Lithium-ion Battery Safety: Avoid Fires and Stay Safe

The safety of lithium-ion batteries in everyday devices is paramount due to their high energy density, which, while offering significant performance advantages, also poses risks such as overheating, fires, and explosions. Ensuring the safety of these batteries is critical not only for protecting users but also for extending the lifespan of devices, building consumer trust, and complying with international safety standards set by organizations like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)​. Effective safety measures, including smart charging circuits, thermal protection, and robust battery management systems, are essential to prevent dangerous incidents. High-profile cases, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall, highlight the severe consequences of insufficient battery safety protocols​​. Moreover, proper recycling and disposal practices are vital to mitigate the environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries, given the toxic chemicals they contain. Continuous advancements in battery technology, such as the development of solid-state batteries, underscore the ongoing efforts to enhance safety and reliability. Thus, the comprehensive approach to lithium-ion battery safety—covering manufacturing, usage, maintenance, and disposal—is crucial for the sustainable and safe utilization of these powerful energy sources in our daily lives.

Understanding Lithium-ion Battery Fires

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are a type of rechargeable battery commonly used in various electronic devices due to their high energy density, long cycle life, and efficiency. Here's a brief explanation of how they work:

Components and Structure

  1. Electrodes: Li-ion batteries consist of two primary electrodes: the anode (negative electrode) typically made of graphite, and the cathode (positive electrode) made of a lithium metal oxide such as lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2), lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4), or lithium manganese oxide (LiMn2O4).

  2. Electrolyte: The electrolyte is a lithium salt dissolved in an organic solvent. This electrolyte facilitates the movement of lithium ions between the anode and cathode.

  3. Separator: A porous separator is placed between the anode and cathode to prevent direct contact while allowing ions to pass through.

Working Principle

  • Charging Process: During charging, an external electrical source (charger) applies a voltage across the battery’s electrodes. This drives lithium ions from the cathode through the electrolyte and the separator to the anode, where they are intercalated into the graphite structure. Simultaneously, electrons flow through the external circuit from the cathode to the anode, maintaining charge balance.

  • Discharging Process: When the battery is discharging (i.e., powering a device), the process reverses. Lithium ions move from the anode back to the cathode through the electrolyte and separator. This movement releases stored energy, and electrons flow through the external circuit from the anode to the cathode, providing electric current to power the device.

Advantages and Safety Considerations

  • High Energy Density: Li-ion batteries can store a large amount of energy in a small volume, making them ideal for portable electronics.
  • Long Cycle Life: They can be recharged many times before their capacity significantly degrades.
  • Low Self-Discharge: Li-ion batteries have a relatively low rate of self-discharge compared to other rechargeable batteries.

Common causes of lithium-ion battery fires


Overcharging a lithium-ion battery can lead to excessive heat generation, causing thermal runaway—a condition where increased temperature leads to further increases in temperature. This can result in the battery catching fire or exploding. Proper charging practices and the use of chargers with overcharge protection can mitigate this risk​.

Short Circuits

Internal short circuits can occur if the battery's separator, which keeps the anode and cathode apart, is damaged. This can be caused by manufacturing defects, physical damage, or the penetration of the battery casing. Short circuits can lead to rapid, uncontrolled discharge of energy, producing heat and potentially causing a fire​.

Physical Damage

Physical damage to the battery, such as puncturing or crushing, can cause the internal components to short circuit or deform. This can disrupt the battery's chemistry and lead to thermal runaway. Users should handle batteries carefully and avoid dropping or subjecting them to impacts​.

Manufacturing Defects

Defects in the manufacturing process, such as impurities in the cell materials or errors in the assembly, can create internal short circuits or unstable chemical reactions. Quality control during manufacturing is essential to prevent these defects.


Exposure to high temperatures can degrade the battery's internal components and increase the risk of thermal runaway. This can occur due to environmental factors (such as leaving a device in a hot car) or heavy use that generates excessive heat. Proper thermal management and avoiding extreme temperatures can help prevent overheating​.

