Feedback sought on ways to smother fire risks linked to lithium-ion batteries

6 December 2022

The ACCC is seeking input on ways to reduce the significant fire and safety risks associated with lithium-ion batteries, which can overheat or explode, particularly when used, charged or stored incorrectly.

An issues paper published today, will help the ACCC to better understand the risks posed by lithium-ion batteries and inform recommendations to reduce the chances of fires, injuries and property damage.

Submissions are sought from a range of stakeholders including consumers, consumer safety advocates, industry associations, regulators, fire authorities and industry suppliers.

“Lithium-ion batteries are extremely volatile and we are very concerned about the growing number of fires and injuries linked to them. We are particularly worried as these rechargeable batteries have rapidly become regular household items as they are contained in mobile phones, laptops, power tools, e-bikes and e-scooters,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“During the past five years we have received over 200 product safety reports about products with lithium-ion batteries including more than 20 product recalls in Australia, most of which related to consumer products such as laptops and loudspeakers.”

So far, the ACCC has identified some key safety issues which are causing incidents with lithium-ion batteries including:

  • Manufacturing defects
  • Aftermarket chargers that are incompatible with the device or non-compliant
  • Overcharging – where devices are left on charge and the battery does not protect against overcharging
  • Overheating – when a device is stored in a hot or poorly ventilated environment
  • Puncture – when the barrier breaks between the liquid electrolyte and the electrodes, causing the device to short-circuit

“Unfortunately, fires linked to lithium-ion batteries tend to escalate quickly and are very difficult to extinguish, which means there is a high risk of property damage or injuries. That’s why it is critical to find out as much as we can about lithium-ion batteries now, so that we can recommend ways to tackle these issues and reduce the risks,” Ms Rickard said.

The ACCC is also seeking input on alternative risk mitigation strategies, including whether regulatory options or regulatory framework changes are needed to address any risks.

Submissions to the lithium-ion issues paper are due by 3 February 2023 and can be made here or by emailing lithiumbatteries@accc.gov.au.

A report detailing the findings and best options for managing the risks associated with lithium-ion batteries will be published in 2023.

Background:

The ACCC is scoping product safety issues and risk mitigation strategies in relation to lithium-ion batteries as one of our product safety priority areas in 2022/23 .

Lithium-ion batteries contain electrolytes that are highly flammable. ‘Thermal runaway’ can cause these batteries to rapidly overheat and create self-sustaining fires that cannot be easily extinguished by water spray or use of a fire extinguisher. A malfunction of lithium-ion batteries may also result in violent bursting of one or multiple battery cells, hissing and release of toxic, flammable and explosive gases.

Consumers can minimise the risks from lithium-ion batteries if they:

  • Only purchase and use products from reputable suppliers, and only use chargers supplied with the device.
  • Don’t leave batteries or devices unattended whilst charging and once fully charged, disconnect them from the charger.
  • Don’t charge batteries on or near flammable materials or surfaces.
  • Never store or leave batteries and devices in areas where they can be exposed to heat or moisture. This includes direct sunlight or parked vehicles.
  • Don’t use batteries or devices that show signs of damage.
  • Never touch a swollen or ruptured device or battery with bare hands as the heat and/or/chemicals can cause severe burns.
  • Ensure smoke/heat alarms are installed wherever you charge lithium-ion battery containing devices.
  • Don’t place lithium-ion batteries in standard household disposal bins because they can cause fires in waste disposal trucks and facilities. Devices containing lithium-ion batteries should instead be recycled. Community recycling centres have collection bins, which are often found in supermarkets, shopping centres, libraries, and other community buildings.

In the event of a fire, contact 000 immediately. For more information on what to do in case of fire or explosion contact your state or territory fire department.

Release number: 
174/22
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