How to safely store, charge lithium-ion batteries

A power source that has become a household item is raising alarms. 

On Sunday, Dec. 3, a fire was sparked by an e-bike lithium-ion battery left one person dead and nine others hurt in New York. It was the second deadly fire in three weeks linked to lithium-ion batteries in New York City.

"They charge quickly, they recharge easily, they have a high energy density, and they're cheap to manufacture," said Rachael Lewis, operations public information officer for the Austin Fire Department. 

In the era of electric everything, these batteries are everywhere. However, they pack a punch.

"Smaller battery fires can sometimes be put out with a dry chemical extinguisher," said Lewis. "But for larger scale fires, it takes us quite a bit of water and quite a bit of manpower to put out something like that." 

In August, a home in southwest Austin caught on fire after a lithium-ion battery for a piece of lawn equipment was left charging overnight on the outside deck.

In November, a fire started in some West Campus apartments from a battery-powered light left charging.

Some devices like hoverboards and e-bikes have been recalled due to the risk. 


"What causes lithium-ion battery fires is called thermal runaway. Thermal runaway is a phenomenon where a battery short circuits causing a chain reaction," said Lewis. "This chain reaction generates heat, and the heat transfers from one battery cell to another within the battery and creates a cascade. This cascade and heat generation also takes the internal components of the battery and converts them into a flammable and toxic gas."

Recommendations from AFD include storing and charging the batteries no closer than two feet apart in a room-temperature climate. 

"We recommend not charging the batteries underneath your pillow or on a couch or near anything flammable or combustible," said Lewis. "We recommend inspecting the batteries daily or regularly for any bulges, changes in temperature while charging or using, odors, any changes in coloration or any unusual wear to the battery."

If wear and tear is noticeable, batteries should be disposed of. They should not be thrown out in the regular garbage because they could cause fires during transport. Instead, they should be taken to a household hazardous waste collection site or a recycling center.