New BRANZ fire research

This Issue This is a part of the Passive fire protection feature

, Build 171

Two BRANZ fire research projects have received tactical research funding from Fire and Emergency New Zealand to investigate fire risk from lithium batteries and toxicity of combustible building contents.


With consumer demand for more run-time, lithium chemistry batteries are being increasingly used for their higher energy density, displacing conventional lead-acid, nickel-cadmium or nickel metal hydride batteries. However, some lithium batteries are prone to thermal run-away, with an associated fire risk. There have been numerous incidents resulting in the recall of devices (the Samsung Note 7, for instance) after fires.

The risk is not limited to handheld devices, with high-profile incidents such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet grounding due to a lithium battery fire. Fires have also been reported involving all-electric and hybrid vehicles. Lithium batteries are also increasingly used for energy storage in commercial and residential photovoltaic (PV) systems.

The project will review national incidents reported to Energy Safety NZ and international incidents. The aim is to look at the uptake of lithium batteries in New Zealand and, based on the incident evidence, assess the potential increase in associated fire risk.


Inhalation of toxic smoke is a primary cause of death and injury in building fires and is made worse by the increasing use of synthetic materials in construction materials and building contents.

These materials also contribute to rapid fire development, increasing the rate at which toxic combustion products spread and affect occupants’ ability to escape.

The project will establish the contribution of common furnishing materials to fire death or injury due to toxic smoke inhalation in New Zealand. It will review international work in this area and identify specific areas of research reflecting the New Zealand built environment. It will form part of a wider BRANZ scoping study looking at the toxicity characteristics of the combustion products of common building materials.

Download the PDF

More articles about these topics

Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.