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Dodged a bullet yesterday... Lipo Fire!!!

Old 12-14-2015, 02:08 AM
  #1  
firemanbill
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Default Dodged a bullet yesterday... Lipo Fire!!!

Ok so it finally happened to me. After 12 or so years of flying Lipo batteries I finally had one explode during charging on me. And I am lucky my garage did not burn down. Had I not taken the precautions I did i would be telling a much different story. Still this could have ended a lot worse.

So yesterday morning I was going to go out tot he field and fly. Perfect weather even though we are well into December. The temps are in the 70's so I wanted to take full advantage of that.

Haven't flown the Gentle Lady in a while so with the warm temps and some cool ground I figured it would be a good thermal day so I wanted to charge every batter I have for it, a 3s 1300. I had charged a couple the night before and I do not charge unattended overnight so had to do some more in the morning before I went out.

So I went downt to the garage and setup my battery charger on a block as well as the batteries being charged. I had to setup on this and went back up tot he house for a quick shower...

complacency nearly bit me in the butt this time. I figured I would only be gone for a few minutes and I came back to a garage full of smoke and a destroyed lipo...

Lessons learned.

1. don't rush, if you are not ready you are not ready. I could have charged the remaining batteries at the filed and been fine

2. Never get complacent. Just because it has not happened to you does not mean it won't.

3. Lipo sacks... I have them but failed to grab one. See lesson #2

I am very lucky that concrete and cinder blocks do not burn... very lucky.
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Old 12-14-2015, 02:50 AM
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tr4252
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I'm happy to hear that it wasn't more serious. Congratulations on being so insightful in setting up your charging station.

Any idea what circumstances caused the fire?

I store my (5 or 6 2s type) batteries in a sort of vault built up of loose bricks. It wouldn't contain smoke or build up pressure, but I worry it might not keep flame from coming out between the bricks either. What do you think?

Did the smoke damage your garage or its contents?

Tom
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Old 12-14-2015, 02:58 AM
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I am fortunate nothing else was damaged. If it had been a bigger battery and vented towards the wall it might have been catastrophic.

I would think you would be ok with how you are doing yours with them being smaller.

This has certainly made me rethink some things on storage as well as charging for sure. I have never had an issue before so the complacency thing bit me. I have been thinking about my habits over the last few years and how I've been doing things. So many times I could have either burned down my truck, camper, or house if this had happened at another time.

New charging and storage criteria coming for sure.

As far as the battery. It was a Zippy from HK. I have had them puff before like any other battery, but again, never an issue like this. I periodically balance charge them and check to see they are relatively close before throwing them on that non balancing charger I was using. The checking balance was another thing I did not do yesterday...
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:10 AM
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Just curious. What charge rate were you running?
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:20 AM
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Originally Posted by firemanbill View Post
...I periodically balance charge them and check to see they are relatively close before throwing them on that non balancing charger I was using...
Why are you using a non balancing charger? This is your mistake. Inadequate safety protections. This is why people lost houses in the early days and why balancing chargers became the standard.
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:37 AM
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This was not MY MISTAKE.

I have been using that polycharge battery charger for YEARS without a single problem.

If it is automatically a mistake to not balance charge why are they still being sold. If that is THE reason I had a fire then why not before.

Don't automatically assume that was the problem. It was probably just a bad battery that finally met it's end. I have seen a lot of other Lipo fires that happened during balance charging as well as non.
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:39 AM
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Originally Posted by dereckbc View Post
Just curious. What charge rate were you running?

The standard 1c rate. The poly charge won't do any more than that.
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Old 12-14-2015, 04:30 AM
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Originally Posted by firemanbill View Post
This was not MY MISTAKE.

I have been using that polycharge battery charger for YEARS without a single problem.

If it is automatically a mistake to not balance charge why are they still being sold. If that is THE reason I had a fire then why not before.

