7
$\begingroup$

Lithium-ion batteries have the tendency to go on fire.

I checked baggage policy of European low cost carriers (easyJet, Ryanair, WizzAir), and while spare batteries are banned from cargo hold, it seems that batteries in devices are allowed (also hand baggage could be placed in hold if there is no place in cabin).

If spare batteries are dangerous, aren't batteries in devices too?

A few incidents happended when lithium-ion battery exploded, and the fire has been extinguished by cabin crew.

Such fire could also happen in cargo hold. What's happens then? I've seen people question the ability of halon fire suppression systems to extinguish lithium battery fire, because it works by blocking oxygen from fire, while lithium-ion batteries do not need oxygen to burn:

Halon basically works by displacing the oxygen that is feeding the fire - and won't work when the material that is burning can provide its own oxidizer. Li-O batteries fall into that category, along with things like ammonium perchlorate (used to make solid rocket propellant), gunpowder, and oxygen generation canisters. Once ignited, they will continue to burn until the fuel is exhausted....
(http://www.pprune.org/australia-new-zealand-pacific/538637-melbourne-airport-737-cargo-hold-fire-poss-due-lithium-ion-battery-2.html)

Also this: https://batterybro.com/blogs/18650-wholesale-battery-reviews/19673027-plane-safety-systems-are-confirmed-to-not-stop-lithium-ion-battery-fires

On the other hand in comments to this question: What safety differences exist between carrying laptops in checked versus carry-on baggage? people suggest that it will keep fire from spreading until battery extinguishes on its own.

Moreover checked baggage is not always handled gently by airport employees, which can damage electronic devices - and batteries in them, which makes them more likely to catch fire.

For me it seems like any airplane carrying electronic devices could go on fire at any moment, and each flight is as safe as the batteries it carries. On the other hand aviation has stringent regulation about using electronic devices on board out of fear of interfering with airplane systems. I guess that if lithium batteries were so dangerous as I think then they would be banned from cargo hold.

So is airplane crash due to lithium battery fire a real danger, or do I worry too much? (I guess I'm a little nervous - I'm going to fly a third time in my life so far.)

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Aug 1 '17 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ As you mentioned, the danger is non-negligible. IMHO any potential fire in the cabin would be detected and handled much faster than in the cargo hold (I may be mistaken though). But people would not fly without their laptops or phones.. So appparently the benefit overweights the risk $\endgroup$ – gusto2 Aug 1 '17 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ @mins: Now think about hundreds of tons of kerosene in the tank Yes, I know - TWA 800 comes to mind. Nothing is 100% safe. However I have more trust in something built by Boeing or Airbus with express purpose of flying. Regarding batteries I think I feel uncomfortable because it seems to me that the risk is outsourced from aviation industry to some random battery producer. OK, most of them are problaby also reliable - batteries going boom are rare events - but there are so many battery types, cheap Chinese spares, and stories like Samsung Galaxy Note 7. $\endgroup$ – infrequent flyer Aug 1 '17 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW: The reason they are allowed installed in devices is that they are less likely to get damaged or shorted out while in the device I once had a cell phone that worked and looked perfectly good from the outside (though the battery charge didn't last much). I opened it one day only to discover swollen battery. $\endgroup$ – infrequent flyer Aug 2 '17 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ @infrequentflyer Old batteries always swell. That's how you know it needs replaced. That doesn't mean it has become dangerous. But, older batteries are a bit less trustworthy. They slowly grow tiny dendrites which can cause a short if they reach across the insulating material. So if a battery off noticeably swelled don't charge it $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Aug 2 '17 at 13:55
5
$\begingroup$

No, it is not safe to fly on an aircraft that has lithium-ion batteries in the hold. There is a commentary on FAA Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 10017 here, which was issued after the crash of UPS Flight 6.

Admittedly, this was a bulk load of 81,000 batteries on a cargo flight. However a search for 'battery' on AV Herald shows between one and two incidents each month, of lithium ion batteries/devices igniting in the cabin. These are only the ones reported on that website, we don't know how many may go unreported

The ICAO also considers Li-ion batteries a risk but as Simon Hradecky points out, there is a conflict between this safety advice and the security requirements that force passengers to check-in laptops, tablets etc on some flights.

Personally, I think that, whatever the ICAO, FAA and airline requirements, there are going to be some of these devices that get into the hold (people will forget that they left a battery bank in a bag and security will not recognise it on the scanner). We know that they regularly catch fire. There are almost certainly going to be airliners brought down by this, it may have already happened - the EgyptAir MS804 fire hasn't been explained yet.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ there is a conflict between this safety advice and the security requirements that force passengers to check-in laptops, tablets etc on some flights. The laptop ban seems to be limited to flights from US and UK to Middle East - as for as I know there is no such ban on flights between two European countries. On the other hand while you do not have to put your laptop in checked baggage you are apparently still permitted to do so. And it's not only electronic devices - lithium batteries seems to be everywhere these days, e.g. in torches, electric screwdrivers etc. $\endgroup$ – infrequent flyer Aug 2 '17 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ There is difference between 48,000 and 100 battaries. Anyway massive transportation is bad idea. But what about passanger's devices $\endgroup$ – Евгений Новиков Aug 7 '17 at 3:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Евгений Новиков Since the beginning of May 2017, the following cabin fires due to passengers' devices have been reported: 2 August - Lufthansa Airbus A380-800, D-AIMI, (flight LH-440). 30 July - SriLankan Airlines Airbus A330-200, 4R-ALB,(flight UL-166). 22 July - United Airbus A319-100, N834UA, (flight UA-1536). 14 June - Germania Flug Airbus A321-200, HB-JOI, (flight GM-3225). 30 May - Jetblue Airbus A321-200, N967JT, (flight B6-915). 6 May - V-Air Airbus A321-200, B-22610, (flight ZV-252). $\endgroup$ – Dave Gremlin Aug 8 '17 at 8:58
4
$\begingroup$

