Are LiPo RC Batteries Dangerous? A Safety Guide


Are LiPo RC Batteries Dangerous?

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Remote-controlled vehicles are an exhilarating way to engage the whole family in endless hours of fun! Not only are they capable of driving, flying, and floating their way across countless environments, but RC vehicles can even teach young ones a little something about responsibility. With children in mind, there seems to be a concern when it comes to RC vehicles using LiPo batteries. So, the question remains.

Are LiPo RC batteries dangerous? Yes, LiPo RC batteries can be hazardous if they are handled without proper care. Special attention must be paid to how LiPo RC batteries are charged, stored, and disposed of.  

As with any use of harsh chemicals and delicate systems, handling of LiPo RC batteries can be a dangerous task; however, if you follow the simple safety guides below, you shouldn’t have any issues using them.

Can LiPo RC Batteries Explode?

Let’s start this guide off with a huge, headline warning: Yes, LiPo RC batteries can explode. But this does not mean every single one will! With proper handling and responsible charging habits, you can get the most use out of your LiPo RC battery without any faults.

Want to see four minutes of LiPo battery explosions? Check out this video below!

What Does a LiPo RC Battery Explosion Look Like?

First and foremost, it should be noted that most LiPo batteries won’t “explode” in the traditional sense of the word. You’re not likely to see a massive ball of fire or something that looks like TNT went off in your living room.

More often than not, the LiPo battery will smoke up an entire room if it’s damaged. This does not lessen the inherent risk nor excuse the idea of sloppy battery maintenance! 

Why Does a LiPo RC Battery Explosion Happen?

The reason LiPo RC batteries smoke up (and in some cases go into flames) is because of the chemical reactions happening within the battery. “Li” in LiPo stands for the element “Lithium.” This element does not like the oxygen in the air; it creates an extremely violent reaction that puts off a lot of heat. It’s the heat given off by the interaction that causes flammable objects nearby to burst into flames. 

The main cause of LiPo battery explosions is the puncturing of the battery itself. This can occur with rough handling of the battery in transport, or if the battery is kept in extreme temperatures.

Safety Tips for Beginners of LiPo RC Batteries

Although LiPo RC batteries have a lot of inherited nuances when it comes to preparation and safety, they can easily be managed by even the most beginner of users. Because of the reliance on harsh chemicals for power, these safety tips should be followed accordingly.

General Safety Tips

There are a lot of specifics to go over when it comes to managing LiPo RC batteries correctly, but there are a few general principles you should adopt when purchasing and/or owning one. This quick guide serves to give the four most important factors to remember when interacting with a LiPo battery.

· If the battery seems puffy or damaged in any way, DO NOT USE IT! Instead, you should dispose of it in a proper manner.

· NEVER buy a LiPo, NiMH, or any other RC battery pre-used. There is no guarantee of how the previous owner “cared” for the product.

· Read the manual thoroughly! At the very least, each RC battery should come with a list of compatible chargers.

· Do not try to charge an RC battery with an incompatible and/or unbalanced charger.

Proper Handling of LiPo Batteries

LiPo RC batteries can be dangerous, but they don’t have to be! With proper charging, storage, and disposal techniques, there should be no issues with their use.

Charging

One of the most important aspects of taking care of your LiPo RC battery is your charging and discharging habits. Each LiPo battery will have its own unique charging levels; however, the following guide should be used for each cell of the LiPo battery unit.

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· Unless the LiPo Battery is a single cell (only has one cartridge containing the electrons), you want to charge the battery until it is balanced. This is accomplished by using balanced chargers and dischargers. 

  • The voltage inside the cells should be exactly the same. A deviation of even 5mV can result in serious damage to the battery and increase the risk of instability. 

· Do NOT leave the LiPo Battery unattended while charging. This is especially true for older models that do not come with a digital counter to show the level of charge. 

· Each LiPo Battery is different with its own unique charge max. However, the typical max charge is 4.2v per cell. 

· Furthermore, each LiPo Battery will have its own low charge point.  As a general rule of thumb, the battery’s charge should never go below 3.2v per cell. Anything lower than that greatly increases the risk of permanent damage and fire.

· Always use your fully charged LiPo batteries within the same or following day. Allowing them to sit at full charge for more than two days is dangerous! Avoid this by draining the battery levels with a balanced discharger on the third day.

· Never charge an already warm battery! Furthermore, never use an already warm battery!

· After the 300th charge cycle, it is time to replace the LiPo RC battery. For NiMH RC batteries, you should replace them around the 50th charge cycle.

Storage

Because LiPo batteries are so dependent on electron exchange to give them energy, they must be stored in the proper manner to reduce the amount of energy/heat given off. Properly storing your LiPo RC batteries will reduce their level of hazard.

·  Keep your LiPo Batteries in a fire-proof or fire-resistant container. Although the risk of these batteries starting a fire is low, the damage they would cause is worth the extra money to store them properly. Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. 

·  NEVER allow your LiPo Batteries to stay overcharged or fully charged when storing! It may seem counterintuitive, but allowing the batteries to be at full charge increases the number of electronic activities. Thus, it increases the risk of a fire.

. If you do need to store your LiPo RC battery for an extended time period, discharge the unit to 30% before storing it.

· The LiPo RC batteries should be stored at room temperature. 

  • If you keep your battery in a cold environment, condensation could build up during use. 
  • If you keep your battery in a hot environment, it could expand the plastic cartridge and cause damage as well.

Disposal

If your LiPo battery sustains any damage or is outside of its recommended charge cycle, it is time to dispose of the worn unit. Precautions should be taken as the most dangerous part of owning a LiPo battery is when it is damaged and needs to be disposed of.

·   In case of a fire, treat it as it is: a chemical fire. This means you should have a Class D fire extinguisher near the charging station at all times!

·  Once the smoke is cleared, you will need to drain the battery of all power completely. This can most easily be done with a discharger. If you are going to use a discharger, be sure not to over-discharge.

·  If you don’t have a discharger, connecting the battery to a low draw device (e.g., light bulb) can also work. 

·  If you are going to connect it to a device to drain it, be sure to monitor the damaged battery the entire time!

·  Place the damaged and drained battery into a fire-resistant case for travel.  If any liquids have leaked out of the damaged battery, avoid direct contact! Wear protective gloves and wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly after handling them.

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·   Each district may have its own standards for the removal of chemically charged batteries.

  • Check your district’s disposal procedure through their government site. 
  • Or, ask local businesses that collect LiPo batteries if they also take LiPo RC batteries. Some of these businesses that do collect LiPo batteries are: BestBuy, Apple, Recycling Centers, and Household Hazardous Waste.

Travel 

If you’re going to be traveling with a LiPo battery, there are rules and regulations you must adhere to, regardless of the destination.

  1. Charge Level– By far, the most important traveling rule is that your LiPo battery must be at a charge level of 30%. You don’t want it to be too low where it risks over-discharge, and you don’t want it to be too high where it risks combustion. 
  2. Container- Just as if you were storing them at home, the LiPo battery should be stored in a fire-resistant container.
    1. If you are traveling on a plane, train, or other public transportation, the LiPo battery should be engaged with the RC vehicle.
    2. Do NOT try to transport LiPo battery cells individually on public transport, especially on a plane.

Mailing

Mailing LiPo batteries through the system will vary depending on your location of sending. Each country will have its own rules and regulations, so you must check the Postal Regulations before sending them. The following rules apply to any LiPo batteries that would be sent through the US Postal System.

  1. Charge Level- As with traveling, the LiPo battery’s level must be at 30%. They will not send the battery if it is any higher or lower than 30%.
  2. Domestic- If you are shipping the battery domestically, the post office will send the package. However, you should label the shipment box with a “Miscellaneous Hazard” sticker, or alert the post office of the contents (so they can properly label the shipping box).
  3. International- The Post Office will not send LiPo batteries internationally unless it is attached to an electronic device that can be powered by the battery.  Do NOT try to send LiPo battery cells individually!

Signs Your Battery is Faulty

In case it wasn’t obvious enough before, the physical body of your LiPo RC battery can indicate to you whether or not there is significant damage internally. This is important as any damage to the LiPo RC battery can greatly increase the risk of injury and/or fire. Because of this, it’s essential to look out for the following signs of battery damage:

  1. Puffy or bulging of the plastic container
  2. Any tears, holes, or punctures no matter how small
  3. Abnormally warm to the touch, especially when charging
  4. Less overall usage time despite proper charging

If any of these situations arise while you are using, charging, or storing a LiPo RC battery, you should immediately and properly dispose of the battery. Extra precautions should be taken while transporting the damaged battery to the proper disposal areas. Do not try to destroy the damaged battery yourself!

