[Q&A] Is lithium flammable – Does lithium burn?

Is lithium flammable

The question of “is lithium flammable” is critical when considering its safety in various applications. Indeed, lithium is flammable, as it reacts violently with steam, water, or moisture to produce heat. In proximity to a fire source, such reactions could lead to explosions, particularly when certain substances like methanol or graphite are involved. These materials, when combined with lithium’s reactivity, emphasize the need for caution. Lithium’s solid form can easily catch fire and sustain intense burning, underscoring the importance of handling it with care.

Why is Lithium Flammable?

Is lithium flammable
Is lithium flammable

Nowadays, a popular application of lithium is its production of batteries. This is where the big question that baffles the world comes in. Why is this extremely useful element (lithium) flammable?

A typical lithium battery comprises electrodes that are immersed in a solution known as electrolyte. This electrolyte comprises lithium compounds and organic solvents which allow for the flow of ions.

The solvents in the electrolytes trigger the combustion of lithium. Meanwhile, lithium readily ignites spontaneously in the presence of air.

Lithium is a light, flammable, alkali metal. This element is the first solid in the periodic table. The preceding two are gases. Lithium is a very reactive solid, and the lightest known metal.

Because of its sharp reactivity, it is usually stored under an inert atmosphere, mineral oil, or vacuum to minimize its action. Therefore, this chemical compound is not found in its free state in nature. Instead, it exists as compounds in the earth’s crust.

What are Lithium-Ion Batteries?

Is lithium flammable
Is lithium flammable

Lithium-Ion batteries, which you can also call Li-ion batteries, came into existence in the 1970s. Its first application was in Sony’s video recorder in 1991.

Ever since then, lithium batteries are used all over the world to power electronic devices. They are used in vehicles, smartphones, and some household appliances.

Lithium-ion batteries are more powerful and reliable than most lead-acid batteries. This is because they store about 150 watts in 1kg of the battery. That’s such huge power storage.

These lithium-ion batteries catch fire readily. They tarnish rapidly and explode on exposure to high temperatures.

A pack of Li-ion batteries is made of lithium-ion cells, voltage tap, temperature sensors, and a battery management system.

Now, let’s find out whether lithium-ion batteries also attract fire. Shall we?

Are Lithium-Ion Batteries Flammable?

Is lithium flammable
Is lithium flammable

Lithium-ion batteries can be flammable when it is constructed with the wrong software, poor quality materials, or mishandled. Moreso, it can catch fire when it develops a fault or is manufactured by crooks. Either way, here is how.

Flammable electrolytes, fumes, and energy are the primary components of a lithium-ion battery. Besides, some scraps of the lithium container usually float in the electrolyte.

Owing to this, the lithium scraps and the electrolyte develop a pressurized environment. Now if any of the scraps penetrate the barrier that separates the lithium container and its content (electrolyte), a reaction to water will occur.

Then, in the presence of oxygen or air, the lithium battery will develop high heat and ignite. The burning lithium-ion battery also gives off dangerous gases.

How Does Lithium Ignite?

Is lithium flammable
Is lithium flammable

Lithium belongs to the first group of the periodic table. Other members of this group are sodium, potassium, cesium, etc. All elements in the same group react similarly.

Thus, sodium and potassium undergo similar reactions as lithium. However, lithium ignites differently because it is more reactive than other members of its group. Its autoignition temperature is 354°F.

Lithium reacts explosively in the presence of water, giving off tremendous heat. This results in an exothermic reaction that produces fire.

Lithium catches fire and burns. If there are other items around lithium during this process, they also catch fire and explode.

So, therefore, you should never handle lithium with moist hands. Lithium will ignite easily by exposure to moisture, resulting in severe burns.

What Happens When You Inhale Lithium?

Is lithium flammable
Is lithium flammable

Lithium reacts violently with water more than any other metal. Such that it either catches fire or causes serious burns in a moist environment.

However, it is a unique case when you inhale lithium. Lithium will not burn your lungs, but it can trigger critical health conditions.

Once you breathe in lithium, it combines and reacts with the water in your throats or lungs. No matter how small the amount of lithium you inhale is, the aftermath is always terrible.

This is more of a reason you should never inhale lithium. However, if by mistake you sniff some amount. Seek medical attention with immediate effect.

Breathing in small doses of lithium can cause stomach aches, difficulty in breathing or seizures of breaths, throwing up, and diarrhea. Inhaling large lithium doses can cause choking, pulmonary edema (a serious condition that involves swelling of the lungs), and even death.

Are Lithium Batteries Toxic?

Is lithium flammable
Is lithium flammable

Just like lithium metal, Li-ion batteries are toxic. This is because these batteries are made from dangerous, carcinogenic materials which release bad gases.

When a person inhales these gases, such a person will probably face some undesirable health risks.

Can Lithium Batteries Explode?

Lithium Batteries Explode
Lithium Batteries Explode

Research reveals that lithium batteries hardly explode. However, it explodes.

So it is quite possible to use a lithium battery till it develops a fault and then throw it away. But one fact to note is that a faulty lithium battery can still explode when it comes in contact with moisture.

How To Curb A Lithium Battery From Exploding

Is lithium flammable
Is lithium flammable

The first tip you should observe to stop a lithium battery from exploding is “don’t keep it in your clothes”.

When you go out, you can keep your car keys or any other metal in your clothes. However, don’t try this with a lithium battery.

This is because the ions in lithium batteries can react readily with metals like your keys or coins and explode.

Make sure you switch off all of your devices that use lithium batteries when they are not in use. Keep lithium batteries away from other batteries, which can trigger their explosion.

Final Recommendations.

In a nutshell, this article explains why lithium and lithium batteries are flammable. Now you know why you shouldn’t handle lithium the same way you handle other metals.

Lithium is a highly reactive and dangerous solid, keep that in mind. However, don’t fret. You can still use lithium batteries without getting hurt.

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