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How to Safely Store Lithium Ion Batteries

In today’s world, we expect much from our smart phones. A key feature for most buyers is long battery lives and quick charging times. But, this stretches lithium ion technology to its limits. Not even global tech companies are immune, as seen in 2016 with the Galaxy Note 7. After a number of lithium ion batteries in those phones exploded or caught fire, Samsung issued a global recall and ceased production of the device. It cost them billions in revenue. Battery defects and design flaws were the reported reason.

Lithium ion batteries are a type of rechargeable batteries. They operate when lithium ions travel between the anode and cathode of the battery in an electrolyte solution and through a separator. If the battery charges too fast, lithium can form plates around the anode causing a short circuit. Manufacturing defects can also cause problems when tiny metal fragments cause short circuits or minute holes form in the separator.

Many lithium ion batteries are a combination of cells. During a thermal runaway one overheating cell can set off the next, leading to a chain reaction of overheating and fire.

Industries that Use Lithium Ion Batteries

Besides cell phones, many other products use lithium ion batteries. Some applications require batteries on standby to switch with depleted batteries. This ensures tools and equipment are constantly available to users while spare batteries are charging. Other common applications that may need backup batteries in storage include:

  • Radios for industrial sites, medical and police crews
  • Power tools in workshops and manufacturing plants as well as construction sites
  • Military equipment like drones and UAVs
  • High-powered digital cameras for news and media outlets
  • Medical devices such as automatic external defibrillators, robotic cameras, infusion pumps and more

Tips for Safe Lithium Ion Battery Storage

Currently, neither NFPA nor OSHA have issued standards for safe lithium ion battery storage. While fire codes address Stationary Storage Battery Systems or ESS (energy storage systems), there is little written about safe storage of small appliance type battery inventories. Lithium ion batteries can cause exothermic reactions, thermal runaway, release of volatile gas, fire and explosions. We recommend the following guidelines when storing these batteries:

  1. Store cells in their original containers when practical.
  2. Store the cells in a well-ventilated, dry area. The temperature should be as cool as recommended to maximize shelf-life. Observe the manufacturer’s minimum and maximum storage temperatures.
  3. Take care so battery contacts do not short circuit. If manufacturer’s guard is missing, install electrical tape over battery contacts.
  4. Store the cells in an isolated area, away from flammable and combustible materials. Store depleted cells in an area separate from fresh cells.
  5. Keep an ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher for lithium-ion batteries (rechargeable) accessible to the storage area.
  6. Never stack heavy objects on top of boxes containing lithium batteries to preclude crushing or puncturing the cell case. Severe damage can lead to internal short circuits, resulting in a fire.
  7. Properly dispose of damaged batteries.

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