A Huddersfield company’s innovative invention to prevent fires on planes is now on board hundreds of planes worldwide ... and has been used in action.
The AvSax is a special fire-retardant bag used when lithium-ion batteries in mobile phones or other electronic devices catch fire and was used on a Delta Air Lines flight within the last week.
This is the fourth time the AvSax have already been deployed on passenger jets even though the bags have only been carried on board aircraft within the last few weeks.
Major American airline Delta is equipping its entire fleet of over 800 planes with AvSax designed and manufactured by Golcar-based Environmental Defence Systems – and the move comes amid global fears over the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 mobile phones which have been catching fire.
In mid January an AvSax was deployed during a mobile phone fire scare on a Delta Air Lines flight to Hawaii which is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States.
Airport officials say a passenger on the flight from Fukuoka to Honolulu dropped his iPhone 7 and when he tried to shift his seat it crushed the phone and battery. His fingers were singed and there was smoke and the smell of burning plastic was in the cabin.
The crew retrieved the phone and put it in an AvSax fire containment bag to prevent any other danger. The plane landed safely.
Similar incidents have happened on board aircraft, causing flights to be diverted and make emergency landings. Although many airlines have now banned Note 7 phones in recent months there has been a growing problem of electronic gadgets catching fire on board aircraft.
Three other major airlines are also using AvSax but have requested not to be named.
A recent estimate said aircraft carrying just 100 passengers could have around 500 lithium batteries on board when you tot up all the laptops, cameras, e-readers, tablets and mobile phones that need them. There is always a possibility that poor quality or damaged batteries can overheat, causing them to go into what is known as thermal runaway which could lead to the device catching fire. Incidents of thermal runaway are on the rise.
If anything starts to emit smoke the AvSax is specially designed to confine it within the bag which cools the batteries and contains most of the smoke.
AvSax managing director Richard Bailey said: “AvSax is the result of many years of development, drawing on experience from the production of an alternative sandbag we invented called a BlastSax designed for the military to reduce the impact of small improvised explosive devices.
“Away from the Samsung Note 7 risk, the danger is that with so many poor quality and fake batteries around there’s no doubt that incidents will continue to happen.”
When lithium-ion batteries catch fire it is called thermal runaway, a rapid, uncontrolled chemical reaction within the battery that causes the internal temperature to rise.
When one cell in a battery overheats it can produce enough heat – up to 900°C (1652°F) – to cause adjacent cells to overheat. This can cause a lithium battery fire to flare repeatedly.
Federal Aviation Administration data in the USA reveals that in just nine years battery-powered devices were involved in 113 incidents with “smoke, fire, extreme heat or explosion” on passenger and cargo planes.
The AvSax minimises that danger in seconds with its unique use of water.
The cabin crew will pour at least two litres of water into an AvSax and then drop the burning device into the bag. The water activates the polymer gel inside the bag causing it to expand around the device. Should the device keep on venting then the AvSax is tough enough to absorb the force.
The AvSax cools the batteries in the device, reducing the likelihood of the battery catching fire but if it does go into thermal runaway it is all contained within the bag. Amazingly the water is absorbed into the internal lining of the bag so the device is dry when it is removed.
The bags are being supplied to Delta Air Lines via a company called Viking Packing Specialist based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA.