Energies 2020, 13, 5117; doi:10.3390/en13195117 www.mdpi.com/journal/energies
A Review of Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Suppression
Mohammadmahdi Ghiji 1,*, Vasily Novozhilov 1, Khalid Moinuddin 1, Paul Joseph 1, Ian Burch 2,
Brigitta Suendermann 2 and Grant Gamble 2
1 Institute of Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities, Victoria University,
Melbourne, VIC 3030, Australia; Vasily.Novozhilov@vu.edu.au (V.N.); Khalid.Moinuddin@vu.edu.au
(K.M.); Paul.Joseph@vu.edu.au (P.J.)
2 Maritime Division, Defence Science & Technology Group, Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia;
Ian.Burch@dst.defence.gov.au (I.B.); Brigitta.Suendermann@dst.defence.gov.au (B.S.);
* Correspondence: Mohammadmahdi.email@example.com
Received: 5 August 2020; Accepted: 28 September 2020; Published: 1 October 2020
Abstract: Lithium-ion batteries (LiBs) are a proven technology for energy storage systems, mobile
electronics, power tools, aerospace, automotive and maritime applications. LiBs have attracted
interest from academia and industry due to their high power and energy densities compared to
other battery technologies. Despite the extensive usage of LiBs, there is a substantial fire risk
associated with their use which is a concern, especially when utilised in electric vehicles, aeroplanes,
and submarines. This review presents LiB hazards, techniques for mitigating risks, the suppression
of LiB fires and identification of shortcomings for future improvement. Water is identified as an
efficient cooling and suppressing agent and water mist is considered the most promising technique
to extinguish LiB fires. In the initial stages, the present review covers some relevant information
regarding the material constitution and configuration of the cell assemblies, and phenomenological
evolution of the thermal runaway reactions, which in turn can potentially lead to flaming
combustion of cells and battery assemblies. This is followed by short descriptions of various active
fire control agents to suppress fires involving LiBs in general, and water as a superior extinguishing
medium in particular. In the latter parts of the review, the phenomena associated with water mist
suppression of LiB fires are comprehensively reviewed.
Keywords: lithium-ion battery; thermal runaway; fire suppression; water mist
The first lithium-ion battery (LiB) was proposed by Yoshino in 1985, based on earlier research
by Whittingham  in the 1970s, and Goodenough et al. [2,3] during the 1970s–1980s. LiBs became
commercially available in 1991  and have become the battery chemistry of choice for electronic
devices, transportation and energy storage . LiBs offer great energy and power density, light
weight and a long lifespan [6,7] when compared to older battery chemistries, as listed in Table 1. It
can be seen that LiB technology has a high energy density and is ideal for cyclic applications. It is
smaller and lighter compared to conventional lead-acid or Nickel Cadmium batteries. These
advantages are encouraging for the replacement of conventional battery technologies with lithium-
ion . However, if the internal temperature of a LiB increases beyond its operating range, by external
or internal means, components of the battery may become unstable and tend to generate additional
heat. If this heat does not dissipate, the battery temperature will elevate further, thereby accelerating
the process of heat release. This process is called thermal runaway. LiB chemistry differs from battery
technologies such as lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, zinc bromide and alkaline by using a flammable
organic electrolyte, presenting a fire risk during thermal runaway process that needs to be addressed
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 2 of 30
to ensure a safe operating environment. Although fire can be extinguished by many methods, the
effects of thermal runaway are more difficult to manage and continued cooling is required.
Table 1. Characteristics of different battery technologies . Response time is the time to deliver
maximum power output over a specific time, with h = hours; min = minutes; ms = milliseconds; s =
seconds; NA = not applicable.
−10 to 50
−10 to 40
−10 to 40
−40 to 45
10 to 45
0 to 40
This paper reviews the processes associated with LiB thermal runaway and fire suppression.
Extinguishing agents are examined and the mechanisms associated with fire suppression are
2. Lithium-Ion Battery Components
A lithium-ion cell consists of a cathode, an anode, separator, and electrolyte. The anode and
cathode materials are deposited onto copper and aluminium foil current collectors, respectively. The
electrolyte enables the movement of lithium ions between the electrodes, while the separator fits
between the anode and cathode preventing shorting between the two electrodes but permitting ion
transfer. During the discharge reaction, lithium ions move from the anode and insert into the voids
between layers of cathode crystals (the process named intercalation). Upon charging, lithium ions
move from the cathode on the positive side of the battery and insert into the anode. The LiB
components and processes are illustrated in Figure 1. During the initial charge, intercalated lithium
ions react immediately with the solvent of the electrolyte and form a passivation layer on the anode,
the Solid-Electrolyte Interphase (SEI), which is permeable to lithium ions but not to the electrolyte
. The stability of the SEI is a determining factor of LiBs’ safety and life.
The details of each battery component are provided in the following sections.
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 3 of 30
Figure 1. The principle of the lithium-ion battery (LiB) showing the intercalation of lithium-ions
(yellow spheres) into the anode and cathode matrices upon charge and discharge, respectively .
The cathode composition gives the name to the type of LiB. Lithium metal oxides such as
Lithium Cobalt Oxide (LCO), Nickel Cobalt Aluminium Oxide (NCA), Lithium Cobalt Phosphate
(LCP), Nickel Cobalt Manganese Oxide (NCM), Lithium Manganese Oxide (LMO), Lithium Iron
Phosphate (LFP), Lithium Iron Fluorosulphate (LFSF) and Lithium Titanium Sulphide (LTS) have
been used as cathode materials owing to their high capacity for lithium intercalation and compatible
chemical and physical properties (e.g., for the reversibility of the intercalation reactions) necessary
for lithium ion transport. Figure 2 presents cell specific capacity and average discharge potential of a
series of cathode materials . LCO, NCA and NCM all have a layered structure with high energy
density at the cost of lower thermal stability, and contain expensive cobalt. LMO has a spinel-like
structure, great thermal stability and high voltage but relatively low capacity. LFP has a stable olivine
structure and has attracted significant interest [12–15] due to low cost as it does not contain cobalt,
has high average voltage and a low susceptibility to thermal runaway compared to NCM and LCO,
providing a good balance between performance and safety [16–18]. To date, cathode materials with
high capacity and voltage such as nickel- [19–24], manganese-  and lithium-rich [19,25–31]
materials, carbon-coated LFP nanospheres  and vanadium pentoxide  have been recognized.