Improper Charging and Discharging

Using chargers that are not compatible with the battery or improper charging practices, such as using damaged or uncertified chargers, can cause overcharging or improper current flow. Similarly, deep discharging (allowing the battery to drain completely) can also damage the battery and lead to unsafe conditions​.

Battery Aging

As lithium-ion batteries age, their internal resistance increases, which can lead to higher temperatures during charging and discharging. Older batteries are more susceptible to thermal runaway and should be monitored for signs of degradation​​.

Typical Fire Temperatures

  1. Initial Ignition:

    • 200°C to 250°C (392°F to 482°F): The initial ignition of a lithium-ion battery typically occurs when the internal temperature reaches around 200°C to 250°C. This temperature is sufficient to trigger thermal runaway, a self-sustaining reaction that leads to rapid temperature escalation.
  2. Thermal Runaway:

    • 500°C to 700°C (932°F to 1292°F): During thermal runaway, the battery can reach temperatures between 500°C and 700°C. This intense heat is generated due to the exothermic reactions within the battery, including the breakdown of the electrolyte and other components​.
  3. Peak Temperatures:

    • Up to 1000°C (1832°F): In severe cases, the temperature can spike up to 1000°C. These extreme temperatures can cause the battery to vent gases, ignite surrounding materials, and significantly increase the fire's intensity.

Factors Influencing Fire Temperatures

  • Battery Size and Capacity: Larger batteries or those with higher capacities can produce more heat during a fire.
  • State of Charge: Batteries that are fully charged or nearly fully charged tend to have more stored energy, which can contribute to higher temperatures during a fire.
  • Environmental Conditions: The presence of flammable materials and the surrounding temperature can also influence the severity and temperature of a battery fire.

Fire Incidents in Canada and Toronto

  • Vancouver: The city has experienced a 500% increase in fires linked to lithium-ion batteries since 2016. In 2022 alone, five out of seven fire-related deaths were attributed to these batteries. The Vancouver Fire Department has emphasized the dangers of using knock-off brands and improper handling, which can lead to overcharging and thermal runaway, making these fires particularly challenging to extinguish​ (Global News)​.
  • Toronto: There has been a 142% increase in lithium-ion battery fires, with 29 incidents reported in 2022 compared to 11 in 2021. Notable incidents include e-bike fires caused by improper charging and modification of batteries. These fires often result from thermal runaway, which can occur weeks after initial damage to the battery​ (CityNews Toronto)​​ (CityNews Toronto)​.
  • Ottawa: E-scooter fires have prompted local authorities to issue warnings about ensuring products meet Canadian electrical standards and are properly maintained. Proper disposal and handling are also critical to preventing fires in waste facilities​ (CityNews Toronto)​.

Lithium Battery Charging Safety

Use the Correct Charger

  • Manufacturer's Charger: Always use the charger that comes with your device or one recommended by the manufacturer. Using incompatible or uncertified chargers can lead to overcharging or short-circuiting​ (eBicycles)​​ (CityNews Toronto)​.

Avoid Overcharging

  • Unplug When Full: Remove the battery from the charger once it reaches 100% to prevent overcharging, which can cause overheating and reduce battery lifespan. Some modern devices have built-in protections, but manual monitoring is still advisable​ (eBicycles)​​ (Global News)​.
  • Smart Charging: Utilize smart chargers that automatically cut off power when the battery is fully charged.

Monitor Charging Conditions

  • Temperature Control: Charge batteries in a cool, dry place. Avoid charging in extremely hot or cold environments as extreme temperatures can damage the battery and increase the risk of thermal runaway​ (CityNews Toronto)​​ (CityNews Toronto)​.
  • Stable Surface: Charge on a flat, hard surface to prevent overheating. Avoid charging on soft surfaces like beds or couches that can trap heat​ (CityNews Toronto)​.

