Lithium Battery charging - fire hazard

There are several charging models currently in use. They range from a sophisticated battery management system on a car or a golf cart which is designed to completely stop charging at the right time. Then there are the trickle feed systems to continuously top-up the battery after a charge (can cause overheating). Then there are probably some that have no system? Obviously not all appliances justify the cost of a battery management system.
My Question:- Is there a simple answer by having a timer between the power point and the charger? Set the timer for the necessary amount of time and you can leave it plugged in knowing it will completely stop charging at the right time (just like the sophisticated battery management system)?
Obviously a timer can be faulty as well, but this should be immediately obvious and the relatively cheap timer can be replaced.

Bunnings probably have a timer, for use with say Garden fairy lights.

How do you know what to set the timer at on each occasion?

The main issue is not overnight.

Decent cells and batteries have protection circuits as well. These do not rely solely on the charger to create safer batteries and they save them from overcharging, overheating, and over discharge. Cheap batteries come with none or almost none of these protections (in some cases faking the protection). It would be a far better outcome to ban all cells and batteries that do not include the protections. As I have noted previously, there are standards in place, why can’t they be enforced?

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I question your claim of decent batteries having protection circuits. I have a $550 MGI lithium battery for my MGI golf buggy which comes with a so-called ‘smart charger’ (sold separately for around $150) that trickle feeds after reaching full charge. Golf Australia has issued a directive to every golf club in Australia to not allow such batteries to be stored or charged at the golf club. This directive came after them causing 5+ major fires at golf clubs in Australia including one that resulted in a multi-million dollar claim for a complete replacement of the clubhouse. The Golf Australia directive does not apply to lithium powered Golf Carts as they do have a sophisticated battery management system between the charger and the battery.

Then the battery is not a decently safe battery if it doesn’t have the Battery Protection Circuits (BPC) for both the battery and the individual cells. What some manufacturers can save money on they probably will, others provide batteries that fully comply with the standards. I don’t care if it is in a golf cart, a scooter, a moped, a car or any other device…there are decent protections that can be put in place but some choose price over safety… both manufacturers and consumers and that is no inference about you, it is just a general observation.

The question should be why those MGI batteries are likely not compliant with the standard, do you know if the cells have BPC in place? If they don’t why not? If they do have BPCs for the cells why is the BPC protection failing.

Decent batteries are ones that are well made and use the BPCs. Risk of lithium battery issues are roughly about 1.5% of all lithium batteries (including the not protected and dodgy types). This percentage includes other issues beyond fires. Most fires are because there are not decent protections in place, mostly substandard cells, substandard chargers, and poor user care. Main issue for lithium tech is that some types are hard to put out once they are alight, others are much safer from that point of view. As the tech develops we will see safer batteries overall, less issues per unit (percentage of batteries that fail in whatever way). Advocacy should be to enforce the standards, and we should all steer away from substandard products.

This what a cell looks like if no BPC is in place in the cell (wrapper off to show the metal shell). Notice the smooth shell other than at the anode. It was taken out of a battery that was failing (all the cells were removed as part of the rebuild) and they were replaced with BPC protected cells.

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I am confused. Are you saying the battery you have has protection at battery and cell level but still fails often and so cannot be called decent, or that it doesn’t have both but you still regard it as decent anyway?

Thanks for the replies and information.
The golf buggy battery I mentioned has not failed, but others have at other golf clubs.
The concerning fact is that despite my battery being from the biggest battery buggy manufacturer in Australia (MGI) and being probably the most expensive such battery in Australia, it appears it is not fully protected.
MGI used to recommend leaving the battery on charge to allow the trickle feed ‘top-up’ but now they specify ‘remove from charger after 8 hours’. So I guess they are admitting it?
This means it is not just the cheap, online devices that are a concern. All of us with brand named, reputable devices need to take precautions with charging.
Getting back to my original question:- is putting a countdown timer between the power point and the charger a simple solution to avoid dramas with any device? Timers start at $7.95 at Bunnings.

Overcharging is one of the causes of run-away chemical processes and fires, there are others. My understanding is that protection circuitry operates by detecting the state of the battery and as it charges adjusting the power feed so that it doesn’t overcharge.

A timer might do that by chance. If the timer is set for too short the battery will not fully charge, if set to too long it may overcharge even if not all night. The point of optimum charge varies with the health of the battery and the amount of charge required depends on how run down it is. In setting a timer you are guessing about both.

Have you contacted the makers of your golf cart battery and asked them about recommended safety measures given the history of fires? What did they say is the reason and the solution? If the device is not fit for purpose you may be eligible for a refund.

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Difficult to know per @syncretic and the explanation in the prior post.

My observation is for the three higher powered lithium battery devices I use often (Dyson stick vac, Milwaukee 18V cordless power tools, Stihl 36V yard equipment) the batteries all have built in charge indicators. The chargers for each also appear to shut down once a full charge is achieved. The time to recharge appears to be proportional to the amount of battery used. IE the charger is a smart charger and it can sense/communicate on the condition of the battery.

If the electric Golf Buggy lacks all of these features, it suggests it is not a premium product despite the branding or marketing. To note the retail cost of the interchangeable 18V or 36V or similar lithium battery packs for cordless tools and equipment can be assessed by looking at any major tool store.

