CR123 fire danger in flashlights

rube

Newly Enlightened
Joined
Sep 1, 2004
Messages
30
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."
 

Size15's

Flashaholic
Joined
Aug 29, 2000
Messages
18,416
Location
Kettering, England
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
 

RayT

Newly Enlightened
Joined
Mar 17, 2004
Messages
101
Location
Tennessee
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.
 

turbodog

Flashlight Enthusiast
Joined
Jun 23, 2003
Messages
5,907
Location
Southern USA
Speculation, but possibly the venting process lowers the cell temperature. If you ARE discharging hot gases you want them to dissipate, not compress.
 

LightHearted

Enlightened
Joined
Oct 27, 2002
Messages
270
Location
Fresno, California
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.
 

RayT

Newly Enlightened
Joined
Mar 17, 2004
Messages
101
Location
Tennessee
[ 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.

/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/cool.gif
 

HarryN

Flashlight Enthusiast
Joined
Jan 22, 2004
Messages
3,941
Location
Pleasanton (Bay Area), CA, USA
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.
 

RayT

Newly Enlightened
Joined
Mar 17, 2004
Messages
101
Location
Tennessee
[ 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.
 

Techmedic

Enlightened
Joined
Nov 28, 2003
Messages
268
Location
Ajax, Ontario, Canada
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.
 

SilverFox

Silver Moderator
Joined
Jan 19, 2003
Messages
12,449
Location
Bellingham WA
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
 

greenLED

Flashaholic
Joined
Mar 26, 2004
Messages
13,263
Location
La Tiquicia
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).
 

Hornet

Newly Enlightened
Joined
Nov 19, 2003
Messages
101
Location
Upstate, NY
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
 

HEK_Hamburg

Newly Enlightened
Joined
Mar 3, 2004
Messages
141
Location
Hamburg / Germany
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! /ubbthreads/images/graemlins/frown.gif
 

andrewwynn

Flashlight Enthusiast
Joined
Apr 28, 2004
Messages
3,763
Location
Racine, WI USA
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
 

McGizmo

Flashaholic
Joined
May 1, 2002
Messages
17,286
Location
Maui
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?
 

dano

Flashlight Enthusiast
Joined
Aug 11, 2000
Messages
3,862
Location
cali.
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
 

cy

Flashaholic
Joined
Dec 20, 2003
Messages
8,182
Location
USA
I wonder if the investigators found out G2 don't have a locking tailcap. combined with P61 & fresh cells. excellent potential for heating up
 

mattheww50

Flashlight Enthusiast
Joined
Jun 24, 2003
Messages
1,048
Location
SW Pennsylvania
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!
 
Top