Why A Containment Bag? Why Not Water? Why Not An Extinguisher?
Our bags do not require the use of water, but you may douse the device to cool it before placing it within one of our containment systems... That said, WATER & MOST EXTINGUISHERS may not be the best course of action depending on the circumstances... The fact that batteries sometimes explode violently means the longer the responder is dousing the device, the longer they are exposed within the blast radius. It also doesn't hurt to keep in mind- according to the Lithium International Chem Safety Card “Lithium is highly flammable. Is readily ignited by and reacts with most extinguishing agents such as water, carbon dioxide, and carbon tetrachloride [Mellor 2, Supp 2:71. 1961]. Reacts with water to form caustic lithium hydroxide and hydrogen gas (H2)...”
After much discussion with industry professionals, we know there simply isn't a "catch-all" answer when dealing with lithium-ion fires as there are too many variables. Most agree not dealing with a device that is bursting into flames or venting extremely toxic gases and smoke at 30,000 ft could be as /or more dangerous to all on board than one person (properly equipped) grabbing the threat and dealing with it appropriately... Imagine what could happen if there is turbulence during the event and the burning device is free to bounce around the cabin... or consider the panic which could ensue while allowing a burning/smoking device to sit there uncontained... The best you can do for your team is to train them and offer them multiple solutions so they are prepared for all possible scenarios.
University studies have proven "with an inflammation of the battery gas, some of the hazardous substances get oxidized into harmless reaction products..." "If the ignition of the cell is prevented (or extinguished),... the gas emission is far more dangerous." Even if you have the proper extinguisher on hand and choose to use it, once extinguished you should not move the device without containing it first. Why? One cell ruptures and is extinguished, but the excessive heat from the first cell has started a chain reaction within an adjacent cell and it is only a matter of time before it too ruptures. You extinguish this second cell, but it has started the same reaction with its adjacent cell... and so on and so on. You do not want to move a device in thermal runaway without containment as you do not know when the next rupture will occur. With some of the tests we've conducted devices have taken over an hour and thirty minutes to cycle through each individual cell. That's 90 minutes of toxic smoke and fumes releasing without the ability to move or contain it... Unless you have a Brimstone Fire Containment Bag on hand.
Something else to consider, lithium-ion batteries do not need oxygen to burn and direct contact with water may result in a violent reaction, which will produce steam vapor. The resulting explosion can be dangerous. The steam vapor will be extremely toxic and laced with heavy metals. Far more dangerous than smoke alone, steam vapor penetrates more efficiently than smoke. Sinus and lung tissue would be very vulnerable should this happen.
Another very important fact is during a thermal runaway, rapidly escaping gases will make a fire containment bag inflate like a balloon. This obviously creates a tremendous amount of pressure... If the containment system used during an event doesn't allow for venting, this pressure build up has no way to escape... In trying to prevent a disaster you may actually be creating a greater one... Without venting, flammable gases will accumulate. This accumulation will likely explode with far more intensity than if the thermal runaway were contained in such a way that allows some of the pressure to be relieved.
We're always available for consultation should you have any questions.
Miscellaneous Battery Facts:
• See what happens when you add just a pinch of Lithium to water here.
• "By nature, lithium-ion batteries are dangerous. Inside, the main line of defense against short circuiting is a thin and porous slip of polypropylene that keeps the electrodes from touching. If that separator is breached, the electrodes come in contact, and things get very hot very quickly. The batteries are also filled with a flammable electrolyte, one that can combust when it heats up, then really get going once oxygen hits it. Not scary enough? That liquid is mixed with a compound that can burn your skin." - Wired Magazine (TIM MOYNIHAN)
• Here is a link to a video we shot of what a li-ion battery looks like without any protective devices. The battery used is equivalent to a battery found in the highest end laptops, so this is an extreme example, but even lower end (more common) battery packs can get pretty dramatic during thermal runaway. Note what happens when they try to extinguish it at the 25 sec mark and the 1:17 mark... The extinguishing agents actually cause large flares...
• Over 5 billion Lithium-Ion Batteries were produced in 2016. While they are generally safe, this ever-increasing volume ensures incidents are going to happen... How many lithium-ion batteries are there at your facility? Keep in mind, every cell phone, tablet, laptop, cordless power tool, emergency flashlight, computer back up power pack, camera. etc, etc... is powered by one.
•"It's not that any one lithium ion battery is at a particularly high risk of a thermal runaway, resulting in fire," said Steve Summer, an engineer in the FAA's Fire Safety Branch, "it's the sheer number of batteries being carried onboard aircraft that creates the risk." With approximately 2.5 million air passengers in the U.S. each day (a figure taking the airline passenger load into account) and a conservative assumption of two-three lithium ion battery powered devices per passenger, the FAA estimates 2.3 billion devices are transported in the National Airspace System each year. "The main concern for crewmembers is that this is perhaps the only fire scenario that requires them to use more than a halon extinguisher," said Summer. "A lithium ion battery fire event requires additional procedures and tools that the crewmember needs to be aware of."