Regular Inspections

  • Check for Damage: Regularly inspect the battery and charging cables for signs of wear or damage. Do not use batteries or chargers that show signs of physical damage​ (Global News)​​ (CityNews Toronto)​.
  • Replace When Necessary: Replace old or damaged batteries with new ones that meet the manufacturer's specifications to ensure safety and performance.

Avoid Deep Discharge

  • Maintain Charge Levels: Try to keep the battery charge between 20% and 80%. Avoid letting the battery completely discharge frequently, as deep discharging can harm the battery’s health​ (eBicycles)​​ (CityNews Toronto)​.

Safety Precautions

  • Fire-Resistant Containers: When charging batteries, especially overnight, consider using fire-resistant containers or charging bags designed for lithium-ion batteries.
  • Supervision: Do not leave charging batteries unattended for long periods, particularly in enclosed or poorly ventilated areas​ (Global News)​​ (CityNews Toronto)​.

Proper Disposal

  • Hazardous Waste: Dispose of old or damaged batteries at designated hazardous waste collection points. Do not throw them in regular trash to prevent potential fires during waste processing​ (CityNews Toronto)​.

Storing Batteries Safely

Temperature Control

  • Optimal Temperature Range: Store lithium-ion batteries in a cool environment, ideally between 10°C and 25°C (50°F to 77°F). Extreme temperatures can degrade the battery's performance and lifespan​​ (CityNews Toronto)​.
  • Avoid Extreme Temperatures: Do not store batteries in places where temperatures can drop below 0°C (32°F) or exceed 40°C (104°F). High temperatures can cause thermal runaway, while low temperatures can reduce the battery’s capacity temporarily​ (CityNews Toronto)​.

Humidity Levels

  • Low Humidity: Store batteries in a dry place with low humidity. High humidity can lead to corrosion of the battery contacts and other components​.

Storage Containers and Locations

  • Fire-Resistant Containers: Use fire-resistant containers or specially designed battery storage cases to minimize risks in case of thermal runaway or fire.
  • Ventilated Area: Store batteries in a well-ventilated area to dissipate any heat generated and prevent the accumulation of gases in the event of a leak.
  • Avoid Metal Containers: Avoid storing batteries in metal containers unless they are specifically designed for battery storage, as this can lead to short circuits.

Avoid Physical Damage

  • Handle with Care: Store batteries in a way that prevents them from being dropped, punctured, or otherwise physically damaged. Physical damage can lead to internal short circuits and thermal runaway​ (Global News)​.
  • Separation from Other Objects: Ensure that the batteries are stored separately from metal objects and other batteries to prevent accidental short circuits.

Avoid Exposure to Extreme Conditions

  • Away from Direct Sunlight: Store batteries away from direct sunlight and heat sources, as prolonged exposure to heat can accelerate battery degradation.
  • Prevent Moisture Exposure: Keep batteries away from moisture and water to prevent corrosion and potential short circuits.

State of Charge for Storage

  • Partial Charge: For long-term storage, keep the battery at around 50% charge. Fully charged or completely discharged batteries can degrade faster when stored​ (CityNews Toronto)​.
  • Regular Checks: If storing for extended periods, check the charge level every few months and recharge to 50% if it has dropped significantly.


Lithium-ion batteries are essential components in many modern electronic devices due to their high energy density, efficiency, and long cycle life. However, they require careful handling, charging, and storage to prevent risks such as overheating, fires, and explosions. Following best practices such as using the correct chargers, avoiding extreme temperatures, and ensuring proper disposal can mitigate these risks and extend battery lifespan. With proper safety measures in place, lithium-ion batteries can continue to provide reliable and powerful energy solutions for a wide range of applications

Encouragement to stay informed and proactive in battery safety practices. It is recommended to buy only certified batteries recommended by the bike manufacturer and certified by the relevant services.