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Thread: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

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    Default CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    I work at a nuclear power plant. A fire occured at another plant in my company. I'd appreciate your expert comments on the following taken from a company communication relative to the fire. I believe the issued lights were Surefire G2s

    "a fire occurred in a small equipment locker in a security. The equipment locker contained small firearms and ammunition. The fire was extinguished and no injuries occurred.

    Investigation results pointed to overheated lithium flashlight batteries as the source of the fire. (The type of lithium batteries involved in this incident were 3 Volt size 123.) These type of lithium batteries have a vent safety feature design. When these type of lithium batteries are used in a sealed flashlight, the safety feature of this vent is partially defeated by not allowing a vent path. The investigation team noted that this type of lithium battery failure appear to be isolated to flashlight usage.
    Lithium batteries are also used in cameras, cell phones, laptop computers and etc. These product designs incorporate unobstructed vent paths.

    Corrective Actions Taken
    The following actions are being taken:
    • Flashlights using lithium 3 Volt 123 batteries have been collected from Security, Operations and Chemistry personnel.
    • Personnel were directed to turn in company supplied flashlights that use lithium 3 Volt batteries to their supervisors.
    • Personnel are being prohibited from bringing their personally owned flashlights that use lithium batteries to their work site."

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    Administrator Size15's's Avatar
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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    There have been a number of cases of this happening to CR123A flashlights.
    Several makes of CR123A have been recalled or refused entry into the USA because issues have been found with the safety features they are meant to have.

    The risk of danger can be minimised by using USA manufactured 123A batteries and ensuring that the flashlight is disabled for storage and transport. This of course is in addition to common sense battery use - do not mix new and used batteries, or batteries from different sources or manufacturers. Keep the batteries dry and cool and clean, and isolated from one another, and from conductive materials.

    The incident involving Lisun CR123A's in a 6P with Z32 Bezel and another incident involving another brand of imported CR123A both involved accidental activation in a confined space (one bezel up (exposed) in a tac vest pouch resulted in a "jet of flame" exiting the flashlight bezel or ejecting the batteries and lamp assembly across the room (garage I believe).
    Anyway, in both cases it appears at least one of the batteries went into thermal runaway...

    Al

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    Default CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    So, why would not venting cause a fire? There had to be some significant heat generated and lack of venting would not cause such heat. It would only cause a pressure buildup.

    I work in Oak Ridge and anytime there is any incident, they have to find a reason, any reason. They simply cannot say isolated or unknown.

    I suspect this is more of a knee jerk reaction where the cause was something other than the non-venting of batteries. 123 cells in a flashlight are safe, have been proven to be safe, and will not cause a fire hazard.

    The biggest danger from 123 cells is carrying them in your pocket and shorting them out with keys. The 123 cells will flow a tremendous amount of current, much more than akaline or nicad, and can heat very quickly.

    Yeh, the fire may have been caused by overheating batteries, but lack of venting would not cause such overheating.

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    Flashaholic* turbodog's Avatar
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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    Speculation, but possibly the venting process lowers the cell temperature. If you ARE discharging hot gases you want them to dissipate, not compress.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    I'm no expert, but I suspect it was not merely lack of venting that caused the fire. I don't think the G2 is waterproof. It probably vents just fine. I would bet that the flashlight was accidentally switched on while unattended. Since the G2 does not have a lock out tail cap this could probably happen quite easilly if one is not careful. The protruding button on the tailcap seems to make this all the more likely.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    [ QUOTE ]
    turbodog said:
    Speculation, but possibly the venting process lowers the cell temperature. If you ARE discharging hot gases you want them to dissipate, not compress.

    [/ QUOTE ]
    Perhaps. But that would require venting a lot of gas and would certainly be noticeable in many of the sealed flashlights such as my L4 and U2. I have yet to hear any escape of gas when opening the lights after using them for as much as 15 minutes.

    To compress gas enough to get high temperatures would require something like 200 PSI before it became uncomfortable. It would take much more than that to get the gas hot enough to combust other material. If you had in excess of 200 PSI in a flashlight you would certainly notice it when you removed the cap.

    I still place my money on a knee-jerk reaction to a fire where a cause cannot be found. These plants have to have a reason for every incident along with a corrective action. The contractors bonus, and perhaps payment, is tightly tied to any safety events. If the contractor was found at fault they would be penalized. So finding an inanimate object at fault relieves the contractor, especially when the solution is that the contractor bans all CR123 batteries.

    If the batteries were that hazardous there would be many recalls, advisories, consumer warnings, etc. There are not. The batteries are no more dangerous than any high current battery and in fact are much safer than lead acid cells.

    [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/cool.gif[/img]

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    If you assume that lack of venting is an issue (not necessarily the cause of the original problem) then I wonder how many 123 based lights actually have built-in venting designed in ?

