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Lithium battery fires: Why not water?

Kent Faith - Tuesday, December 02, 2014

One of the biggest issues concerning the lithium primary and lithium-ion battery threat is whether or not to extinguish using water.

First airlines should consider the worst case scenario; it is not always possible to distinguish the difference between a lithium primary battery (can’t be extinguished with water) and a lithium-ion battery (may not always be extinguished with water). The best approach is to fight any fire involving lithium batteries with a Class D-rated fire suppression agent that will extinguish both a lithium primary fire and a lithium-ion fire.

In 2013 lithium primary batteries constituted as much as 42.5% of all the lithium batteries manufactured, that is almost one-half of all the 3.46 billion units produced. http://www.baj.or.jp/e/statistics/01.html


There are a number of agencies that say water is not to be used on any lithium fire. The French aviation accident investigator, BEA, says this:

“throwing water on a lithium battery fire can, however, make it more difficult to extinguish because of the reduction of lithium in water, which leads to the release of hydrogen, which is highly flammable.” www.bea.aero/docspa/2010/f-pk101208.en/pdf/f-pk101208.en.pdf

Research from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratories indicates:

“The only extinguisher that will work on a Lithium-ion Battery fire is a Class D Fire Extinguisher or Dry Sand or Dry Table Salt.” www.nrel.gov/education/pdfs/lithium-ion_battery_safety_hazards.pdf


Our own independent testing at Element Materials Technology finds the following:

“Placing water on burning lithium increases the intensity of the fire and the fire is extinguished only when the lithium is totally consumed. Placing Firebane on burning lithium limits the intensity of the fire and the fire is extinguished before the lithium is completely consumed”. https://app.box.com/s/2njr5to1evrmh1j2xqwo


IATA on counterfeit batteries:

“There is also the problem of low quality and counterfeit/fake (i.e., purporting to be genuine) batteries that have been the cause of incidents. It is often very difficult to distinguish fake batteries from the genuine article..” They go on to say this, “A battery involved in a fire can re-ignite and emit flames multiple times, as heat is transferred to other cells in the battery.”IATA Lithium Batteries Risk Mitigation Guidance for Operators.


The potential reigniting a fire is much greater when using water. In the BEA report quoted above, “Throwing the water put out the flames and cooled the damaged battery. Nevertheless, this could have revived the fire and made its extinction more difficult, due to the release of hydrogen generated by the reduction of lithium in the water.”


Our recommendation, always use Firebane from our LIFE Kit, when available, for any lithium and PED fire in the cabin.