How many lithium batteries do you have at home? At work? For the most part, you are probably unable to give an exact number. Indeed, you would be surprised at the number of devices that contain lithium batteries.
These batteries are such a part of our daily lives that we forget that the energy generated is produced by a chemical reaction and that the substances that compose them are dangerous. It is therefore necessary to use them in the right way, even at the end of their life, because it is not because a battery is “dead” that the hazards have disappeared.
Did you know that according to fire safety firm Fire Rover, there are nearly 1,000 incidents involving lithium batteries each year at material recovery facilities across the United States and Canada (Kamczyc, 20231)? In Quebec, more than 90% of sorting centre fires are caused by electronic waste containing lithium batteries, whereas these batteries should never be put in our recycling bins (Tricentris, 20212). Lithium batteries are also the cause of several residential fires each year.
Recently, we audited the main Ecocentre of the Rivière-Du-Nord’s MRC, the one in Saint-Jérôme. The audit focused on the safe storage of hazardous materials and the TDG and WHMIS compliance. According to the Centre’s Director, Mr. Bruyère, batteries are a considerable issue due to the imminent risk of fire. Therefore, in a series of three separate publications, we will give you the explanations for these fires and some solutions for safe storage.
In today’s blog, we will discuss the hazards associated with lithium batteries and explain the causes of the many fires.
From a chemical point of view, lithium reacts violently in contact with water
2Li + 2H2O → 2Li+OH- + H2(g) + Heat
This reaction produces hydrogen gas, a highly flammable product that can ignite in contact with air and, when heated, there is a possibility of explosion.
Don’t panic! You should know that when your batteries are new and/or in good condition, their protective case makes them completely safe for the prescribed use. Hazards arise when they are misused or damaged. So, to have contact between the lithium and water or moisture, your battery must suffer physical damage that will break the integrity of the protective case.
The other major hazard associated with lithium batteries is overheating or thermal runaway which can degenerate into smoke, fire and even explosion. Thermal runaways can come from several sources including the use of the wrong charger with a voltage or amperage poorly adapted to your device, an overload, an internal or external short circuit, an elevated outside temperature and even a simple charge following a complete discharge of your battery. Ideally, you should always stay close to your devices when charging.
Lithium batteries should therefore be treated carefully from their purchase to their disposal.
Follow our next blog in 2 weeks about the safe storage and disposal of lithium batteries to limit these fires.
For information on our training on this subject, contact us at 450 906-6999
1 Kamczyc, A. (2023, March 22). Fire incidents increased at waste, recycling facilities in 2022. Recycling Today. https://recyclingtoday.com/news/fire-incidents-increase-waste-recycling-facilities-2022/
2 Tricentris. (2021, August 26). Les piles au lithium font exploser le nombre d’incendies dans les centres de tri. Le Tricentris Express. https://www.tricentris.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Tricentris_Express_Aout_2021_WEB.pdf