Don't automatically assume that was the problem. It was probably just a bad battery that finally met it's end. I have seen a lot of other Lipo fires that happened during balance charging as well as non.
Very lucky guy.........But if it were me, I dig a little deeper than "It was probably just a bad battery".....Lipo's give tale tell signs of wear and charging issues way before they just go up in smoke........particularly low end Zippy's. As with most, if the lipo can be balanced charged, it should be charged that way each and every time...(if there is a problem, the charge will not balance or hold constant voltage through the cycle)......especially if it is showing signs of gas build-up (puffy)...........
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Old 12-14-2015, 04:44 AM
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Originally Posted by firemanbill View Post
If it is automatically a mistake to not balance charge why are they still being sold. If that is THE reason I had a fire then why not before.
Same reason cigarettes, alcohol, and ladders are still being sold. Any of those 3 can kill you or others around you.

I am not jumping your case only to answer some of your concerns. You have gotten away with it up until today when something went wrong. Most likely cause was a Bad Cell your charger cannot detect, or take corrective action. It is a dumb device.

Balance Chargers, even the latest and greatest still have the Standard CC/CV charge algorithm that does not require cell monitoring. One of the major safety features of Balance Chargers is they monitor each cell in a pack. If a cell shows signs of a problem while charging, the process is terminated and alerts the user.

All Lithium batteries are extremely sensitive to over discharging. Over discharge a cell, and it goes Short Circuit with a cell polarity reversal. You charger cannot detect that. Only good Balance Chargers can do that.

I am not saying if you had a Balance Charger would have prevented the fire. What I am saying is it would have likely prevented the fire. Thee LiPos we use are a variant of Lithium Cobalt, the ones known to explode in laptops. Remember some years ago of laptops exploding on airplanes and people homes?

LiPo batteries used in RC applications are the most dangerous and unstable Lithium cells types. To get that high performance, safety has to be compromised. So you may ask yourself why don't RC modelers use a safer Lithium? Real simple there is no other Lithium type that can deliver such high discharge C-Rates or the Specific Energy density required for the application. . Just the nature of the beast.
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Old 12-14-2015, 09:11 AM
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Sorry Bill, but I have to agree. If you had been using a balancing charger your odds of this happening would have been much much lower.

All of the other things you mentioned are very good things to do, but the first and most important one is to use a balancing charger. They can detect charging problems and stop the charge before they go up in flames.

By the way, the cells in a pack might all be at the same voltage when you start, but that is no guarantee the pack is safe to use or charge - especially with a dumb charger.

If the Ir and or capacity is different on the cells, they will start at the same voltage but end at very different voltages. As the packs charge, the cells will reach full charge voltage at different times when charged on a dumb charger. That's because of the differing Ir and capacity. So checking the balance at the start of the charge doesn't tell you anything useful at all.

In fact, packs that are perfectly matched as far as cell voltages when fully charged, often have very different voltages on the cells when discharged. That's because the cells in the packs may (often do) have different capacities and different Ir values. That's especially true of cheep packs.

Glad you got lucky on this one and especially that no one was hurt.
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Old 12-14-2015, 09:18 AM
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One other thing to note. If you have a pack that is "unbalanced" when discharged but perfectly "balanced" when charged, then you really should NOT balance it while its discharged. All you are doing is making the pack more dangerous to charge on a dumb charger or you are going to make your balancing charger work harder to "balance" your pack as it charges 0 because its not really "unbalanced" at all. It just means your individual cells have different capacity and/or Ir values. Which describes most pack
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Old 12-14-2015, 10:28 AM
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Hi FB ... you have my sympathy fpr the incident ,.. but my heartfelt gladness that you and your property are OK.

I'm not going to draw swords on this balance vs non-balance argument that's nibbling away here. All I will say is that I USED to charge without balance ... it often - contrary to experts opinions - made charging a shorter time affair. No need too wait the end of charge balancing that on some packs dragged on.
I stopped when I realised some packs were seeing a cell go over the 4.2V based on total voltage was still under full charged. I now only do basic non-balance charge as a rare affair when I need battery as quick as possible.

FB - I also applaud and welcome your honesty in relating the story ... a lesson that many can learn from.

cheers
Nigel
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Old 12-14-2015, 10:30 AM
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Bill, glad it wasn't worse than it was.
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Old 12-14-2015, 02:13 PM
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Just to clear things up. I do balance charge and do that most of the time.