    The limited number of lights I have that are 123 based do not have vents, or at least I cannot see them.

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    Default CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    [ QUOTE ]
    HarryN said:
    If you assume that lack of venting is an issue (not necessarily the cause of the original problem) then I wonder how many 123 based lights actually have built-in venting designed in ?

    The limited number of lights I have that are 123 based do not have vents, or at least I cannot see them.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    None of my 123 lights have any venting. I have four lights, ARC-LSH, A2, U2, L4. All are sealed with O-Rings and I find no source for venting.

    I don't think that venting is that large a problem with CR-123 batteries. Again, just means to find a reason for the investigation team. Makes it look like they actually did something.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    I think that they need to re-visit the cause of the fire. G2's cannot be locked out therefore a G2 with fresh batteries stuck on in an enclosed area, perhaps a tool bag/pouch may be the sequence of events that precipitated the fire.
    Maybe they should re-create the event?
    A better action plan would be to have G2's disassembled when in storage, or whenever left unattended. Personally, I would place a piece of paper between the cells for storage.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    I believe the vent on 123's are designed to open at about 150 psi. I am not sure the "O" ring seals on a "sealed" flashlight would be able to contain that amount of pressure unless it is designed as a "dive" light.

    Tom

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    I would be very curious if that G2 had a P61 lamp setup in it. That is a powerful combination in a plastic package.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    I believe safety-rated lights should be used in these types of facilities (and other industries). Tell'em to buy Pelican porducts.

    I remember going down into a generator room in a hydroelectric power plant a couple of years ago. Only safety-rated lights were allowed (and only diesel vehicles were allowed down the tunnel).

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    If there is a problem of the batteries being stored in an airtight flashlight what about a Surefire SC1 or the pelican cases that people are used as storage.
    Hornet

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    There is not a problem with CR123As being stored in "airtight" packages. I've never heard of any issues.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    Aw man!
    I have a Z3 with clicky and an A2 (not locket out) on my duty belt that I have in my wardrobe! Please tell me that the batteries can not explode as long the switch does not turn on! I dont want to burn down my police station! [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/frown.gif[/img]

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    There is a lot of 'space' inside a flashlight even a sealed one.. pressure can not be a problem from a 'venting' battery.. but LiON can get hot, very hot if they are shorted.. a possibility of a direct short, say from an R123 flat top used in a flashlight with a retaining ring.. (topic covered on CPF).. i don't know if the vented gas is explosive, but a lot of chemistries it is, so i would not be surprised, and evidence does support that theory in other examples.

    Almost always there are 2 or 3 coincident effects to cause such an event, i highly doubt it was simply a malfunctioning 123.. more than likely there was something like 2-up 123s where they were discharged to a point where they reversed and caused a power spike or something. I wouldn't be concerned about using 123s myself that's for sure.

    I would take the logical precautions of not being careless with using 123s in series, especially rechargeables.

    -awr

  17. #17

    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    rube,

    Is there anyway you can find out more specifics about this? Like what brand of battery was involved?

    [ QUOTE ]
    Investigation results pointed to overheated lithium flashlight batteries as the source of the fire. (The type of lithium batteries involved in this incident were 3 Volt size 123.) These type of lithium batteries have a vent safety feature design. When these type of lithium batteries are used in a sealed flashlight, the safety feature of this vent is partially defeated by not allowing a vent path. The investigation team noted that this type of lithium battery failure appear to be isolated to flashlight usage.
    Lithium batteries are also used in cameras, cell phones, laptop computers and etc. These product designs incorporate unobstructed vent paths.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    Are these words a summation of the investigation or is this quoted from an IOM or other document? Do we know if the batteries chose to overheat of their own volition or was this a case of a light being on?

    I too am curious as to the venting or pressure relief being really the root of the cause or if that isn't speculation by the "experts" . It would seem that lithium as well as Li-Ion cells are being lumped together by these investigators and the issue of venting being given as the only probable cause of an event. Do we have any idea as to the credibility or expertise held by the investigators?

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    123 size cells are potentially fire hazards, probably more so in a flashlight appilcation, as these cells were never designed to operate in a constant drain mode. They were designed for rapid opn/off applications; i.e. camera flashes.

    Both Surefire and Streamlight now place supplemental warning slips in the light packaging warning of explosion hazards with these cells.

    As for the G2 explosion noted, I'd also say it was left on or somehow turned-on and overheated causing a fire.

    -dan

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    I wonder if the investigators found out G2 don't have a locking tailcap. combined with P61 & fresh cells. excellent potential for heating up

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    Let me suggest an explanation for the sequence of events.
    If the flashlight isn't well vented (fairly typical), even if you don't build up appreciable pressure in the flashlight, the gas release from the batteries will increase the concentration of the gas in the flashlight. The gas most typically vented from batteries is Hydrogen. The discharging or charging does not produce vast amount of hydrogen. If memory serve me, i takes about 60 amp hours to vent a mole of hydrogen (about 22 liters at room temperature), so a CR123 isn't likely to vent more than about a liter. However a considerable less than a liter in side a flashlight could probably blow the flashlight apart and start a small fire.

