Lithium Ion battery fires are some of the most difficult fires to suppress. Along with Class D metal fires, there are few types of fires that present such a risk to equipment and personnel. This is especially true when both are 40,000 feet above ground half way across the Pacific Ocean.
The technology behind Lithium Ion batteries that make them so ideal for powering electronic devices for long periods of time results in unique hazards when they burn. Statistically, Lithium Ion batteries are incredibly reliable and safe. To address the risk of fire in batteries, safety measures in the charging systems and the batteries are designed in.
Lithium Ion batteries have high power-to-density ratios that allow them to store large amounts of energy. When a Lithium Ion battery catches fire, it is the stored energy along with the materials in the battery that make it so difficult suppress or extinguish.
Lithium Ion batteries can catch fire in two ways. The first is being exposed to an adjacent fire. The second is through a thermal runaway in the battery itself. Thermal runaways are caused by a manufacturing defect or physical damage. When a Lithium Ion battery has a thermal runaway, physical expansion of the battery occurs and electrical shorts within the battery either start, or continue. The energy stored in the battery is released, often violently. This release of energy can cause adjacent battery cells to catch fire or thermally runaway as well.
The Ventura Aerospace aircraft fire suppression system using Cargo Foam is the only demonstrated and installed fire suppression system that is capable of suppressing a Lithium Ion battery fire. Ventura Aerospace, along with Ansul, conducted live fire tests with 192 laptops loaded in standard packaging inside an AMJ container. The fire suppression system was able to suppress the battery fire in the laptops and keep it suppressed for four hours.
This fire suppression system has been flying aboard MD-11Fs since 2009 and has been installed on 66 aircraft at FedEx Express. Systems are currently being installed on 777F for FedEx Express. Development of this system began over a decade ago and is the industry’s first effective solution for protecting the main deck cargo compartments from threat of fire.