I use the poly for charging multiple batteries, it can do up to 4 at a time, when I am either at the field or just want to top off some batteries quickly.

I don't think it it critical to balance charge each and every time. maybe I am wrong, maybe I am not. I have seen batteries on balance chargers do the exact same thing this one did. I know a guy who burned his garage down while balance charging 2 6s packs.

I just wanted to post this to show that no matter how careful we are, as humans we tend to get complacent. It is easy to take short cuts and make mistakes. I did that Saturday and don't plan on repeating it if at all possible.
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Old 12-14-2015, 02:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Don Sims View Post
Bill, glad it wasn't worse than it was.
Thanks Don.
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Old 12-14-2015, 02:35 PM
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Originally Posted by firemanbill View Post
This was not MY MISTAKE.

I have been using that polycharge battery charger for YEARS without a single problem.

If it is automatically a mistake to not balance charge why are they still being sold. If that is THE reason I had a fire then why not before.

Don't automatically assume that was the problem. It was probably just a bad battery that finally met it's end. I have seen a lot of other Lipo fires that happened during balance charging as well as non.
I'm sorry this happened and very glad things weren't worse.
But keep in mind the most dangerous thing to say is,
I/We have always done it this way.

Intrinsically, a non balancing charger is not unsafe. And the biggest reason they continue to sell them is because people keep buying them.
You will never completely eliminate a fire danger when charging but a good balance charger with a heat sensor will go a long way to mitigate those dangers.
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Old 12-14-2015, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by firemanbill View Post
...If it is automatically a mistake to not balance charge why are they still being sold. If that is THE reason I had a fire then why not before....
I didn't say it was a mistake not to balance charge. I frequently use a fast charge that skips the balance phase to save time if the pack is well balanced. A good pack that is well balanced will often stay pretty well balanced through several quick charges.

The difference though is I always use a balance charger and always connect the balance lead. This ensures that the charger is able to monitor each cell individually and shut down the charge if any cell goes over 4.2 volts.

The charger you used offers no such protection. Had you used your balance charger and connected the balance lead you probably would have avoided this fire even if you chose not to balance.
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Old 12-14-2015, 02:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Turner View Post
I didn't say it was a mistake not to balance charge. I frequently use a fast charge that skips the balance phase to save time if the pack is well balanced. A good pack that is well balanced will often stay pretty well balanced through several quick charges.

The difference though is I always use a balance charger and always connect the balance lead. This ensures that the charger is able to monitor each cell individually and shut down the charge if any cell goes over 4.2 volts.

The charger you used offers no such protection. Had you used your balance charger and connected the balance lead you probably would have avoided this fire even if you chose not to balance.
maybe, maybe not. We will never know that answer.

Look I get it, Monday morning quarterbacks are great. If i had it to do again...

You guys are awesome.
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by firemanbill View Post
I don't think it it critical to balance charge each and every time. maybe I am wrong, maybe I am not.
Then I can only assume you must also think it is not critical to put on your gear before entering a burning building either. Who needs it right?

You are correct, Lithium do not require to be balanced charged every time. Us DIY EV guys only Balance our cells once when installed. But we Bottom Balance, not Top Balance to maximize battery cycle life and eliminate over Discharge damage .

But what you are not doing that should be done every time is monitor each cell when being fast charged on a CC/CV algorithm. If a problem is detected, it shuts down the charger. You still use the Balance Plug connected to the charger to monitor the charge. One of the things the charger will check for before applying a charge is to check and make sure every cells is 3 volts or more. If not, it wil not apply a charge because it knows you have a damaged cell, and likely to catch fire if a charge is applied. Lot like feeling a door knob in a house fire to check if the room on the other side is on fire or not before you open the door.

In other words, like your Captain, will not allow you to run into a burning building without protective gear on. So modify your Lessons Learned. #1 Slow down and at least use the Monitor portion of your Balance Charger.
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:09 PM
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firemanbill
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Originally Posted by dereckbc View Post
Then I can only assume you must also think it is not critical to put on your gear before entering a burning building either. Who needs it right?

You are correct, Lithium do not require to be balanced charged every time. DIY EV guys only Balance their cells once when installed. But they Bottom Balance, not Top Balance to maximize battery cycle life.

