Lithium-ion batteries are popular because they are lightweight and long lasting compared to other rechargeable batteries.

You will find them in many devices such as phones, tablets, power banks, laptop computers, toys, appliances and tools, as well as mobility equipment such as e-bikes and e-scooters. They can also be found in many other modern devices that need power.

What causes lithium-ion batteries to catch fire?

Lithium-ion batteries release toxic and flammable gases when they short circuit, which may lead to them catching fire. If the battery is fully charged, violent fire behaviour with sparks and jet-like flames may be experienced.

The main reasons lithium-ion batteries short circuit and catch fire – a process called thermal runaway – are because they:

  • Are incorrectly charged using a charging cable that was not designed for the device or battery. This can result in overcharging or overheating.
  • Have been damaged by an impact, cracked, dented, punctured, crushed or exposed to overheating.
  • Have been in fresh or salt water for a long time, causing corrosion within the battery.

It is therefore very important that you dispose of old or damaged lithium-ion batteries correctly – see more information below.

How can I prevent my devices or batteries from catching fire?

Use the correct charger Using chargers with incorrect power delivery (voltage and current) can cause damage to the battery including overheating that can lead to fires.

  • Ensure the battery and charger is suited for the job and has no electrical faults.
  • Only use chargers that are supplied with the equipment or device, or certified third-party charging equipment that is compatible with the battery specifications.
  • Only purchase and use devices and equipment from reputable manufacturers and suppliers.
  • Always follow the manufacturers’ charging and operation instructions.
  • Disconnect a device or battery once it indicates that it is fully charged.
  • Only use chargers that meet Australian Standards – look for the Regulatory Compliance Mark.

Don’t help your devices to overheat

Devices left on soft surfaces like beds and couches can overheat and catch fire.

  • Don’t charge batteries or devices on soft surfaces such as beds, couches and carpet.
  • Keep batteries and devices away from items that can easily catch fire like blankets, clothing and paper.
  • Never charge a device under a pillow.

Don’t leave charging devices unattended

There is a higher risk from fire if you are not in attendance or sleeping while devices are charging

  • Avoid charging batteries or devices overnight.
  • Avoid leaving batteries or devices unattended while they are on charge.

General charging safety

  • Only plug in one device per outlet, and always keep power boards and cables neat and tidy.
  • Don’t use battery charging devices with worn or damaged cables.
  • Always ensure the battery charger is switched off from the electrical power supply before connecting the batteries. This will minimise the risk of shock and sparking while connecting the batteries.
  • Lithium-ion batteries can be sensitive to heat and therefore must be charged and stored in moderate temperatures.
  • Never store or leave batteries and devices in areas where they can be exposed to heat or moisture.
  • Do not leave devices such as phones, computers or charging devices in direct sunlight or in parked vehicles where they can quickly heat up.
  • Larger batteries and equipment such as power tools and especially electric bikes, scooters or skateboards should be charged in the garage, shed or carport away from living spaces.
  • Victorian fire services recommend that interconnected smoke alarms are installed in areas where devices are often charged.

This article appeared in the Nhill Free Press & Kaniva Times, 12 June 2024.

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