Higher contents of nickel and lithium increase the specific capacity of the cathode material but
decrease thermal stability. The thermal instability of LiBs have been systematically characterised
using synchrotron-based X-ray techniques [34,35]. The outcomes of these investigations provided
fundamental understanding and guidance which is vital to develop safer batteries with a high energy
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 4 of 30
Figure 2. Average discharge potentials and specific capacity of common cathodes .
The most common material used for LiB anodes is graphite due to its high negative potential.
Other materials such as lithium titanate and silicone operate at lower negative voltages reducing the
energy and power density, making them less practical except for fast charging devices  and fixed
energy storage where the importance of energy density is less significant . Lithium titanate and
silicone enable lithium ions to travel more readily which decreases the internal resistance and reduces
battery heating compared to the graphite anode . Studies to identify new materials for anodes
with higher capacity and voltage have been undertaken. Materials such as silicon [39,40], tin ,
antimony , germanium [43,44], silicon oxide , transition metal oxide: MO (where M is cobalt,
nickel, copper or iron) [44,46], ultra-thin graphene nanosheets , and layered boron-nitrogen-
carbon-oxygen material with adjustable composition  have been tested. In the development of
new anode materials, properties including capacity retention, conductivity, volume expansion,
dendrite formation, and stability of the SEI layer should be considered before commercialisation .
In LiBs, the cathode and anode are separated by a porous membrane called the separator .
The separator is a crucial component in a lithium-ion cell, it prevents electrical short circuits between
the two electrodes but allows transport of lithium ions between the electrodes . The most popular
separator materials for LiBs with organic electrolytes are made of microporous polyolefin films such
as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), or laminates of polyethylene and polypropylene offering
outstanding chemical stability, mechanical properties, and acceptable cost . The low melting point
of polyolefins (135 °C for PE and 165 °C for PP) qualifies their utilisation as a thermal fuse to shut
down the cell by losing porosity and permeability if an over-temperature condition occurs . New
separator designs such as ceramic composite (frequently alumina and silica) [52–55] and multilayered
ceramic composite (with a shutdown feature through different phase change layers) [56–58] have
been established with improved mechanical strength and thermal stability. Other separator materials
and designs include polyester fibre non-woven membranes , silica/polyvinylidene fluoride
porous composite matrix , porous-layer-coated polyimide nanofiber  and
polyformaldehyde/cellulose nanofibre blends .
The electrolyte infills the space between the separator and electrodes. The electrolyte
formulation in LiBs is dependent on the electrode materials and operating conditions . The typical
electrolyte for LiBs is made of a flammable carbonate-based organic solvent such as ethylene
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 5 of 30
carbonate (EC), dimethyl carbonate (DMC), diethyl carbonate (DEC) and ethyl methyl carbonate
(EMC), and/or propylene carbonate (PC) , with additives including lithium hexafluorophosphate
(LiFP6), lithium hexafluoroarsenate monohydrate (LiAsF6), lithium perchlorate (LiClO4), and lithium
tetrafluoroborate (LiBF4) to improve cycling . New electrolytes aim to mitigate the fire risk
associated with conventional electrolytes using more stable lithium salts [64,65], additives [66–74],
ionic liquid [75–77], non-flammable solvents [78,79], synthesized aqueous electrolytes [80,81],
polymer electrolytes [82–84] and/or solid-state electrolytes [66,85–87].
The performance, cost and safety of LiBs depend on their electrochemistry. For example, a
lithium-ion cell with a LCO positive and a graphite negative electrode delivers high voltage and
energy density but presents a higher thermal runaway risk which may lead to cell rupture, venting,
ignition of the electrolyte and fire .
3. Lithium-Ion Battery Systems
Lithium-ion cells are commercially available in button, cylindrical, pouch and prismatic designs
as illustrated in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Lithium-ion cell designs and structures . (a–d) show cylindrical, button, prismatic, and
pouch cells, respectively.
To supply the desired power and energy from a battery system (an energy storage system), the
cells are connected in parallel to increase the capacity or in series to raise the voltage.
A battery system usually consists of a number of battery packs, which are made of multiple
battery modules, each containing a number of cells with series and/or parallel configuration as
depicted in Figure 4.
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 6 of 30
Figure 4. Packaging of typical battery systems. Image is adopted from .
4. Thermal Runaway and Fire
Despite the extensive usage of LiBs in energy storage applications, they are susceptible to
thermal runaway and fire  which is the primary safety concern when used in hybrid electric
vehicles (HEVs) [91,92], electric vehicles (EVs) [91,93–96], aeroplanes and submarines [97,98]. The LiB
systems used in these applications consist of multi-cell packs and modules where thermal runaway
in a single cell can initiate thermal runaway in adjacent cells and consequently compromise the
integrity of the entire battery system [99,100].
The conditions which may lead to thermal runaway and fire in LiBs fall into four categories
• Electrical abuse (over-charging/discharging) [36,102–106]: Over-charging or discharging to
voltages beyond the manufacturers specified charge window can cause lithium plating, or
dendrite formation, on the anode. Over time, this may pierce the separator causing a short circuit
between electrodes and lead to thermal runaway.
• Thermal abuse (over-temperature) [88,90,107–109]: Internal temperature in the 90–120 °C range
will cause the SEI layer within a LiB to decompose exothermically. At temperatures above 200
°C, the hydrocarbon electrolyte can decompose and release heat.
• Mechanical abuse (penetration, pinch, and bend) [93,110]: Mechanical abuse, usually caused by
external mishap to the LiB such as car crash or during installation, can result in electrical shorting
between the electrodes, via the electrolyte, producing localised heating.