Lithium batteries do NOT produce oxygen. The problem with extinguishing them is that they do not NEED oxygen to produce heat. They produce heat through electrical discharge rather than combustion.

The reason they are allowed in the cargo hold only when installed in devices is that they are less likely to get damaged or shorted out while in the device. Loose spare batteries usually have their contacts exposed and can come in contact with something metal that shorts them out and can cause a fire. If there's a fire, better that it be in the cabin where it can be extinguished.

There's still a possibility for a battery in a device to catch fire in the cargo hold. There are limits to the size of batteries allowed on passenger aircraft. Larger than that size, or not installed in a device they must have the "cargo aircraft only" warning label on them did they won't be loaded into a passenger plane. The rationale behind fire suppression in the cargo hold is that a single battery by itself is not going to do enough damage to bring down a plane. But it can start other nearby materials on fire. The Halon fire suppression should keep the other material from catching fire by removing oxygen. That won't stop the thermal runaway in the battery, but if you can prevent the rest of the cargo from burning the battery will soon be completely discharged and stop producing heat.

They certainly aren't totally safe. They're pretty sure that's what started the fire that brought down UPS flight 6. That said, the UPS situation is a bit different than a passenger flight. The main cargo hold of a freighter is far too large for a fire suppression system. AFAIK only the haz mat container in the very front is required to have a fire suppression system. Cargo containers tend to be packed pretty tight, so the hope is that fires will run out of oxygen. This is certainly not always true as can be seen by UPS 6.

There is no way to eliminate every possible risk on an aircraft. But by taking the necessary steps the risk becomes very small. Lithium battery fires are reported often, so we need to be aware of the danger. But if you consider that there are thousands of flights every day and I'd bet that every single one of them for the last 10 years has has lithium batteries on board - usually multiple batteries - problems are extremely rare. I'm sure a lot more people have been killed by lithium battery fires at their homes than on a plane.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Li/LiPo battery explosions do involve oxygen. The primary oxidant is stored in the form of metal oxides in the cathode, but the free solvent electrolytes will react violently to oxygen in the air. $\endgroup$ – forest Jun 15 '18 at 5:44
0
$\begingroup$

AIUI it all depends on quantity

It's not practical to totally eliminate the possibility of an ignition source in the cargo hold. Therefore the holds have fire suppression systems to keep any fires under control until the plane lands. The occasionally lithium ion battery mixed in with regular baggage won't prevent that.

OTOH a large shipment of lithium batteries can create a fire that burns very hot and is damn near impossible to put out. That is a serious hazard to the plane.

$\endgroup$
-2
$\begingroup$

Li-ion battaries are safe if they isn't counterfeit

Battaries manufactoring is hi-tech process, and there is limited count of companies, that can make it. For example nanotechnology can be used while li-ion bataries manufactoring.

Each battery has own datasheet. This document contains techical information and information about tests.

Battaries testing

Consider typical datasheet of ICR-18650-26F battery, manufactored by Samsung SDI

It is safe to

  • Heat battery to 130°C for 60 minutes
  • Short-circuit by less than 50mΩ wire for 3hours
  • Drop full-charged battery from 1.5m 6 times
  • Overcharge with 12V and 2.6A for 2.5 hours
  • Vibrate between 10Hz and 55Hz with amplitude of 1.6mm
  • Reverse Charge with current 2.6A by –12V for 2.5 hours

Root of ban rules

xkcd: Bag check

In my opinion this bans based not on logic and statistics, but on fears and prejudjes.

But anyway if someone is seriously tuned, there is no problem

Counterfeit

This is a problem. There is no quality control on low-quality manufactories. Good news is that well-known electronics manufactorers don't use it.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Most of current fires on planes are due to the batteries of electronic cigarettes. It's great to know they are counterfeit, but this also means we need to take some action. $\endgroup$ – mins Aug 6 '17 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ @mins e-cigs consume a lot of electric power. For IMR18650 it is ok, but for ICR not. This may be a problem. Also e-cigs have high temperature parts, and maybe they causes fire, not battery $\endgroup$ – Евгений Новиков Aug 7 '17 at 3:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Li-ion battaries are safe if they isn't counterfeit": Not necessarily. $\endgroup$ – Sean Apr 20 '18 at 19:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.