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  • Writer's pictureTeam CargoTalk

Fire not the only danger with lithium batteries


TT Club, the specialist international freight insurance provider, is seeking greater emphasis on the critical dangers of toxic gas emissions associated with lithium-ion battery fires. The failure of such batteries has the potential to occur with no prior warning, or with such speed that there is typically no time to react to any warning signs.

Devastating consequences of rapidly spreading, and often challenging to extinguish fires involving the batteries particularly in electric vehicles (EV) on board ships, and other parts of the supply chain have been well-documented in recent months. There is however less awareness of the highly toxic combustion products that are released and their respective impact to the health and wellbeing of those exposed to the gases. Based on the evidence of past fires the time between the initiation of a failed battery igniting to a discharge of toxic vapour can be measured in seconds rather than minutes. This is due to a process known as thermal runaway. The rapid sequence of events typically occurs where an internal electrical short within one of the battery cells generates heat; this breaks down the internal structure of the battery, increasing the rate of the reaction in an ever-increasing cycle. There is often a dramatic release of energy in the form of heat and a significant emission of toxic gases.

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