• Internal short circuit (ISC) : An ISC occurs due to the failure of the separator, allowing contact
between the cathode and anode via the electrolyte. This can happen due to any of the above
abuse conditions, or as a result of a manufacturing fault.
Any of these abuse conditions may result in an increase in the internal temperature of the cell,
which in turn can initiate exothermic reactions such as SEI decomposition. This can lead to a loss of
protection to the anode such that the fluorinated binder within the anode can react exothermically
with lithiated carbon, exothermic reactions between the intercalated lithium and electrolyte, or
cathode decomposition giving off oxygen enabling combustion with the electrolyte . The heat
released increases the temperature of the cell and initiates additional reactions, which generate extra
heat, creating a heat–temperature reaction loop. This loop results in high internal temperatures and
pressures which can lead to cell swelling, cell rupture, gas venting (sometimes violent) and possibly
At temperature above the normal operating range, electrochemical reaction processes, many of
which occur simultaneously are very complex. To exemplify, Figure 5 overviews the thermal
runaway processes of LCO/graphite. At temperature above 69 °C, the SEI start to decompose
followed by exothermic reactions between anode and electrolyte, and anode materials and the binder,
separator meltdown, electrolyte decomposition, and reactions between the cathode material and
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 7 of 30
Figure 5. A schematic of thermal runaway processes in lithium cobalt oxide (LCO)/graphite cell .
During thermal runaway in a LiB, the electrolyte and separator may significantly contribute to
the heat released in the presence of oxygen through their ignition and burn properties. The electrolyte
and separator have low mass in a LiB but high effective heat of combustion, and account for
approximately 80% of the heat release in a LiB fire [112,113]. As shown in Figure 6, the effective heat
of combustion for a commercial LMO pouch cell has been measured as 4.03 ± 0.34 MJ kg−1 with the
electrolyte and separator contributing up to 1.92, and 1.34 MJ kg−1, respectively .
Figure 6. (a) The total heat of combustion measured through the experimentations. (b) heat of
combustion of battery components determined by thermodynamic calculations. Adopted from .
The thermal runaway process poses serious fire safety implications , especially for confined
spaces such as in passenger vehicles, aeroplanes and submarines . The likelihood and severity of
fire risks associated with LiBs were presented over the past two decades where more than 300 fires
or fire-related incidents with 40 fatalities reported . Table 2 lists some of the LiB thermal runaway
and fire incidents reported over the last two decades [94,111]. The LiB fire incidents are widespread,
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 8 of 30
from small consumer electronics such as mobile phones to large EVs and airplanes. Potential causes
of the LiB accidents and mechanisms leading to the separator tearing, piercing and collapsing,
subsequently internal short circuit, and possibly thermal runaway are presented in Figure 7. The
numerous accidents have demonstrated that LiB technology is a serious safety concern, which has
obliged governments to enforce new regulations and fire protection technologies for transport and
storage of these devices [93,115].
Table 2. Selected LiBs fire and explosion accidents [94,111].
A HEV (BMW i8 plug-in hybrid) started to smoke
in a showroom
Electric road bike exploded and caught fire
Internal short circuit
An EV (Tesla Model S) caught fire
e-cigarette caused fire in the baggage
compartment of a WestJet flight, making an
An EV (Tesla Model X) caught fire after crashing
into a garage
Crash deformed the battery modules initiating short circuit,
outgassing and fire.
Samsung recalled more than 2.5 million Galaxy
Note 7 phones after 35 fire cases
Manufacturing defect in Samsung’s batteries causing shorts
between internal positive and negative poles.
An EV (Tesla Model S) car caught fire during a
An EV police car caught fire.
The battery pack of an EV (bus) caught fire after
Water immersion causing short circuit.
An iEV5 caught fire.
Overheating by loose wire connection.
An EV (Wuzhou Dragon) bus caught fire.
A short circuit created by wire deterioration.
An EV (Tesla Model S) car caught fire during fast
charging at a fastcharger Station.
Short circuit while charging.
The battery pack of an HEV bus caught fire.
An EV (Wuzhou Dragon) bus caught fire while
charging in a carpark.
The Battery Monitoring System failed to stop charging, the
battery pack was overcharged.
An EV (Tesla Model S) car collided with metal
objects at highway and caught fire.
Short circuit induced by piercing and deformation of the
battery pack after colliding with the metal objects.
The battery pack caught fire in a Boeing 787
traveling from Yamaguchi-Ube to Tokyo.
Internal short circuit.
The battery pack caught fire and spread the
smoke in the entire cabin of a Boeing 787.
Internal short circuit.
An EV (BYD E6 taxi) car caught fire after a rear-
end collision and hitting a tree.
High-speed accident damaged the high voltage circuit. Shorts
occurred in the broken circuit.
An EV bus caught fire
Overheated LiFePO4 batteries
An EV (Chevy Volt) car caught fire three weeks
after a side-pole impact test and damaged the
The pole impact broke the cooling system and the battery
module. Coolant conducted an external short circuit and
ignited combustible venting gas.
An EV (taxi) car caught fire.
A Boeing B747-400F cargo plane caught fire
Two EVs (buses) caught fire.
Overheated LiFePO4 batteries.
Cargo plane caught fire before flying to the USA.
Spontaneous combustion of LiBs.
A HEV (Honda) caught fire.
Overheated LiFePO4 batteries.
The battery pack of an adjusted HEV (Prius) car
caught fire during driving.
Loose connection causing battery to overheat.
Thousands of mobile phone fires and/or
Internal shorts, manufacturer’s defect, overheating, etc.
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 9 of 30
Figure 7. Various abuse conditions resulting in separator malfunction, subsequently internal short
circuit, and possibly thermal runaway and fire .
5. Fire Protection Techniques
Fire protection measures are considered at the cell, battery, module, pack, system and enclosure
levels. The fire protection plan must take into account hazards from outside the battery system and
compartment producing more complications to the design of systems. Figure 8 depicts various levels
of fire protection from cell components to system and compartment designs.
Figure 8. Levels of fire protection. Adapted from .
