Lithium based batteries have many advantages and are normally very stable, however when this type of battery fails, the resulting potential fire can rapidly spread and be extremely difficult to extinguish.

There are two major types of lithium batteries:

Primary - Non-Rechargeable Lithium Batteries: contain solid lithium metal that will burn in normal atmospheres and can react violently with water. The resulting reaction will create hydrogen gas. Because of the hazardous reaction, water is not the recommended extinguishing agent. A class D extinguisher with a copper based agent or dry sand are the recommended extinguishing agents.

Secondary - Rechargeable Lithium Ion and Lithium Polymer Batteries: are battery styles that do not contain metallic Lithium. Multi-purpose Class ABC extinguishers or water may be used. Lithium-Ion are the most popular rechargeable battery and are commonly found in cell phones, laptops, tablets, bikes/scooters, tools and electric cars.

Lithium Non-Rechargeable

Lithium Ion Rechargeable

Lithium Polymer Rechargeable


Lithium-ion batteries store a lot of energy in a small amount of space. When that energy is released in an uncontrolled manner, it generates heat, which can turn certain internal battery components into flammable and toxic gases.

Battery failures can be caused by physical damage, overcharging, over usage, external temperatures, manufacturing defects and non-compatible accessories.

Warning Signs of Potential Failure or Damage

If you notice any of these warning signs, stop using the lithium-ion battery-powered device immediately!

  • Visible smoke or burning odor (THIS IS AN IMMEDIATE DANGER OF FIRE!)
  • Swollen battery pack
  • Excessive heat from device
  • Cracked or deformed case
  • Battery will not hold charge
  • Voltage too high or too low
  • Unusual hissing or popping sounds

Swollen Battery Pack

Swollen Battery Pack

Cracked Case


If you notice any of these warning signs, stop using the lithium-ion battery-powered device immediately!

  • Make sure your battery is compatible with your device.
  • Use Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) batteries that are designed for your devices instead of aftermarket batteries. Fires at UVA have been attributed to aftermarket batteries and charging devices.
  • ALWAYS purchase batteries and devices that are approved by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Look for UL Listing.
  • NEVER attempt to modify or rebuild battery packs and chargers.
  • Follow manufacturer guidelines and only use approved charging devices.
  • NEVER overcharge.
  • Disconnect charger when charging is complete.
  • Charging should occur when the workspace is occupied and the equipment can be monitored.
  • The safest place to charge and store e-bikes, scooters, and electric cars is outdoors, away from any structure or enclosure, and not in direct sunlight. NEVER charge inside dorms! Only charge in approved locations!
  • Watch this video from Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI) on how quickly a fire can happen while using lithium-ion battery powered devices.
  • NEVER discard lithium batteries with regular trash.
  • Undamaged batteries should be properly recycled. In order to minimize short circuiting or fire risk, cover terminals of batteries with tape.
  • All e-waste such as batteries, calculators, or electronic equipment should be disposed of by contacting UVA Recycling or visit the following e-cycling bin locations: O-Hill, Runk, Brown Library, Clemons Library, Fiske Library, Darden School and Law School.

Examples of UL Safety Marks

UVA e-cycling bin

Emergency Procedures

Fire involving a Lithium battery.

  • Pull fire alarm pull station
  • Notify 911
  • Use portable extinguisher if trained to do so
  • Be prepared for violent reactions that could send flaming pieces airborne

Damaged or Overheated Battery.

  • Disconnect the battery if safe to do so
  • Do not handle the battery until case temperature has reached room temperature
  • Place the damaged battery in an area free of combustible material
  • If possible place the battery in a vented metal container
  • Contact EHS for a pick-up


National Fire Protection Association Publication - NFPA Battery Safety
Underwriters Laboratories - UL Solutions
FSRI Publication - Take C.H.A.R.G.E. of Battery Safety
UVA - Policy SEC-043: Riding, Parking and Storing of Motorized Scooters and Electric Power-Assisted Bicycles
UVA - Recycling Services
UVA - Sustainability

Contact EHS at 434.982.4911 for any questions or guidance.

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