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Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Exploding Batteries:-

During operation and charging, lead acid batteries produce hydrogen and oxygen which occupies the headspace in a battery above the electrolyte. If such gasses are not vented correctly or are exposed to a source of ignition, a battery explosion can occur. For a battery to explode two elements must be present – explosive gasses, namely hydrogen and oxygen, plus a source of ignition, external or originating from within the battery

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Battery explosions occur when two key elements are present:

  1. Explosive gases: Lead-acid batteries, during use and charging, produce hydrogen and oxygen gases that accumulate inside the battery.
  2. Ignition source: A spark or flame can ignite this built-up gas mixture, causing an explosion.

Causes of Battery Explosion?:-

Normal Operation, Overcharging, and Faulty Systems Under normal operating circumstances, a flooded lead acid battery can maintain a hydrogen and oxygen concentration above the level where an ignition source may cause an explosion. Overcharging as a result of faulty vehicle charging systems can produce more of these gasses and as such can increase the risk of explosion. Overcharging can also increase the rate of grid corrosion breakdown of the internal battery plate and separators leading to the possibility of short circuits and explosion.

  • Normal operation: Even under normal conditions, lead-acid batteries can contain enough hydrogen and oxygen to explode if exposed to an ignition source.
  • Overcharging: Faulty charging systems can overcharge batteries, producing excessive gas and increasing the explosion risk. Overcharging can also damage internal battery components, leading to short circuits and explosions.
  • External ignition sources: Sparks from static electricity, open flames, cigarettes, or loose/corroded battery connections can ignite the battery gases.
  • Engine starting: When a battery nears its end of life and has internal damage, starting the engine can trigger a short circuit and explosion, especially if the electrolyte level is low.
  • Manufacturing faults: Defects in battery construction, like a poorly connected terminal post, can cause arcing and ignite the gases.
  • End-of-life batteries: As batteries age, the plates corrode, increasing the risk of internal short circuits and explosions. Blocked vent plugs in old batteries can also contribute.
  • Poor maintenance: Neglecting battery maintenance, like letting electrolyte levels drop, can expose battery plates and accelerate corrosion, raising the risk of short circuits and explosions.

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

External Sources of Ignition:-

Primary sources of ignition such as static sparks, naked flames, cigarettes, and sparks caused by metal objects touching or shorting the battery terminals, loose battery connections, and corroded cables can ignite the flammable gasses built up in a battery.

Engine Starting:-

Starting the engine places a load on the battery that can trigger an explosion when there is an underlying problem. This is more likely when a battery is near its’ end of life. Both internal plate corrosion or a manufacturing fault increases the risk of a short circuit especially when the electrolyte level is low and the potential short is in the gas space.

Manufacturing Faults:- 
Defects or faults in the manufacturing process can cause a battery to short circuit. For example, if the internal terminal post is not correctly fused to the external terminal lead, arcing can occur. Such a fault is detected by a complete absence of voltage with intermittent spikes up to normal voltage levels. This is a dangerous situation as just physically moving the battery can cause a short circuit. Inter-cell welds located above the electrolyte are subject to high current flow during operation and engine starting. If the weld is faulty or corroded, the surface area available for the passage of an electrical current may be reduced, generating high temperatures and breakdown of the weld leading to arcing or melting of the lead itself. Both of these conditions are rare.

End of Life:- 
Batteries nearing their end of life will exhibit increased signs of grid corrosion and degradation of active material on the battery plates. This can gather in the plate separators leading to a possibility of short circuits between the battery plates. Blocked vent plugs can also cause a short circuit as the battery cell expands under pressure.

Poorly Maintained Batteries:- 
Batteries that have been left in a poorly maintained state for extended periods can lead to an increased possibility of explosion. If electrolyte levels are allowed to fall exposing the top of the battery plates, they will corrode faster than the section below causing growth, the possibility of plate contact, and an increased risk of a short circuit occurring.

Regular battery care and maintenance can help reduce the risk of a battery exploding. Century Ultra Hi and Hi Performance batteries are maintenance enabled allowing electrolyte levels to be topped up, reducing the risk of explosion, and problems caused by excessive water loss, and helping maximize the life of the battery

Battery Types and Explosion Risk:-

The text categorizes different battery types based on their explosion risk:

  • Maintenance Free Lead-acid (highest risk): Requires maintenance but reduces the risk of exposed plates causing short circuits. Vulnerable to manufacturing faults and external ignition sources.

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

  • Maintainable lead-acid (medium risk): Offers some protection against explosions from exposed plates due to maintainable electrolyte levels. Still susceptible to external ignition sources and manufacturing faults.

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

  • AGM VRLA (low risk): Sealed design minimizes the risk of short circuits from exposed plates. Vulnerable to manufacturing faults.

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

  • GEL VRLA (low risk): Similar to AGM VRLA in design and explosion risk.

