Australia has experienced a surge in the adoption of lithium-ion battery technology in recent times, and QLD is no exception. These small, lightweight, and versatile batteries have revolutionized various aspects of modern life, powering everything from smartphones to e-scooters, e-bikes, and home renewable energy storage systems. However, this remarkable advancement is accompanied by a concerning increase in lithium-ion battery fires in homes across Queensland.
Data compiled from each Australian state fire department reveals that since 2021, more than 450 fires related to lithium-ion batteries have occurred in Australia, with 157 of them in Queensland alone. Improper battery charging practices have been identified as one of the primary causes behind these alarming incidents. When consumers use incompatible battery chargers or leave their electronic devices, like e-scooters, charging unattended for extended periods, overcharging and overheating of the lithium-ion battery can occur.
Another significant cause of lithium-ion battery fires is manufacturing defects in either the battery charger or the battery itself. Poor quality control during production can lead to internal faults, increasing the risk of overheating and fire. Additionally, improper storage or transportation of lithium-ion batteries can cause short circuits and subsequent fires. To minimize this risk, it is crucial to avoid purchasing cheap lithium-ion batteries and chargers from unregulated online marketplaces and to opt for original equipment manufacturer (OEM) products.
The nature of use for e-scooters and e-bikes exposes their batteries to rough handling and environmental elements, making them susceptible to damage that can result in internal short-circuits and fires. Even minor physical damage to the battery’s protective casing can create a pathway for ‘thermal runaway’, triggering a catastrophic fire event. When lithium-ion batteries fail, they undergo thermal runaway, leading to the violent bursting of battery cells, the release of toxic, flammable, and explosive gases, and an intense, self-sustaining fire. These fires are challenging to extinguish with water or regular fire extinguishers, and they can easily reignite after being put out.
Some may wonder about the lithium batteries used in photoelectric smoke alarms. However, these smoke alarms contain non-replaceable, non-rechargeable lithium batteries designed to deplete slowly and steadily over a 10-year lifespan. The lithium batteries are sealed inside the photoelectric smoke alarm itself. They do not undergo the repeated recharging process that lithium-ion batteries do, eliminating the associated fire and thermal runaway risk.
It is also essential to ensure that any photoelectric smoke alarm purchased meets the Australian Standard 3786:2014 and bears the official Australian Standard mark and the Regulatory Compliance Mark (RCM). The RCM signifies compliance with Australian electrical safety and electromagnetic compatibility regulations, as outlined in Australian Standard 3820:2020. By avoiding cheap knock-offs lacking these marks, consumers can ensure they are purchasing legitimate, safe electrical appliances.
The increase in lithium-ion battery fires necessitates a collaborative effort from manufacturers, regulators, and users to address this growing concern. While the advantages of lithium-ion batteries are undeniable, safety risks demand immediate attention. By enhancing safety regulations, improving manufacturing standards, and promoting responsible usage and recharging practices, Australia can fully embrace the lithium-ion battery revolution while ensuring a safer and more sustainable future for all. For more information on lithium-ion battery safety, individuals can refer to the QLD Fire and Emergency Services (QFES).