5.1. Safety at Cell Level
Within the cell, safety measures to reduce or prevent thermal runaway can be added through
the modification of materials or structure, design, and utilisation of safety devices . Significant
works have been done to improve the safety of LiBs by modifying cathode and anode materials, and
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 10 of 30
The choice of cathode material primarily determines the thermal stability and energy delivery.
As an example, SEI decomposition begins around 130 °C for LCO, at 240 °C for NMC, at 270 °C for
LMO and at 310 °C for LFP cathodes . The cathode material can be modified to improve thermal
stability by coating with materials [19,27] such as TiO2 , LiNi0.5Co0.5O2 , Al2O3, MgO ,
LixCoO2 ; substitution of certain metals (e.g., nickel and aluminium partially replacing cobalt
[121,122]); and doping with materials such as zirconium [123–127].
The anode surface can be modified for capacity retention at an elevated temperature of 50 °C by
deposition of Al2O3 , SrO, Mn4N, K2SO4, CaCl2, CaF2, SrF2, Ag, Mg or Zn onto graphite . The
anode modification can be extended by smoothing the SEI surface and covering active edge structures
by adding substances to the electrolyte such as phosphamide additives (N,N-diallyic-diethyoxyl
phosphamide) [130–132], and substitution of conventional graphite anode with silicon , silicon
nanowires  and spinel lithium titanate oxide, Li1.33Ti1.67O4 (LTO) . It has been demonstrated
through calorimetric analyses  and thermal runaway tests [38,136] that LTO is a safer anode
material compared to graphite.
The carbonated solvents of electrolyte are the main contributor to fire induced by LiB thermal
runaway . Reducing solvent and increasing lithium salt (e.g., LiPF6) content can decrease the
electrolyte outgassing at temperatures above 100 °C , but changing the balance of lithium salt to
solvent affects the thermal stability of the cathode and intercalated graphite [138–140]. The safety of
electrolyte has been enhanced using additives [67–74,121], for example: phosphonate electrolyte ,
tris(2,2,2-trifluoroethyl) phosphate [68,109], phosphates, phosphites , fluorinated propylene
carbonates , nanodiamonds and nanoparticles , boron nitride aerogels and boron nitride
nanotubes , fluorinated cyclotriphosphazene , hexamethoxy cyclotriphosphazene [143,144],
vinylene carbonate , polymerizable monomer, 1,1′-(methylenedi-4,1-phenylene) bismaleimide
, trimethyl phosphite and trimethyl phosphate , phosphazene-based flame retardants
). Substitution of electrolyte with ionic liquids [75–77] (e.g., 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium
bis(fluorosulfonyl)imide , and solid polymer electrolyte [85–87] is another method to improve the
safety of the electrolyte. Further information on each approach can be found in .
At the cell level, internal devices such as pressure relief vents, current interrupts, Positive
Temperature Coefficient (PTC) devices and shutdown separators can prevent or limit the impact of
internal malfunction . Pressure relief vents release at elevated internal cell pressures directing
the hot gas evacuation away from the cell and avoiding cell rupture [149–151]. The opening of the
pressure relief vent is also associated with positive circuit cut-off preventing current flow. PTC
devices, consisting of a conductive polymer which is a closed circuit in normal conditions, activate at
abnormal high currents and high temperatures by melting the polymer  and breaking the circuit
[148,153]. Shutdown separators consist of layered films with different phase transition temperatures
which can close the separator pores and halt lithium ion transport [56,57].
5.2. Safety at Module and Pack Level
The Battery Management System (BMS) is the primary safety device at the module and pack
level . The BMS controls and prevents over-charge, over-discharge, and operates the battery pack
for best application performance and long lifespan, generally achieved by balancing the state of
charge of each cell . BMS has attracted a lot of research interest over the past years to estimate
accurately state of charge to avoid over-charging [155–157], and develop models for health prognosis
[158,159], fault diagnostic [160–163], and charge control . Figure 9 illustrates the response of the
different safety devices to various abusive conditions.
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 11 of 30
Figure 9. Results of various abuse conditions on a LiB with safety devices enabled . BMS—battery
management system, PTC—positive temperature coefficient device, CID—current interrupt device.
Together with the BMS, the Thermal Management System (TMS) provides safety protection to
large battery packs. The TMS maintains an optimum operating temperature (20 °C to 40 °C [165,166])
for each cell and reduces temperature changes within and between modules. External heating devices
are required to raise the temperature of battery packs if the temperature is below the desired range
. At temperatures above the desired set point, cooling technologies are needed to provide heat
removal and prevent heat transfer between cells. The cooling techniques include one or a
combination of spacing [168–170], air cooling (forced airflow) [171–173], liquid cooling [174,175],
phase change material (PCM) cooling [116,165,176,177], or heat pipe cooling systems [178–180].
5.3. Safety at Compartment Level
Despite the safety measures at cell and module level, malfunctions in the safety system,
accidental abuse or spontaneous internal short circuits may induce battery fire . The fire safety
measures developed at the cell level may not yet be available in cells selected for energy storage
projects due to commercial (cost, schedule, availability) or cell performance reasons. Fire safety at the
compartment level is then important to halt fire growth and prevent fire spread from the
compartment. The battery compartment should be constructed to survive structurally and halt the
spread of a fire to adjacent spaces. To prevent pressure build-up within the battery compartment
during a thermal runaway event, incorporating an opening as a pressure relief exhaust is
recommended, enabling systems within the compartment to withstand the pressure increases .
Lastly, an appropriate fire suppression system should be integrated into the design of the battery
6. Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Detection and Suppression
It has been shown that LiB fires can be detected using conventional heat detectors (reportedly
the slowest method therefore not recommended), smoke detectors and combined smoke-heat
detectors (reportedly the fastest method therefore recommended) .
Fire initiates when a fuel and an oxidiser are exposed to a source of heat, raising the temperature
above the flash point of the fuel-oxidiser mixture. Interrupting any one of the four elements of fire—
isolating the fuel from the ignition source, isolating the oxygen from the fuel, cooling the fuel below
the ignition temperature, or interrupting the combustion reactions—can halt combustion. When the
pressure build-up ruptures a lithium-ion cell, the flammable electrolyte is released, the thermal
runaway process can supply adequate heat to initiate a fire.