But what you are not doing that should be done every time is monitor each cell when being fast charged on a CC/CV algorithm. If a problem is detected, it shuts down the charger. You still use the Balance Plug connected to the charger to monitor the charge. One of the things the charger will check for before applying a charge is to check and make sure every cells is 3 volts or more. If not, it wil not apply a charge because it knows you have a damaged cell, and likely to catch fire if a charge is applied.

In other words it will not run into a burning building without protective gear on. Would you?

I don't wear protective gear at all now... I am retired...

But that is a bad analogy none the less. If it is something that I know for a fact will kill me EVERY TIME then of course. but this is just not the case here.

You all have a valid argument for what you are saying but you will not burn down the house every single time you don't balance charge. It is just not going to happen.



Maybe I should sue Great Planes for making an inherently unsafe charger... hmmmm
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:16 PM
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Bill, first of all, I'm glad you (and your home) came out relatively unscathed.

Second, THANK YOU for the reminder. Literally, as I was reading your post, I had two 2200mAh 3S batteries on the charger, sitting on the workbench - on top of a sheet of plans. (Complacent? How about downright stupid?) Here's the kicker: the lipo sack was on the shelf above the workbench. After reading your post, I shut off the charger, put the batteries in the sack, cleared off the plans, and put the sack on a metal shelf top away from anything flammable. (In other words, I did what I should have been doing in the first place!)

Just think how many of those new 'hoverboards' are being given as gifts this Christmas. You know the chargers included with them aren't exactly state of the art. It's no wonder so many of them are bursting into flame.
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:29 PM
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Originally Posted by firemanbill View Post
...You all have a valid argument for what you are saying but you will not burn down the house every single time you don't balance charge. It is just not going to happen...
I hope you are not missing the point, Bill. It's not whether you balance or not. It's the equipment you use. A balance charger with the balance lead connected offers protections by monitoring each cell and shutting down the charge if any cell goes outside the safe range. This is true whether balance charging or not. The charger you used in this instance did not offer any such protections and this is the reason for most all the LiPo fires in the early days.

I would never charge a multi cell LiPo battery with anything but a balance charger and never without the balance lead connected and I think you will find this is pretty widely supported. That is not saying you have to balance every time but that is all covered above.
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:34 PM
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Regardless of the balance/don't balance debate, there is only one lesson here. DO NOT charge lipos unattended.

Bill, glad to hear that the only damage was your pride. These things can happen to the best of us.
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:40 PM
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firemanbill
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Originally Posted by Bald Paul View Post
Bill, first of all, I'm glad you (and your home) came out relatively unscathed.

Second, THANK YOU for the reminder. Literally, as I was reading your post, I had two 2200mAh 3S batteries on the charger, sitting on the workbench - on top of a sheet of plans. (Complacent? How about downright stupid?) Here's the kicker: the lipo sack was on the shelf above the workbench. After reading your post, I shut off the charger, put the batteries in the sack, cleared off the plans, and put the sack on a metal shelf top away from anything flammable. (In other words, I did what I should have been doing in the first place!)

Just think how many of those new 'hoverboards' are being given as gifts this Christmas. You know the chargers included with them aren't exactly state of the art. It's no wonder so many of them are bursting into flame.

Originally Posted by crxmanpat View Post
Regardless of the balance/don't balance debate, there is only one lesson here. DO NOT charge lipos unattended.

Bill, glad to hear that the only damage was your pride. These things can happen to the best of us.

This is exactly the point I am trying to make. Not to start a debate on what is or isn't the "currently supported proper method".

Thanks guys.
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Old 12-14-2015, 10:54 PM
  #25  
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On that note...
After flying yesterday I was charging all my lipos to storage charge.
All was going as usual and I put another 2200/3s on the charger.
It beeped at me and said "Balance voltage too high", or something like that, and wouldn't charge.
I unplugged and replugged. Same result. I changed balance boards and power leads. Same result. What the heck?!!
Then I noticed that 2 of the 4 thin wires from the balance connector to the battery had been pulled out of the battery.
Thank you Hyperion 0606i charger for taking care of me!!!!
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