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Lithium battery in a Honeywell portable gas detector

Risks related to lithium batteries

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Lithium batteries exist in two technologies: lithium ion batteries and lithium metal batteries. This type of battery can be found in a large number of everyday devices: smartphones, laptops, cars, handling equipment, electric scooters or bicycles, etc., but also in portable gas detectors. Several types of accidents can occur due to a lithium battery. It is important to be able to identify the risks and prevent them.

In this article, we review everything you need to know about the risks associated with lithium batteries.


News related to lithium batteries

This month in Seine-Maritime, a fire broke out in a Bolloré Logistics warehouse near Rouen. It was a fire of lithium batteries, stored in a warehouse of about 20 000 m². 12 000 lithium batteries would have burned (see video below). Thanks to the technology of the G7 EXO beacon by Blackline Safety, firefighters were able to map the scene and define the measures to be taken for the health and safety of the inhabitants.

Fire in a lithium battery factory - January 2023

Fire in a lithium battery factory - January 2023

1. The difference between battery and cell

The battery and the cell are composed in the same way: two electrodes with a positive pole and a negative pole, in a solution called electrolyte, which acts as a conductor and thus causes a chemical reaction allowing the production of energy. On the other hand, for a battery, the chemical reaction is reversible and therefore allows it to be recharged.

The terms "cell" and "battery" are therefore used for two different things:

  • A "pile" represents a disposable or recyclable object when it is discharged.
  • A "battery" represents more an assembly of accumulators, allowing a greater reserve of energy

2. Know the risks of lithium batteries

Lithium batteries, which are used in many devices, present several risks, which differ depending on the context. Indeed, the risks during a malfunction are much higher than those during a normal operation.

2.1. Risks in normal operation

Even in normal operation, there are several risks associated with lithium batteries.

  • Electrical risk

An electrification, an electric flash or even an electrocution can be caused by a lithium battery. Depending on the voltage of the battery, the consequences can be amplified: tetany of the respiratory muscles, heart rhythm disorders, burns, etc., which can even lead to death.

  • Risk related to handling

If the battery is bulky and/or heavy (in the case of a lithium battery for a vehicle for example), it can lead to consequences due to handling, such as musculoskeletal disorders, lumbar injuries, crushing, etc.

2.2. Risks in case of malfunction

In the case of a malfunction, the risks present are different.

  • Chemical risk

If the battery is damaged, electrolyte leakage may occur. Gaseous emissions may also occur. Depending on the nature of the electrolyte, the health effects will be different: damage to certain organs (bones, kidneys, etc.), skin burns, serious eye damage, skin allergies, etc. The toxicity of the electrolyte can also have long-term carcinogenic effects.

  • Fire/explosion risk

Following a triggering element, a lithium battery can catch fire or even explode. Indeed, some components of a battery are very reactive, and can react quickly following a heating, a spark, a short-circuit, etc.

  • ATEX risk

The ATEX risk appears only in case of leakage or piercing of the battery. Indeed, the released electrolyte is a flammable fuel. However, the ATEX zone will be relatively small since the quantities released are small.

Damaged lithium battery, which has swollen

3. Prevention against the risks of lithium batteries

  • Handling of lithium batteries

When handling lithium batteries, special care should be taken not to drop or bump them. Indeed, it is generally shocks that cause leaks. The environment is also important: do not expose them to heat sources or temperatures that are too high or too low, to sunlight or to humidity. Damaged batteries must be separated from other batteries. The battery terminals must be protected to prevent direct contact or short circuits.

  • Storage of lithium batteries

First of all, it is essential to respect the storage recommendations of the supplier. The recommended temperature ranges and charging rates must be observed. Lithium batteries must be stored away from heat, cold and humidity. Storage areas or rooms should be clearly identified, marked and uncluttered. These areas must also be ventilated (mechanically or naturally).

In order to best store lithium batteries, storage cabinets may be recommended. These have several advantages:

  1. Possibility of a charging station
  2. Firewall
  3. With retention tanks
  4. Ventilation and discharge outside the room
  5. Integrated alarm system

It is also recommended to install additional means of extinction.

  • Lithium battery charging

Several precautions should be considered when charging:

  1. Never charge a battery that appears damaged
  2. Always use the original charger or a suitable charger
  3. Do not leave a charged battery unattended
  4. Do not cover a charged battery
  5. Do not leave a charged battery connected
  6. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for charge and discharge rates

4. Regulations concerning lithium batteries

4. Regulations concerning lithium batteries

4.1. Transport

Lithium batteries are classified as hazardous materials. They must be identified by a UN number:

  • UN 3090: lithium metal battery
  • UN 3091: lithium metal battery in equipment
  • UN 3480: lithium ion battery
  • UN 3481: lithium ion battery in equipment
  • UN 3536: lithium battery in transport equipment

Lithium batteries must therefore be treated like any other dangerous product. Thus, several regulations must be respected, in particular concerning the transport of lithium batteries:

  • Add the words "Lithium batteries for recycling/disposal".
  • Attach the transport document for hazardous waste tracking.
  • In the case of a damaged battery, add the words "Damaged/defective lithium battery".

4.2. Training

Beyond the transport of lithium batteries, it is essential that the personnel handling these devices be trained and made aware of the various existing risks. This type of training targets several skills:

  • Acquire the basic knowledge of the transport of dangerous goods,
  • Prevent accidents related to the transport of hazardous materials,
  • Know the obligations and responsibilities during the transport of hazardous materials,
  • Obtain the status of specialized driver

5. The shipment of lithium batteries

5. The shipment of lithium batteries

At BE ATEX, we always make sure that your material is transported correctly and safely. To do so, we do not subcontract this activity to an external organization. In fact, our logistics team is authorized by organizations for the shipment and export of hazardous materials such as lithium batteries. Depending on the mode of transport, several certifications may be required:

  • ADR certification, relating to the international transport of dangerous goods by road.
  • IMDG certification, relating to the maritime transport of dangerous goods.
  • IATA certification, relating to the air transport of dangerous goods.

Thanks to these certifications obtained by our logisticians, at BE ATEX, we handle the packaging and shipping of your hazardous materials directly in-house.

When transporting a lithium battery, there are several things that must be stated on the packaging and on the transport documents:

  • The UN number (see above)
  • The classification code "9 (miscellaneous dangerous substances and articles) - M4 (lithium batteries)

When you receive a portable gas detector equipped with a lithium battery, the packaging looks like this:

When transporting a lithium battery, several concepts must be indicated on the packaging and on the transport documents:

> The UN number:

  • UN 3090: lithium metal battery
  • UN 3091: lithium metal battery in equipment
  • UN 3480: lithium ion battery
  • UN 3481: lithium ion battery in equipment
  • UN 3536: lithium battery in transport equipment

> The classification code "9 (miscellaneous hazardous materials and articles) - M4 (lithium batteries)


6. Recycling of lithium batteries

The regulations concerning batteries and battery waste (Directive 2006/66/EC) are as follows:

1. Sets targets for efficiency, recycling and recovery in Europe:

> Recycling of lithium-ion batteries: 65% of batteries recycled in 2025 and 70% in 2023, according to the Order of 9 November 2009

2. Defines main safety parameters:

> Implementation of tests to evaluate the safety performance of the battery

> Assessment in case of overcharge, short-circuit, overheating, thermal propagation, mechanical damage, abusive temperatures, etc.

At BE ATEX, lithium batteries are disposed of by our logistics team in a professional waste disposal facility.

Titre du push

The different devices with a lithium battery

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