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 12 of 30
There are six classes of fire and there are extinguishants to match the classes [115,181–183], each
class is described below:
• Class A—fires involving solid materials such as textiles, wood or paper.
• Class B—fires involving flammable liquids such as oils, petrol, or diesel.
• Class C—fires involving combustible gases.
• Class D—fires involving metals.
• Class E—fires involving energised electrical devices.
• Class F—fires involving combustible cooking oils such as in deep-fat fryers.
The fire class of a LiB fire is contentious due to the various components which make up the
battery; separator material, construction material and electrodes (Class A), flammable liquid
electrolyte (Class B) and energised electrical apparatus (Class E) . The fire suppression method
should suppress any LiB fire and control any rise in battery temperature. If not sufficiently cooled,
thermal runaway reactions may continue and the battery re-ignite; this is a major challenge for LiB
fire suppression systems. Adjacent cells may also undergo thermal runaway if heat propagation from
the initial cell is not controlled. It is more important to cool the cells in a large battery pack, to prevent
heat propagation, than to extinguish fires from a single cell. LiB firefighting strategies should be
based on not only extinguishing the burning cell, but include cooling the burning cell as well as its
The best practice fire extinguishing medium for LiBs is yet to be established [5,116]. Wilkens et
al.  have listed, from a selection of LiB manufacturers, the recommended fire-extinguishing
media for their batteries, obtained from their Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). This list is
reproduced as Table 3.
Table 3. List of fire extinguishing media suggested by various lithium-ion battery manufacturers for
their products as suggested in randomly selected MSDS .
* Note that Halon-based products deplete the ozone layer and are prohibited.
It can be seen in Table 3 that the extinguishants most commonly recommended by
manufacturers are water and chemical/dry powder, closely followed by CO2 and foam . Details
of commonly used extinguishants are provided in the next section. Some extinguishants may
extinguish LiB electrolyte fires but may not control thermal runaway and the involvement of adjacent
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 13 of 30
6.1. Types of Extinguishants—The Basics
6.1.1. Water Extinguishants
Water-based extinguishants provide the most cost-effective method to fight fires [185,186].
Water is an excellent cooling medium due to its high heat capacity and latent heat of vaporisation
and may be able to mitigate or halt the propagation of thermal runaway to surrounding batteries. It
should be noted that water can react with LiPF6 and form toxic and harmful hydrogen fluoride (HF)
, which may be chemically reduced by lithium and produce combustible hydrogen ,
conduct current and cause external short circuits in a cell which may result in LiB thermal runaway
There are four types of water-based suppressants:
• Water jet: Water jet suppressants apply a stream of water directly to burning materials,
providing cooling and inhibiting re-ignition. Water jets should not be employed on live electrical
equipment due to electric shock concerns.
• Water spray or sprinkler: Water spray or sprinkler suppressants use a spray of fine water
droplets, each droplet is surrounded by air, which is non-conductive. The spray has enough
momentum for droplets to penetrate the fire plume and cool surfaces, as well as expanding some
energy through vaporisation to cool the air.
• Water with added surfactants: Adding surfactants to the water can improve the efficacy of
water extinguishment. Surfactants decrease the water’s surface tension so that it coats the burning
materials and cools more efficiently.
• Water mist: Water mist comprises a range of droplet sizes under 1000 μm, droplets that are
much smaller than those from a sprinkler. Finer droplets have a larger surface area to volume ratio
compared to larger droplets resulting in a greater absorption of heat energy from the hot air for the
same volume of water, while the larger drops within the drop size distribution can penetrate the fire
plume and cool the burning material.
6.1.2. Foam Extinguishants
Foam fire extinguishants can be used on Class A and Class B fires, therefore they can be
employed to extinguish LiB fires . The foam cools and seals the surface of a liquid or solid,
putting a barrier between flammable vapour and the hot surface/fuel and starving the fire of air. To
be effective the foam must fully encapsulate the cell which is a challenging task as LiBs are considered
to have multi-stage jet fires, presenting high-velocity flammable gas venting.
6.1.3. Powder/Dry Powder Extinguishants
Powder extinguishants work by chemically interrupting the fire reactions. However, they do not
provide cooling and re-ignition may occur. Powders may create breathing problems, especially inside
6.1.4. Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Carbon dioxide extinguishes by smothering the fire, replacing the oxygen in the combustion
zone with CO2. CO2 can be used on Class A and B fires and is safe to use on electrical fires (Class E).
CO2 extinguishants do not leave any residue; however, their use can result in breathing issues,
especially if used in enclosures. CO2 is not an ideal extinguishing agent for LiB fires due its low
cooling capacity .
6.1.5. Halon-Based Extinguishants
Halon suppresses fire by chemically disrupting the combustion reactions. Halon 1211 (a liquid
streaming extinguishant) and Halon 1301 (a gaseous flooding extinguishant) do not leave any residue
and are rated for Class B and E fires, but are effective on Class A fires. Halons are global warming
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 14 of 30
agents and deplete the ozone layer resulting in a cessation in production in 1994 under the Clean Air
Act [190,191], yet they remain an integral part of fire safety in many naval ships, aircraft, tanks, and
submarines . Halon-based extinguishants do not provide cooling.
6.2. Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Suppression Studies
Numerous researchers have studied LiB fires in order to find an effective suppressant. It has
been reported by the National Technical Information Service [193,194] that Halon-based products can
extinguish a LiB fire , but cannot mitigate the internal temperature increase and stop re-ignition
after the extinguishment of a fire . In studies performed by Rao et al. , heptafluoropropane
(HFC-227ea or FM200), a halogenated extinguishant which does not result in ozone depletion,
showed superior behaviour in suppressing LiB fires when compared to carbon dioxide and powder
extinguishants. The effectiveness of heptafluoropropane in suppressing LiB fires was also reported
by Wang et al. , while Liu et al.  found Novec 1230 to be effective.
