UK fire services attend 46% more Lithium-ion battery fires in 2023

  • Health & Safety
Lithium-ion fire
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

UK fire services were faced with a 46% increase in Lithium-ion battery fires in 2023, according to new research.

The fires all involved electric-powered vehicles, including bikes, scooters and cars which use Lithium-ion batteries. The findings equate to almost three fires a day last year, compared with under two fires a day in 2022.

Nearly a third (29%) of Lithium-ion fires involved e-bikes, which were up 7% to 270 fires from 158 in 2022. E-scooter fires also rose by 7%, while electric car fires increased considerably from 89 in 2022 to 118 in 2023 – a 33% increase.

Despite the sharp increase, there are roughly one million electric cars on UK roads so this is a fairly low number.

E-buses are prominent in the UK – no other country registers as many electric buses. This increased use could be one reason fires involving e-buses increased by 22%, and there were four times as many e-truck fires.

Business insurer QBE collected the data from 42 UK fire safety services, through a series of freedom of information requests.

Adrian Simmonds, Practice Leader for property risk solutions at QBE, commented on the figures to urge for greater public and political awareness:

“To help with a safer rollout [of electric vehicles], we are calling for more support for fire services to help improve education in dealing with the new risk profile,” he said.

“The UK Government needs to impose more stringent safety requirements to reduce fire frequency. Increasing awareness of proper maintenance, storage and disposal of lithium-ion batteries is paramount to protecting people and property.”

Lithium-ion fires are particularly dangerous because of a process known as “thermal runaway”. Impact damage, overcharging or overheating causes the battery to enter an uncontrollable, self-heating state.

Thermal runaway is very hard for fire services to deal with, as batteries can reach extremely high temperatures, resulting in violent cell venting, smoke and fire. The most common causes are poor-quality or overcharged batteries.

Matt Humby, Senior Technical Consultant at Firechief Global and author of a recent e-book on Lithium-ion battery fires, also expressed concern at the findings:

“This data confirms what [we] have been saying for some time. It really is key that education is moved to a higher level from the fire service to members of the public. This risk will always be with us, but with consistent education, fires can be reduced.”

Visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like Are lithium-ion batteries classified as hazardous waste?

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