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Safe Storage of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are a relatively new technology. However, since their introduction in the early 1990s, they have gradually replaced old technologies. Lithium-based batteries offer high performance with a compact design. These advantages mean they are being increasingly used in electronic devices and vehicles.

Alongside these advantages, this technology also poses safety risks. The hazard potential of incorrectly handling lithium-ion batteries is exceptionally high. Explosions and fires of lithium-ion batteries can have disastrous consequences, causing expensive damage and, in the worst case, costing lives.

In our guide, we closely examine the potential dangers of lithium-ion batteries and give you some valuable tips for their storage.

How a lithium-ion battery works

Understanding how lithium batteries work can be beneficial to evaluate the potential hazards associated with lithium batteries. Lithium is used in a pure or bonded form in many different types of batteries. Lithium cells are divided into primary (non-rechargeable) and secondary (rechargeable) cells. A battery pack is made up of several cells depending on capacity.

Each lithium cell has a positive and a negative electrode, the anode and the cathode. Between them, there is an ion-conducting electrolyte. This ensures the transport of the lithium ions between the electrodes during the charging and discharging processes. The separator is also an essential part of the device. It stops direct contact between the anode and cathode, preventing a short circuit.

Lithium ions and electrons are released on the anode side during the discharging process. The electrons flow through the external circuit and perform the electrical work. At the same time, the lithium ions cross through the electrolyte fluid and the separator over to the cathode.

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How dangerous are lithium-ion batteries?

Lithium batteries can present a considerable safety hazard if incorrectly handled or stored. In addition, factory defects or contamination can pose safety risks. Deep discharge, fire, chemical reactions – each situation means a risk for workers, companies and the environment.

Some common issues with lithium-ion batteries are:

Fire hazard due to thermal runaway

If cells overheat, there is a risk of thermal runaway. Thermal runaway can be triggered by many things, from thermal loads to mechanical damage or factory defects. This exothermic reaction can ignite the stored lithium and cause a scorching fire that produces its oxygen.

High levels of heat energy vaporize the electrolyte fluid, creating additional heat and combustible gases. If the ignition temperature for a gas is exceeded, it will ignite and set fire to the battery. Thermal propagation can create a devastating chain reaction. Once set in motion, it only takes a few minutes until the battery burns and explodes.

Fire hazard due to deep discharge

Lithium-ion batteries can completely discharge if they are not used for a long time. Decomposition of the electrolyte liquid can lead to the formation of easily combustible gases. If an attempt is made to recharge the deeply discharged lithium-ion cells, the supplied energy can no longer be correctly converted due to insufficient electrolyte fluid. Deep discharge can result in a short circuit or fire.

Fire hazard due to mechanical deformation

When handling lithium-ion batteries, there is always a risk of damaging them. Collisions with operating vehicles or a fall on hard ground are just a few examples. If cells are deformed, this can lead to internal short-circuiting and fire of the battery. In rare cases, it is possible that particles that are falsely released into the cell during production can damage them from the inside over time. Here, too, internal short circuits can occur.

Suppressing lithium-ion battery fires

When a lithium-ion battery burns, it generates its oxygen. Only special suppression powders and granules are suitable for combating Class D fires, which are classified by the presence of burning metals.

It is recommended to stock suppression powder or granules in sufficient quantities as a preventative measure. Oxygen is displaced and separated from the fuel by covering the fire load with granules. Like glass, the granules melt at a specific temperature. The granules absorb heat as melting energy, cooling the fire. Additionally, an impermeable envelope is formed over the fire load. A reaction with oxygen is effectively prevented.

The outbreak of fire is not the only risk involved with lithium batteries. If there is a reaction, hazardous substances such as hydrochloric or hydrofluoric acids can be released from inside the cell. This may appear as vapour, which could injure workers through skin contact or inhalation.

Measures for loss prevention

Avoid thermal stress

Avoid thermal stress

Use only suitable chargers

Caution on loading

Avoid damage

The storage of lithium-ion batteries poses a dilemma for many companies because there is no unified legislation. Safety measures can be taken depending on the individual case to avoid and limit damage. Generally, the potential risk associated with lithium batteries increases as the amount of energy stored by the batteries increases and the number held increases.

  • Keep these tips in mind when storing or transporting lithium-ion batteries:

  • Observe manufacturer’s instructions (technical product datasheets)

  • Protect battery poles from short circuits.

  • Protect from mechanical deformation.

  • Do not expose to direct and long-term high temperatures or heat sources (including direct sunlight)

  • Ensure structural or spatial separation (min. 2.5 m) from other combustible materials if no automatic extinguishing equipment is present.

  • Ensure damaged batteries are removed immediately from storage and production areas (store at a safe distance or in a fire-rated location until they are disposed of)

Specialized Solutions by DENIOS

We are happy to support you in selecting the best combination for your needs. For over 30 years, we have provided expert advice on the safe storage of hazardous goods and offer the highest levels of fire protection.

The new generation of storage solutions

Based on the proven technology of our hazardous substance cabinets, a robust system was developed for the remarkable hazard potential of storing lithium batteries. With double-sided fire protection, the SafeStore fulfills the increased requirements that property insurers place on the storage of lithium batteries.

Two tried and tested sizes with three to six storage levels provide tailored capacity for smaller and larger medium-power batteries. Height-adjustable heavy-duty grid floors (397 lbs load capacity) provide the necessary flexibility. A tested, liquid-tight spill tray (powder-coated sheet steel) absorbs any leaking sparks from burning batteries.

The SafeStore has these basic features:

  • 90 minutes fire protection
  • Stable, high-quality and scratch-resistant outer shell
  • Lockable doors by means of profile cylinders
  • Integrated lock status indicator (red / green)
  • Integrated transport base with optional plinth panel
  • Bottom tray
We are happy to advise you!

Tailor-made advice, and service fulfillment. Our advisors walk the additional mile. Take advantage of our phone, mail, or on-premise service offers.

Expert advice 01952 811 991

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