LiB fire suppression can also be achieved by applying large amounts of water to a battery or by
submerging the battery in water . Both of these methods can extinguish a LiB fire and cool the
battery, inhibiting exothermic reactions and preventing re-ignition. This technique is impractical for
large battery modules, although water sprinklers may be viable. Det Norske Veritas - Germanischer
Lloyd (DNV-GL)  investigated the effectiveness of extinguishants such as F500 and FireIce
(water surfactants), PyroCool (foam), Stat-X (aerosol) and water sprinklers in suppressing a LiB fire
and cooling a battery undergoing thermal runaway. All systems extinguished the fires, but the water-
based systems had better continued cooling ability. Egelhaaf et al.  demonstrated that water can
suppress a LiB fire, and the addition of surfactant and gelling agents can decrease the volume of
water required for firefighting. Tests performed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 
concluded that water-based extinguishants (water, Hartindo AF-31, Aqueous A-B-D (Class A, B and
D) are effective suppressant and coolant mediums compared to the non-aqueous extinguishants
An alternative water extinguishing system is water mist [187,202–205]. Water mist may be an
appropriate suppressant for large battery modules due to its low volumetric requirement and cooling
capability. Testing conducted by the National Fire Protection Research Foundation, US, showed that
water mist can effectively suppress a fire involving an electric vehicle battery . It has also been
demonstrated that the extinguishing effect of water mist can be improved by adding 5% F500 solution
and 5% anionic non-ionic surfactant to pure water . The effectiveness of adding 3% aqueous film
forming foam to water mist on re-ignition of a 18650-type LiCoO2 lithium ion battery pack (10 Ah ×
4) fire has been analysed by Li et al. . It was reported that water mist with 3% aqueous film-
forming foam was more effective in delaying the re-ignition compared to ABC dry powder
extinguishers, and carbon dioxide.
Considering the potential effectiveness of water mist in suppressing LiB fires and cooling the
battery to control thermal runaway, further details about the parametric water mist fire suppression
systems (WMFSS) are presented next.
6.3. Water Mist Characterisation
To fully comprehend water mist spray dynamic, performance, and behaviour, the following
parameters should be characterised :
• Droplet size distribution (DSD);
• Spray cone angle;
• Spray velocity;
• Mass flow rate;
• Spray momentum.
The water mist characteristics will also be influenced by the existence of a fire but are first
described in a non-fire environment.
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 15 of 30
6.3.1. Droplet Size Distribution (DSD)
Water mist contains droplets of different sizes, which alters with time and location as the spray
droplets collide, vaporise, or impinge on surfaces and drop out. The Droplet Size Distribution (DSD)
refers to the range of droplet sizes presented in a mist spray. It influences the vaporisation rate, the
spray dynamics, the entrainment of gases, and spray momentum relative to the buoyancy of the fire
plume. Generally, the size of drops in a spray is defined by a single droplet size parameter, such as a
mass mean diameter (MMD) or volumetric median diameter (VMD) . The VMD, expressed as
VMD (DV 0.5), denotes the midpoint droplet size, where 50% of the volume of spray contains smaller
particles, and the other 50% of the volume, larger particles than the mean. The most common measure
of droplet size is the sauter mean diameter (SMD) which is the mean diameter with the same ratio of
volume to surface area as the entire domain. It should be mentioned that a single parameter cannot
fully determine a drop size distribution as two sprays with the same VMD or SMD are not necessarily
alike. To demonstrate, NFPA 750  employed the curve of cumulative volume percentage versus
diameter to indicate the distribution of mass, volume and drop sizes in a water mist.
It has been reported [212,213] that water mists with SMDs smaller than 300 μm can significantly
cool and extinguish diffusion flames. The efficacy of the WMFSS depends on the range of particle
sizes produced. Smaller droplets create larger surface areas and improve vaporisation rate and
cooling effect, which increases the efficiency of the WMFSS by decreasing the amount of water
required for fire suppression . In contrast, droplets of a larger size have higher momentum
enabling them to have a greater capability of entering a fire plume and smoke layer, and consequently
wet and cool burning materials and hot gases. Thus, a spray with larger droplets may be more
effective to finer droplets in extinguishing an unobstructed fire, whereas a spray with finer droplets
may be more effective over the larger droplets in extinguishing an obstructed fire .
6.3.2. Spray Cone Angle
Solid cone nozzles are usually utilised in WMFSSs, producing either 90° or 120° spray cones
(surrounding the central, straight-through axis) . Other cone angles are possible but not
commercially available for fire extinguishment systems.
A solid cone nozzle forms a full-cone spray that is more diluted downstream of the nozzle by
the entrainment of gases. Most of the water mass is located near the spray central axis, while the outer
spray regions contain less liquid mass and more water vapour. Droplet velocities are also much
higher in the region closer to the spray axis and decrease in the radial direction due to interaction
with entrained gases. Smaller spray cone angles lead to a denser spray with a higher probability of
droplet collisions. These collisions can result in a change of droplet velocity and size which can affect
the vaporisation and cooling rates. Droplets can either disintegrate into smaller drops or combine to
form larger drops (droplet coalescence) .
6.3.3. Spray Velocity
The magnitude of spray velocity determines the atomisation regime, while the direction of the
penetrating jet defines the shape of the spray cone. The velocity of each individual droplet is
transferred to the surrounding air through the drag effects which enhances the air entrainment and
increases the mass flux of the spray cone. Spray mass flux and velocity (velocity of water droplets
plus the air entrained in the flow) determines the spray momentum dictating the total effect of the
spray on a fire plume .
6.3.4. Mass Flow Rate
The mass flow (discharge) rate of the spray is dependent on the injection pressure and the total
area of the nozzle orifice. To design a nozzle, its required mass flow rate can be estimated using the
spray heat absorption ratio (SHAR) or required extinguishing medium portion (REMP) values,
discussed by Mawhinney et al. .
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 16 of 30
6.3.5. Spray Momentum
Spray momentum is calculated as the summation of mass of water droplets and the mass of
entrained air, multiplied by the velocity of the droplets and entrained air. For a constant mass
discharge rate, an increase in spray velocity also increases the air entrainment rate, which
subsequently increases the spray momentum. The direction of the spray momentum plays a
significant role in fire suppression as an injection above the fire plume may lead to the water mist
penetration and vaporisation where the water vapour can reach the seat of the fire . An injection
under the fire plume with co-directional flows may not generate the turbulent flame mist mixing
required to improve vaporisation and cooling, and the water vapour produced will be moved away
from the burning surface instead of driven down to it. To assess the benefits of utilising high- or low-
velocity water mist nozzles, the directional component of the momentum in addition to the
magnitude of spray velocities should be taken into account.
6.4. Water Mist Nozzle Characteristics
Structure of spray is mainly determined by the type and operating conditions of the nozzle such
as the injection pressure. Nozzles basically can be divided into two categories: single- and multiple-
hole nozzles. Considering the spray pattern, nozzles can be categorised into full cone, hollow cone,
or flat spray. In water mist systems, various types of nozzles are used including single and multiple
orifice nozzles which can produce different pattern based on the application. Figure 10 shows
different types of nozzles and their spray patterns.
Figure 10. Nozzle types and their spray patterns.
6.5. Mechanisms of Fire Extinguishment using Water Mist
There are five mechanisms associated with a WMFSS in a closed compartment :
• Gas-phase cooling;
• Oxygen depletion and flammable vapour dilution;
• Wetting and cooling of the fuel surface;
• Radiation attenuation;
• Kinetic effects, enclosure effects, turbulent mixing and cycling.
Generally, all mechanisms take place to some extent during fire suppression of LiB fires in
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 17 of 30
6.5.1. Gas-Phase Cooling
Water mist consists of very fine droplets: generating fine droplets increases the surface area to
volume ratio of the droplets enhancing the rate of vaporisation by absorption of heat from the flames,
hot combustion gases, smoke layer and hot surfaces .
In the gas-phase cooling process, the heat in the combustion zone is absorbed by the vaporisation
of water droplets which leads to a decrease in the temperature of the flames. The flames will be
extinguished if the temperature falls below the critical temperature required to maintain combustion.
The cooling process also diminishes the flame radiation to the fuel surface, decreasing the fuel
6.5.2. Oxygen Depletion and Flammable Vapour Dilution
With a WMFSS, the water droplets are vapourised and the total volume occupied by the water
vapour increases by more than three orders of magnitude . The water volume expansion results
in disruption of air entrainment into the flame and dilution of both oxygen and flammable vapour
concentration around the flame. The decrease in the oxygen concentration in an enclosure due to the
introduction of water mist is dependent on the fire size and the length of the pre-suppression period,
the enclosure volume and ventilation conditions in the enclosure .
A fire can be extinguished if the oxygen concentration falls below that necessary to maintain
combustion, the limiting oxygen concentration . The concentration of oxygen can be reduced by
a combination of (a) depletion due to consumption by fire, (b) dilution due to displacement by the
water vapour, and (c) dilution by combustion products . The oxygen depletion, displacement,
and flammable vapour dilution in a fire environment are depicted in Figure 11.
Figure 11. Schematic of oxygen displacement, depletion and flammable vapour dilution induced by
the water mist vaporisation in the fire environment.
6.5.3. Wetting and Cooling of the Fuel Surface
The main extinguishment mechanism for many solid and liquid fuels is wetting and cooling of
the fuel surface. Much like a sprinkler, the larger drop sizes have sufficient momentum to penetrate
the fire plume to reach the seat of the fire. This process is associated with a reduction in the pyrolysis
rate of the fuel.
6.5.4. Radiation Attenuation
Radiation attenuation occurs due to the presence of water vapour between the fuel and the
flame. The water vapour absorbs radiant energy, re-radiating at a lower intensity to the fuel surface
Water droplets convecting within a compartment also absorb heat and reduce radiation to and
from walls, as reported in a study by Mawhinney et al.  where the radiant heat flux to the walls
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 18 of 30
in an enclosure could be decreased by 70% using a WMFSS. It has been found that finer droplets can
attenuate the thermal radiation at a lower concentration of water when compared to larger spray
droplets . The mechanism of radiation attenuation generated by a water-mist spray is shown in
Figure 12. Schematic of attenuation of thermal radiation by a water-mist spray .
6.5.5. Kinetic Effects, Enclosure Effects, Turbulent Mixing and Cycling
Kinetics refers to the effects that the environmental variables have on the chemical reaction rates
and formation of intermediate reaction compounds.
Water mist can vary the kinetics which can intensify or extinguish the flame . The flame
may be intensified on first contact with the water mist due to vaporisation at the flame surface
increasing turbulence and entrainment . This can increase the fuel/air mixing, causing an
increase in combustion rate and a flare-up of the fire . Alternatively, kinetic effects may lead to
fire suppression due to gas-phase cooling and oxygen depletion/dilution. The water mist and
entrained and vitiated gases dilute the combustible gases and when combined with flame cooling,
varies the combustion rate from its stoichiometric condition that may extinguish the flame.
Enclosure effects have been investigated by Mawhinney et al.  and Liu et al. . In
enclosures, the influences of oxygen depletion and dilution are intensified. When water mist is
initiated, the hot gases trapped in the upper layer of a closed compartment are cooled quickly. The
momentum of the expanding water vapour carries the mixture of water vapour and gases toward the
fire, leading to localised oxygen depletion. Depending on the temperature and depth of the hot layer,
the cooling of the hot gases can lead to a volume contraction, producing a negative pressure . If
flashover occurs before mist activation, it is difficult to determine whether the expansion due to mist
vaporisation or contraction due to cooling will dominate. To halt the creation of a negative pressure
pulse, water mist can be injected in multiple steps. This process has been used by Liu et al.  to
demonstrate an improvement in suppressing fires in enclosures.
