From tiny nickel cadmium button batteries to rechargeable power packs for tools and electronics, you probably use and store plenty of batteries to power everyday operations at your facility. But, as new types of batteries enter the market and are used throughout industry, practices for safe storage, use and handling may need to be developed and reviewed.
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are one example of these new battery technologies. They are lightweight, have a high energy density and can be recharged many times. In addition to electronics and flashlights, Li-ion batteries are used in portable tools and even to power vehicles.
Li-ion batteries contain an anode, cathode and electrolyte. These components are arranged within a casing that allows the battery to function normally. But, if the battery is stored incorrectly or handled improperly, it can become hazardous.
This article will teach you how to handle, store, ship and dispose of damaged lithium-ion batteries. It will also provide background information on the dangers associated with Li-ion batteries and some tips on how you can prevent battery damage.
Caring for Damaged, Defective, Broken or Recalled Li-ion Batteries
How to Store Damaged Lithium-ion Batteries
Damaged Li-ion batteries have the potential to leak electrolyte, so it’s important to wear proper PPE (goggles, gloves, apron, etc.) during handling. For safe storage while awaiting proper disposal, place the battery in a container of sand or another chemically-inert cushioning material. Do not place damaged batteries in the regular trash or recycling containers.
Damaged Lithium-ion Battery Disposal
Are Lithium-ion Batteries Hazardous Waste?
When lithium-ion batteries are at your facility, the EPA classifies them as universal waste (you can also choose to manage them as RCRA-regulated hazardous waste). When they are managed as universal waste, they need to be sent to a recycler — not a landfill.
The DOT also has a say in how you manage your lithium-ion batteries. Once your Li-ion batteries are on the dock and you’ve made shipping arrangements, you need to abide by DOT Hazardous Materials Regulations.
Shipping Damaged Lithium-ion Batteries
A question we frequently hear from customers is, “How do you dispose of a broken lithium-ion battery?” Damaged, defective, broken and recalled Li-ion batteries must be properly packaged and shipped so that they will not create safety problems during transportation. Facilities that offer these batteries for transport must follow the provisions in 49 CFR 173.185 when preparing these items for shipment.
These provisions can be met by taking steps such as using a UN Rated container with lid, affixing a Class 9 hazard label and surrounding the bagged battery in vermiculite. The shipment must be marked with an appropriate UN shipping label and other required markings.
Lithium-ion Battery Hazards
Two questions we hear often are: “What happens if you break a lithium-ion battery?” and “What are the dangers of lithium-ion batteries?”
Broken or cracked cases can allow moisture and oxygen to enter the battery and oxidize the lithium components, causing a heat reaction. This can lead to fires or explosions. Overheating, overcharging and shock from dropping or crushing can also cause heat reactions to occur.
Li-ion batteries that overheat, have an odor, are discolored, deformed, bulging or swollen should be immediately removed from service and isolated.
Li-ion Battery Fires
Overcharged, overheated and damaged Li-ion batteries have the potential to catch fire because the lithium components of the battery are susceptible to oxidation. The electrolyte in the battery, which is usually composed of lithium salts and organic solvents, is also flammable. Lithium-ion battery fires can be hard to extinguish and can release irritating vapors and toxic fumes.
Areas where Li-ion batteries are stored and used should be equipped with Class D fire extinguishers, and employees who will be expected to fight incipient lithium-ion battery fires must be trained on how to use the extinguishers. Dry chemical and foam extinguishers may also be used. As with any fire, if it has progressed beyond the incipient stage, it should be fought by a trained fire brigade or fire response team.
FAQ on Handling and Storing Lithium-Ion Batteries
What Are Some Tips for Safely Handling Li-ion Batteries?
Improper handling can cause damage to batteries, which may lead to overheating, fires or explosions. Here are our tips for proper Li-ion handling:
- Remove batteries from devices that will not be used for an extended time
- Keep batteries away from electromagnetic sources
- Keep batteries intact
- Isolate batteries that show any signs of damage
- Drop or crush the battery pack
- Use batteries that are bulging, dented, swollen, leaking or damaged in any way
- Puncture battery cases
- Modify the battery in any way
How Should Lithium-ion Batteries be Stored?
Proper storage prevents damage to batteries and prolongs their life expectancy (typically 1-3 years). Follow these battery storage do’s and don’ts:
- Store in well-ventilated areas
- Store in temperatures between 40ºF and 80ºF
- Store away from direct sunlight and heat sources
- Avoid freezing
- Keep terminals covered when battery is not in use
- Prevent terminals from touching each other
- Keep away from high temperatures
- Mix with other types of batteries
- Store loosely
- Allow batteries to get wet
- Store in vehicles
- Store in areas with wide temperature fluctuation
- Store in hot areas
How Do I Clean Up a Lithium-ion Battery Spill?
If the electrolyte from a damaged Li-ion battery spills out of a battery pack, it can present hazards to anyone in the area and those responding to the spill. Use the following precautions and procedures to clean up a lithium-ion spill:
- Isolate and ventilate the area
- Wear proper PPE (goggles, gloves, apron, etc.)
- Keep an appropriate fire extinguisher within reach
- Place the battery in a container of sand or another chemically-inert cushioning material like vermiculite
- Use inert, non-cellulose absorbents to clean up spilled electrolyte
- Place used absorbents and PPE in a sealed bag and contact your environmental or shipping officer for proper disposal of the battery and absorbents
- Do not place batteries or spent absorbents in the regular trash or recycling containers
Lithium-ion batteries have many advantages over traditional alkaline and other types of batteries. When stored, handled and used properly, they also have a longer service life than other batteries and pack more power. Establishing and following safe procedures for storing, handling and use of these batteries will help prevent fires and explosions. Training employees to recognize the hazards of Li-ion and other types of batteries as well as how to handle, store and manage them properly will help to avoid damage to the batteries, fires and explosions.