Why Do LiPo Batteries Catch Fire?

Written by tony rogers
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Why Do LiPo Batteries Catch Fire?
(Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Kevin Dooley)

Lithium-ion polymer, or LiPo, batteries are a recent introduction. They are particularly popular for remote-control aircraft and mobile devices due to their light weight. However, they are prone to small but intense fires and require special handling.

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Chemical Explanation

LiPo batteries contain lithium. If lithium is exposed to air with even a slight amount of humidity, it can ignite, releasing hydrogen and other chemicals. Hydrogen is extremely explosive, and is ignited by the burning lithium, resulting in a violent flare-up.

Physical Process

The usual cause of flare-ups is mishandling, which causes a build-up of gas in the battery, leading to a characteristic "LiPo puff" -- the swelling of the battery package. If the "puff" is large enough, the package may rupture, exposing the lithium to air.

Non-LiPo Chargers

LiPo batteries require chargers made specifically for them. Using the wrong type of charger is likely to cause a flare-up.

Overloading

If too much current is drawn ("overloading"), the battery will become very hot and release gas internally. The battery will rupture, exposing the lithium to air, resulting in a fire.

Physical Damage

Anything that breaks open a LiPo battery pack, even a small puncture, will likely result in a fire.

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