6.6. Water Mist Fire Suppression System Characteristics
The performance of the WMFSS is primarily determined by the characteristics of sprays
generated by nozzles . Different types of nozzles, e.g., single- and multi-hole, can significantly
vary the mass distribution of sprays. The single-hole nozzle produces relatively larger droplets,
longer penetration length with a higher concentration in the region beneath the nozzle in comparison
with the multi-hole nozzle .
Typically, WMFSS consist of multiple nozzles where the spacing between nozzles and distance
from the floor/target (here the LiB) are determined by the distribution of the flux density of individual
nozzles and the size of compartment and potential fire. The position of the nozzle can affect the
performance of the suppression system. If a nozzle is located directly above a fire, the water droplets
of the spray will travel the least distance to reach the fire and may show better performance in
suppressing the fire. In contrast, while installation of multiple nozzles will involve a higher cost for
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 19 of 30
the system, multiple nozzles may show better performance in suppressing the fire by distributing
mists more uniformly and enhancing the oxygen depletion process. However, activation of two
nozzles may render a drop in the pressure of the water supply and reduce the performance of the
The design of WMFSS is considered as “project specific”, where each particular hazard or
occupancy requires its own specific design for the optimum efficiency. It is therefore not possible to
design a mist system simply by reference to one of the standards available such as NFPA 750 ,
BS 8489 , or CEN TS 14972 . For example, while BS 8489 sets out the design criteria for a
water mist system, its suitability for a particular fire risk should be examined according acceptable
test protocols. For a lithium-ion battery compartment, a suitable WMFSS (with or without
complementary suppressing agents such as surfactants, foam or gas) might include a zonal approach,
based on each module, where the fire suppression system automatically activates on detection of a
local temperature increase (beyond the thermal and battery management systems), thus enabling
early intervention, and possibly avoiding heat transfer to adjoining cells, major battery damage and
other fire damage.
7. Summary and Outlook
LiBs attract interest due to their high voltage capability, superior energy density, lightweight,
low self-discharge and long lifespan for electrical energy storage. Any abuse condition (thermal,
electrical, and mechanical) that is beyond the safe operating window can affect the performance of
the battery and cause safety concerns such as thermal runaway, electrolyte gas venting, fire and
explosion. The hazards and safety concerns associated with the use of LiBs are an important
consideration in battery selection. Numerous LiB fires and explosion incidents have been reported;
therefore, measures should be taken at different levels (design of batteries, chemistry, safety
components and firefighting) to alleviate fire concerns. Techniques to improve the safety of LiBs at
the cell, module, pack and compartment levels to mitigate the fire risk have been reviewed. Currently,
limited lithium-ion cells are constructed with safe cell chemistry and internal components, and these
safety features may not be available in cells selected for energy storage projects due to commercial
(cost, schedule, availability) or performance reasons. Battery management systems that maintain a
safe operating environment for modules and packs, are well established, with constant advances
being applied. However, fire incidents do still occur.
Although fires involving LiBs can be extinguished by many methods, the effects of thermal
runaway are more difficult to manage and continued cooling is required. The associated problems
also often become exacerbated as LiB assemblies tend to be in a tightly packed configuration, and are
kept in enclosures with minimum leeway and free spaces. Therefore, battery compartment
construction and design should maintain an intact boundary to a fire or explosion, but should also
include passive thermal management utilising a combination of space separation, cooling, and zonal
fire suppression within a module, and insulation between battery modules to limit thermal runaway
to adjacent modules. Given that many of the halon-based firefighting agents are banned owing to
their environmental implications and that inert gases, such as nitrogen or argon, are less effective in
their own right, the main impetus in finding alternative ways of fighting LiB fires mainly hinges on
enhancing the effectiveness of, and perhaps finding smarter ways of deploying, water as the most
efficient medium for continuous extinguishing and cooling. In this context, the extinguishment may
be enhanced by using environmentally friendly additives, or, better yet, in combination with an inert
gas stream such as nitrogen, and the cooling improved through better design and implementation of
spray systems. In both counts, water is the ideal medium for obvious reasons. Water mist is now well
established as a fire suppression technique, but limited information is available for suppressing LiB
fires. Water mist with additives and surfactants, or in conjunction with a gaseous extinguishing
medium, is considered the most promising extinguishing and cooling method for LiBs. Further
investigations on the thermal behaviour of LiBs during firefighting using water mist and different
mediums are necessary to establish appropriate guidelines to extinguish LiB fires.
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 20 of 30
Author Contributions: Conceptualization, Writing-original draft, Visualization, M.G.; Project administration,
Resources, Supervision, V.N.; Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Resources, Supervision, K.M.; Writing-
Review & Editing, Resources, Supervision, P.J.; Writing-review & editing, Resources, Data Curation, I.B.;
Writing-review & editing, Conceptualization, Data Curation, B.G.; Writing-Review & Editing, Resources,
Funding acquisition, Project administration, G.G. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of
Funding: This work was supported by Victoria University and the Defence Science and Technology of Australia.
Acknowledgments: One of us, M.G., is grateful to Victoria University and the Defence Science and Technology
of Australia for the provision of a post-doctoral research fellowship.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest
Battery Monitoring System
Current Interrupt Device
Det Norske Veritas and Germanischer Lloyd
Droplet Size Distribution
Ethyl Methyl Carbonate
Federal Aviation Administration
Fire Dynamics Simulator
Hybrid Electric Vehicle
Heat Release Rate
Internal Short Circuit
Lithium Cobalt Oxide
Lithium Cobalt Phosphate
Lithium Iron Phosphate
Lithium Iron Fluorosulphate
Lithium Manganese Oxide
Lithium Titanate Oxide
Lithium Titanium Sulphide
Mass Mean Diameter
Material Safety Data Sheet
Nickel Cobalt Aluminium Oxide
Nickel Cobalt Manganese Oxide
National Fire Protection Association
Phase Change Material
Positive Temperature Coefficient
Required Extinguishing Medium Portion
Society of Fire Protection Engineers
Spray Heat Absorption Ratio
Sauter Mean Diameter
Thermal Management System
Volumetric Median Diameter
Water Mist Fire Suppression System
Energies 2020, 13, 5117 21 of 30
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