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Battery Types & Risk of Explosion
Battery Technology Risk of Explosion Comment
Maintenance Lead Acid High Maintenance-free construction prevents the ability to top up electrolyte levels and reduces the potential for short circuits from exposed plates. Susceptible to manufacturing faults and external ignition sources.
Maintainable Lead Acid Medium The ability to maintain electrolyte levels reduces the potential for explosion from exposed battery plates. Susceptible to manufacturing faults and external ignition sources.
AGM VRLA Low Recombinant design and absence of loose electrolytes minimise’s risk of short circuits from exposed plates. Susceptible to manufacturing faults.
GEL VRLA Low Recombinant design and absence of loose electrolytes minimise’s risk of short circuits from exposed plates. Susceptible to manufacturing faults.

Preventing Battery Explosions:-

  • Regular maintenance: Proper battery care, like checking electrolyte levels and cleaning connections, can significantly reduce explosion risks.
  • Ventilation: Always work in a well-ventilated area when handling or charging batteries.
  • Ignition source control: Keep sparks, flames, and other ignition sources away from batteries and terminals.
  • Inspect and maintain: Regularly inspect cables, connections, terminals, and clamps for damage. Replace if necessary.
  • Secure battery: Ensure the battery is securely fastened using the hold-downs.
  • Check for damage: Inspect the battery case for cracks or warping.
  • Electrolyte level: Maintain proper electrolyte level (if applicable) by topping up when necessary.
  • Battery testing: Test battery health using a voltmeter or hydrometer and charge as needed.
  • Proper charger: Use an Australian-approved charger with the correct capacity for your battery.
  • Avoid fast charging: Fast charging can damage batteries and increase the risk of overheating and gas buildup.
  • Follow charging times: Refer to the recommended charging times based on the battery’s state of discharge.

Choosing the Correct Battery Charger:-
As a general rule of thumb, when selecting a charger choose an Australian-approved battery charger equal to at least 10% of the batteries
rated Ah capacity i.e. for a 120Ah battery choose a 15A charger. In the absence of an Ah rating use the following table to quickly determine the Ah capacity of a Century battery. Always round up to the next size battery charger

Approximate Amp Hour Charger for Battery Type
TYPE  Amp Hour
47 40
57 50
67 55
 NS70 60
N70 70
86 85

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay SafeCorrect Charging Times:-
Avoid fast charging as this only charges the surface of the battery plates, can increase the chance of overheating, cause permanent damage, and lead to the excessive build-up of explosive gasses. The following table can be used as a quick reference guide to determine approximate charge times according to a battery’s state of charge.

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Approximate Charge Times* Ultra High Performance Batteries
50RC 100RC 150RC  200RC
100% 12.7 N/A N/A N/A N/A
75% 12.45 2.3HRS 3.9HRS 2.7HRS 3.4HRS
50% 12.25 4.2HRS 7.0HRS 4.8HRS 6.1HRS
25% 12.05 6.3HRS 10.5HRS 7.2HRS 9.2HRS
DISCHARGED 11.9 8.4HRS 14.0HRS 9.6HRS 12.2

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

*Assumes charging:-  50 to 100 RC using a standard domestic 5A charger 150 to 200 RC using a standard domestic 10A charger.

Battery Health and Safety Information:-
Health and safety guidelines should be followed when handling or working with batteries.

Safety Precautions

  • Wear protection: Wear gloves, eye protection, and appropriate clothing when handling batteries to protect yourself from acid burns.
  • Turn off before disconnecting: Always turn off the charger or ignition before disconnecting a battery.
  • Electrolyte handling: When preparing electrolytes, always add acid to water, never the other way around. Store electrolytes safely in designated containers.
  • Spill response: If acid spills, neutralize it with baking soda or another suitable base. Dispose of the residue properly.
  • Swallowing electrolyte: If someone swallows electrolyte, DO NOT induce vomiting. Give them water and seek immediate medical attention.
  • First aid: In case of contact with battery acid, flush the affected area with clean water for at least 15 minutes. Seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Poison control: Contact a poison control center if you have any concerns about battery acid exposure.

Exploding Lead-Acid Batteries: How to Stay Safe

Battery Acid:-
Can cause burns. PVC or other suitable hand protection, eye and face protection, and protective clothing must be worn.

Exploding Battery:-
Batteries generate explosive gases during vehicle operation and when charged separately. Flames, sparks, burning cigarettes, or other ignition sources must always be kept away.

Always Shield Eyes When Working Near Batteries:-
When charging batteries, work in a well-ventilated area – never in a closed room. Always turn the battery charger or ignition off before disconnecting a battery.

If It Is Necessary To Prepare Electrolyte:-
Always add concentrated acid to water never water to acid. Store electrolytes in plastic containers with sealed covers. Do not store in the sun.

Acid Spill Response:-
Dyke and neutralize spills with soda ash or other suitable alkali. Dispose of residue as chemical waste or as per local requirements.

If Electrolyte Is Swallowed:-
Do NOT induce vomiting – give a glass of water. Seek immediate medical assistance

First Aid:-
For advice, contact a poisons information centre (phone 13 11 26 in Australia) or a doctor at once. If in eyes, hold eyelids apart and flush the eye continuously with running water. Continue flushing until advised to stop by the poison information center or doctor, or for at least 15 minutes. If skin or hair contact occurs, remove contaminated clothing and flush skin or hair with running water.


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