    Hydrogen in air is explosive in concentrations from 4 to 75%, and concentrations in that range are probably easily achieved inside a flashlight).

    even venting a liter or two of hydrogen into a small room will not even get close to the lower limit of explosive concentration in air, about 4%. Put it in a confined space like the upper shelf of a locker,or pocket of a water proof jacket and reaching 4% may not be difficult. With a 2-3 watt halogen lamp in the flashlight, it may not be very hard to find a place inside the light where the temperature exceeds the flash point if the flashlight is left on. That ignites the explosive mixture in the flashlight, blowing the top and/or bottom off, and the flame ignites the hydrogen that has collected in the top of the locker, in the the closed pocket. BOOM! Not a great big explosion, but possible enough to light a very real fire.

    My gut feel is this problem is unreltated to who, or how the 123's were made. It is a confluence of relatively low probability events. One of the Laws of Edsel Murphy is that all tolerances will accumulate in the direction where they will do the most damage!

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    [ QUOTE ]
    RayT said:
    [ QUOTE ]
    turbodog said:
    Speculation, but possibly the venting process lowers the cell temperature. If you ARE discharging hot gases you want them to dissipate, not compress.

    [/ QUOTE ]
    Perhaps. But that would require venting a lot of gas and would certainly be noticeable in many of the sealed flashlights such as my L4 and U2. I have yet to hear any escape of gas when opening the lights after using them for as much as 15 minutes.

    To compress gas enough to get high temperatures would require something like 200 PSI before it became uncomfortable. It would take much more than that to get the gas hot enough to combust other material. If you had in excess of 200 PSI in a flashlight you would certainly notice it when you removed the cap.

    I still place my money on a knee-jerk reaction to a fire where a cause cannot be found. These plants have to have a reason for every incident along with a corrective action. The contractors bonus, and perhaps payment, is tightly tied to any safety events. If the contractor was found at fault they would be penalized. So finding an inanimate object at fault relieves the contractor, especially when the solution is that the contractor bans all CR123 batteries.

    If the batteries were that hazardous there would be many recalls, advisories, consumer warnings, etc. There are not. The batteries are no more dangerous than any high current battery and in fact are much safer than lead acid cells.

    [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/cool.gif[/img]

    [/ QUOTE ]

    From my experience and a little common sense..... cells do not typically vent during normal operation. So, while I respect you, I find no correlation about your (or my) L4 not having a pressure build up after continued use.


    To go further..... let's assume the light DID start the fire. My best bet would be ignition of vented gases. Does someone know for sure if these gases are flammable?

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    the electrolyte is flammable.
    i did some abuse tests of 123's and was able to get one to vent with flame.
    reverse charging or a hammer blow to the top that causes a short will do it every time.
    a flashlight with heavy spring tension and a cell with an insulator issue in the top crimp is a possibility .

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    [ QUOTE ]
    mattheww50 said:...However a considerable less than a liter in side a flashlight could probably blow the flashlight apart and start a small fire...

    [/ QUOTE ]
    Except that would take tremendous pressure, probably in the hundreds PSI.

    Remember the original post said there was a fire, not an explosion. When hydrogen explodes it does so quickly with very little flame duration. With amount of hydrogen that would accumulate in a flashlight there would not be a long enough flame duration to ignite paper.

    Having been witness to reports from safety incidents in Oak Ridge, and the finding of the cause, much of it is just finding something, anything, to explain an incident. No incident can be left unsolved and there is tremendous pressure on the investigators to find a cause.

    Many of these investigation teams are quickly thrown together from people with little investigation knowledge. Unless there is loss of life or personal injury there is no incentive to get intelligent people working on the investigation.

    I suspect these investigators saw something that was not normal, a CR123 flashlight, and found an explanation that, although highly unlikely, could be used to explain the incident. I doubt that any lab work in a controlled environment use good scientific methods was used to arrive at their conclusion.

    All of the incident reports that I have seen in Oak Ridge have no references to explain the finding, no lab reports, no prior work, just a lot of guesses.

    By providing this report, which is mandatory, the contractor does not get penalized, or miss out on their performance reward as the blame can be placed on something the contractor did not know or suspect. No self respecting contractor is going to find the incident was the result of something the contractor did, or did not, accomplish. That is simply not done. The fault is always out of the contractor's control regardless of the real reason.

    It is sad that the causal effect of many incidents does not get reported properly as the contractor is merely protecting themselves. I have seen it more than once, especially with Bechtel Jacobs Engineering in the operation of the plants in Oak Ridge.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    I havent experience any problems yet. I know a local walmart was closed for a fire in a storage locker. I do not believe they said what was the cause. Maybe it was another flashlight or cell phone?

