Between 2012 and 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Risk Management System reported over 25,000 problems with overheated or failed batteries in more than 400 types of rechargeable or electric devices. You may have heard of some of these complaints. Laptop batteries that overheat and start a fire, e-bike batteries that start fires, or the most recent one out of NYC where a mobility scooter appears to have started the building fire that injured more than two dozen residents.
When a lithium-ion battery fails and starts a fire, it is frightening. Every expert says in a cold climate, they need to be stored at room temperature to prevent them from freezing. So, you bring them into your house for the winter. Suddenly, you’re walking through a room and see smoke and smell what can only be described as burning plastic and the worst chemical smell you can imagine.
Your every instinct is to grab water. Don’t! Never use water as lithium-ion batteries and water are not a good mix. A bucket of sand is better. You may want to get that battery out of the house, but warning labels tell you not to touch it as it could explode. Often, a battery fire starts in one cell. You may be safe getting fire-proof wood stove gloves and getting the battery outside, but it’s risky. If you can get it outside, set it away from the home, trees, cars, or other structures and try to put it in sand or a firepit.
What’s best is that if you find yourself in this situation, get outside. Call your fire department and explain the situation. You’ll be told to evacuate the home or building if you haven’t already. You don’t want to breathe that smoke. Modern batteries have safety features to prevent this from happening, but nothing is foolproof. You have to focus on your safety first.
What do you do to prevent a disastrous fire caused by an improperly stored or failed lithium-ion battery? Here are the best ways to lower your risk of ever having to experience this type of fire.
Store Batteries and Devices in a Fire-Proof, Smoke-Proof Bag or Cabinet
Go online and look for products like Lipo storage bags or cases. This fire-proof, smoke-proof case keeps you safe from a fire if anything happens. Should a battery start to go, the bag keeps any fire or fumes from spreading through your home or business. They’re not overly expensive and are sold in online retailers and some home improvement stores.
If you store a lot of batteries at your worksite, invest in a storage cabinet designed for secure storage of lithium-ion batteries and rechargeable power tools. Ensure all battery packs are stored in these bags when not in use. You can also store cell phones, laptops, and other rechargeable devices in these bags for your safety.
Store Them Under the Right Conditions
Make sure you’re storing your batteries in a dry location that’s room temperature. Aim for a dry room with a temperature between 40 ºF to 80 ºF. Don’t let them freeze or sit in a very humid area. If your garage gets colder than 32ºF, move them to an indoor storage area or basement that’s warmer. If you do bring them inside, make sure you have them in a Lipo storage bag or case.
Check Their Charge Periodically
If you have lithium-ion battery packs that don’t get used all winter, check the charge periodically. Make sure they’re not fully drained. Keep them charged. If they haven’t been used in half a year, put them to work. Make sure they’re not sitting at a full charge for months on end. If this means taking an electric mower battery and using it in an electric snow thrower, do that.
While you’re checking the charge, look for any signs of a bad battery. Is the battery bulging? Does it have a spot of melted plastic? Is there a crack in the case? If so, recycle it ASAP. Take photos if needed to put in a warranty claim.
Don’t Leave Devices Plugged in 24/7
When you’re charging them, remove them from the charger when they reach 100%. Don’t leave a device like a phone or a laptop plugged in 24/7 when the battery is fully charged. Unplug devices that are not in use and store them in a fire-proof bag until you need them again.
When you charge your laptop, phone, e-reader, tools, or other rechargeable devices, do it when you’re awake and at home. Don’t charge things when you’re sleeping or outside the home.
Sign Up for Recall Notices
Pay attention to recalls. You can find them on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Recalls page. Search by date, brand, and product, or read them all. You can also sign up for emails. Make sure you register the products you buy that use lithium-ion batteries to ensure you get recall notices from the manufacturer.
Recycle Dead or Malfunctioning Lithium-Ion Batteries ASAP
As soon as a battery isn’t holding much charge, recycle it properly. If you have a new battery that flashes an error when you try to charge it, it could be in sleep mode or faulty and needs to be returned for a replacement.
Life gets hectic. We all know there are businesses and homeowners that let unused electronic devices and rechargeable batteries pile up in closets, garages, basements, etc. Don’t! Start recycling batteries as soon as they’re no longer used or holding a charge.
If the battery is still under warranty, call the manufacturer. Most will send a replacement battery for no charge. If they do offer this, demand that they take back the defective battery. Most are supposed to, but it doesn’t always happen. If they refuse, ask them where to go. Home Depot is one of several retailers with battery recycling boxes. Put the battery in a freezer bag and cover the terminals with electrical tape.
Some Recycling Facilities Will Not Touch a Damaged Battery
What if the battery has been damaged or caught fire? If your fire department doesn’t take it, they will tell you what to do with it. You may be advised to put the battery in a freezer bag, seal it up, put it in a box, and wrap that box in a trash bag to keep out all water. At that point, you’ll make an appointment or bring the box to a facility that recycles batteries.
Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay a fee to recycle a damaged battery, it happens. They’ll refer to it as hazardous waste or hazard fee. If you’re charged this, ask why? Your state may have rules in place that require the manufacturer to pay for battery recycling. If your state is one of them, the manufacturer should pay for any hazardous waste fee. The only restriction may be if you deliberately altered or damaged the battery
Do you have a lot of lithium-ion batteries to recycle at your business? ERI can help you. Our OneDrum solution allows you to package up and return large numbers of mixed batteries without needing special permits or labels. Our OneDrum is an all-in-one solution that allows you to return every type of battery with postage-paid labels and tracking services included. Learn more by calling our team or sending an email.