How To Determine the Safest Charging Settings

As stated before (many many times), all LiPo RC batteries need to be charged to their proper levels without overcharging. Along with the manual that came with the RC battery, there is a formula you can follow to figure out the precise amount of voltage and current your LiPo RC battery needs to be charged to.

  1. Find out the cell voltage– for most LiPo batteries, one cell gives off 3.7V. This 3.7V is known as “1S” or “1 Supply.” From this, total up all the cells for the maximum voltage.
  2. Find the battery’s capacity- this will be listed on the actual battery in the units of “mAh” or milli-Ampere per hour. This number is important in helping to find the correct LiPo battery for your RC vehicle’s power needs.
  3. Find the battery’s discharge rate- This is more commonly referred to as the “C Rate.” This information can be found on the battery case, or inside the manual. If a range is listed (e.g., 25C-40C), the first number is the “nominal discharge rate,” and the second number is the “maximum burst discharge rate.” You want to stay within or below the nominal discharge rate.
  4. Find the current draw of the RC vehicle- this will be found either on the RC vehicle or inside the manual. This is important to ensure you are using the proper LiPo battery for the energy need of the RC vehicle. Using a battery that does not have enough mAh will decrease overall travel time with the RC vehicle and can lead to overly discharging the battery. It will be in units of Amps, or “A.”
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An Example of the Math

Let’s say we have a LiPo RC battery that has four cells, 2000mAh, and 1C.

And we also have an RC vehicle that has a constant current draw of 10A.

4 cells x 3.7V = 14.8V supply, or maximum voltage

(2000mAh/1000)/10A = 0.2 (x 60) = 12 minutes of battery usage

All of that equates to knowing we can use this specific LiPo battery for this RC vehicle for up to 12 minutes before the battery needs to be recharged.

Blank formulas

Maximum Voltage 

= (number of cells) x (3.7V)

Minutes of Battery Usage 

= (mAh/1000) = Ah

=(Ah)/(Amps) = N

= (N) x (60 minutes) = Maximum minutes of battery usage

Recharging Rate of LiPo RC Batteries

For the recharging rate, take the battery’s capacity and divide it by 1000. This will give the maximum Amps that the balanced charger could be set to. 

This information is imperative to ensure that the LiPo RC battery isn’t being overused (drained) or overcharged, which would put it in a dangerous state of instability. 

Are NiMH RC Batteries Safer Than LiPo?

Nickel-Metal Hydride (or NiMH) RC batteries are another option in the RC vehicle world when it comes to power sources. Just like LiPo batteries, NiMH relies on chemical reactions to power the RC vehicle over hours. In fact, most of the RC vehicles you buy from the store automatically come with a NiMH RC battery. Does that mean they are safer or better than LiPo RC batteries?

As far as safety is concerned, both NiMH and LiPo RC batteries are equally just as dangerous. However, in the sense of management and usage, NiMH RC batteries are significantly more beginner/user-friendly.  

That being said, it should be noted that both NiMH and LiPo RC batteries must be cared for in the same manner. For example, both batteries can become unstable if overcharged or stored improperly. NiMH tends to be more user-friendly because they give off less energy. Thus, their risk of fire and/or smoking out a room decreases, and so does the danger level.

Final Thoughts on LiPo RC Batteries

It might seem daunting or even dangerous to own a LiPo RC battery, but it’s the best option when it comes to longer usage and overall driving time. They are lightweight, high energy, and an extremely valuable resource for RC vehicles of all types. 

Although they might not be the safest to care for in the hands of smaller children, anyone can learn the straightforward methods necessary to prolong the LiPo battery’s life. It is truly just a matter of attention to detail and keeping it stored in the proper containers and environment. 

That all being said, owning LiPo RC batteries should not be a task taken lightly. Without the proper understanding of the charging and usage rates of the chemicals, you are at risk of experiencing serious damage and injury. Explosions may not occur every time, but they do still occur!

Emphasizing how important proper handling of RC batteries cannot be done enough!

Matt Robbs

I love to spend time with my wife and 3 kids. There is no better way to get them off the couch and outside than for us to grab the RC cars or boat and enjoy the sunshine!

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