    I have an all aluminum 19 led light from ccrane that I opened to just check the batteries. As I was about to reach the last thread of the top it popped of out of my hand onto the floor with the reflector. Turned out a battery was leaking and the inside was still wet from the acid. I washed it out, used wd 40 then put new batteries in it and check it mroe frequently now.

    I agree with all of the above. It could be a mistake, the guy could of mixed batteries, put them in backwards, etc. Its hard to say. If its a real problem it would be mroe frequently.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    [ QUOTE ]
    RayT said: The 123 cells will flow a tremendous amount of current, much more than akaline or nicad, ....

    [/ QUOTE ]

    I doubt that, anyway, I also agree that this is not mainly a technical problem. Some time ago (more than a decade) a lithium cell in an emergency beacon failed and the responsible people panicked.
    Therefore all batteries from these beacons were exchanged to alkalines. A friend of mine, a pilot, was able to get many of these lithium cells for free. All of them were useable.

    And there was the demand for a AA driven Luxeon light for the simple reason that somewere in the military lithium cells are banned.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    [ QUOTE ]
    PeLu said:
    [ QUOTE ]
    RayT said: The 123 cells will flow a tremendous amount of current, much more than akaline or nicad, ....

    [/ QUOTE ]

    I doubt that, anyway,

    [/ QUOTE ]
    My understanding is that the internal resistance of a 123 cell is much less than that of akaline and nicad. This allows more current to flow.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    Current flow capability in a cell is related to its construction, physical and chemical.

    CR123 cells can supply double digit numbers (teens) of amps in a short circuit, alkalines can do maybe high single digits of amps.

    Ni-cads can supply high currents, but I don't remember what their typical short-circuit amp capabilities are.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    [ QUOTE ]
    RayT said:My understanding is that the internal resistance of a 123 cell is much less than that of akaline and nicad. This allows more current to flow.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    This is true for alkalines, but many NiCd cells have sintered electrodes with a much lower internal resistance. Even NiCd cells with sponge electrodes will beat a LiMn reagrding internal resistance.
    And more important in this case, the internal resistance stays lower for the whole discharge.
    I have seen NiCd power packs welding wires together, but never had it with LiMnO2 cells (but I have to confess that I've seen much more NiCd power packs).
    Anyway, it is not smart to shorten either one.
    And usually it is not easy to shorten these cells (but possible) accidently. All the shorts I have seen caused troubles ourside the cells.

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    [ QUOTE ]
    snakebite said:
    the electrolyte is flammable.
    i did some abuse tests of 123's and was able to get one to vent with flame.
    reverse charging or a hammer blow to the top that causes a short will do it every time.
    a flashlight with heavy spring tension and a cell with an insulator issue in the top crimp is a possibility .

    [/ QUOTE ]

    Potentially, even someone dropping a 123 battery to the floor could damage a cell--setting up for a short sometime down the road (such as storage in a flashlight?). Even in every day manufacturing/engineering we had to make sure that components and materials are properly handled during assembly and packing--or run the chance of increased field failures (we even had the occasional small fires in computer systems). You had to assume that something may go wrong and other design elements would help prevent larger problems (use relatively low flammability materials, metal cases and screens, UL review/traceability, etc.).

    In the end, unless they found a specific cause for the failure (sometimes a very expensive and time consuming process--if it is even possible to sift through the remains and find a root cause)--it may be better in the end for a nuclear operator to play it safe and use battery chemistry less likely to fail in such a spectacular manner.

    Another interesting question would be "have these CR123's (used in flashlights) been removed from all NRC controlled plants in the US or was this just local to the site and contractor"?

    If it is not a total ban--then it seems that this is more like generic CYA than really addressing safety concerns.

    -Bill

    PS: Also, has the plant/NRC "banned cell phones" (or at least some manufactures) as there have been quite a few reported instances of battery explosions by consumers in the newer models with high energy density batteries?

    In the end--this appears to be coming down to the old risk/benefit ratio. The powers that be probably see that a flashlight is available in alternate technologies without much drawback--whereas nobody today would be without cellphones and digital cameras even if similar failures modes are reported all of the time. -BB

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    Default Re: CR123 fire danger in flashlights

    [ QUOTE ]
    BB said:
    In the end--this appears to be coming down to the old risk/benefit ratio. The powers that be probably see that a flashlight is available in alternate technologies without much drawback--whereas nobody today would be without cellphones and digital cameras even if similar failures modes are reported all of the time. -BB

    [/ QUOTE ]

    I was just thinking, imagine if it had happened to an alkaline.

    Contractor: "We'd like to BAN all alkaline powered devices."
    PowersThatBe: "Are you out of your MIND?!?!" [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/crazy.gif[/img]

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