Considering the widespread adoption of cordless professional trade tools there will be many more of these in rough and tumble use compared to MGI’s sales of battery buggies. It’s open to ask why MGI has had the numbers of noted failures of its products. Why for a relatively low volume they have not teamed up with a Ryobi or Stihl to use a common battery and charger with international marketing appeal and security might be another question to ask?

To also note an alternative but with some extra weight is the lower risk LFP chemistry battery (reputedly also less expensive). It might not be an issue for the application.

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Thanks to all for their information.
I should point out that the MGI story is just an example of an expensive brand name with a ‘smart’ charger, that has changed its recommendation from “leave on for trickle feed” to “charge for no more than 8 hours”. I am not suggesting MGI is inferior or faulty compared to other brands.
The take-away for me is that regardless of the brand and reputation, and I suspect regardless of whether you think you have a ‘smart’ charger or not, everyone should exercise caution with charging.
I also suspect a lot of people think their products are fire proof, but they have a false sense of security.
Cheers to all.

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Why is it not inferior or faulty when it has been banned for causing fires?

Have the other brands been banned the same?

Ryobi batteries while charging indicate the level of charge by the indicators blinking at the roughly 25% increment indicators, all the lights are solid green on a full charge. The charger indicates whether a battery is charging, is fully charged, or is in a fault state (it will not charge if in a fault state). Nothing seems too difficult to implement for Ryobi products.

I think it most likely that MGI have used a balancing circuit for their batteries but each cell in the pack is probably not a BPC protected cell. This means that an individual cell could go “haywire” and the balancing circuit still tries to charge the cell and leads to a possibility of fire. If a BPC protected cell, the cell will cease to function and not allow a charge to occur, the capacity of the pack will be reduced, it will still provide power though and depending on the number of cells in the pack the difference could be minimal.

Some clarification on the golf situation:
The on-site charging of ALL lithium batteries in golf buggies are being banned at golf clubs Australia wide. This is not an MGI issue, it is a lithium battery issue. I estimate there would be around 30,000 - 50,000 of these golf buggies in use in Australia of which MGI would be around half.
But only a very small percentage of them would be stored at the golf club. I now have to take my battery home to charge it.
The only exceptions are the large driveable golf carts (apparently they have battery management systems built into them - much like an electric car I assume).

@AndyKollmorgen I think it is clear from the the many posts here, that this area needs attention from Choice. Not sure if it needs an article, but advocacy is definitely required.

There don’t appear to be any standards from AAA Lithium batteries up. This appears to involve two aspects Chargers and the Batteries.

While the potential for fire is increasing with the increase in this technology from powering toys to garden tool power tools bikes, scooters. EV cars are also impacted, but are getting industry solutions to monitor temperature, internal battery cooling, etc.

That was not clear to me.

While people don’t know what safety features each model has and the reports of fires do not get collected to see if there is any pattern in which models are safe and which ones are not we can expect all to be treated as a risk.

There are standards in place, what the problem is that manufacturers of devices that use the cells/battery packs, and of both cells (a standalone battery like a AAA) and packs, don’t always use the the most protective products in the manufacturing. On some cells adding this premium protection adds some millimetres of length, this is because the cells are made and then protection is added after. It would be easier to deal with this by making the cells slightly shorter to accommodate the protection within the dimensions already set by the standards. Then some batteries (cells) are made with being included in packs in mind, they do not have “nipples” and instead have a flat anode end. There are so many options it can be a minefield as to what will work in a particular s.

Once, I bought a higher capacity battery (cell) that was a 18650, when I tried to install it in the device it was too long to fit the compartment. This means the compartment was designed with no cell protection inclusions in mind beyond venting when using 18650 batteries. Even using a longer adjusting spring in a slightly longer case would have meant an easy replacement with a much safer cell or if I was a cheapie then I could continue to use the cheapest cells (the unsafe ones). So standards exist, they are not always adhered to is the issue.

A sticking point about all this in regards to Standards is that it costs a reasonable amount of money to buy access to the Standard. If you buy access to the Standard, often it comes with a limited ability to use it on a number of devices and often is for the sole use of the purchaser so is not able to be freely distributed. This results in consumers not knowing nor can they get easy access to find out what is required of batteries (both packs and cells).

If a consumer buys a pack or a cell they aren’t going to normally open it up to ensure every cell has BPC included and even what level of BPC is in place (if any). Consumers are relying on a manufacturer to produce a product that is safe, is protected, and meets any Standards in place for the product. Making Standards is all well and good but free or reasonably free access to the Standard/Standards is important to ensuring consumers are able to be well aware of the requirements.

As for the MGI batteries and similar products, a consumer should get in writing that the battery and any included cells meet the highest requirements of the IEC 62133 Standard. If the manufacturer is not willing to put that in writing then the battery shouldn’t be accepted. If later the battery is found not to meet the Standard then at least ACL protections exist, as well as the manufacturer is able to be prosecuted for providing false or misleading statements.

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Just FYI …

I don’t know if any of these have been sold in Australia, but if you have any Anker products it’d be a good idea to check them.

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