January 31, 2023
Use of lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries has been on the rise for many use cases, especially in the automotive industry with the high adoption of EVs and HEVs (Hybrids). The growth over time is due to the fact that they are lightweight, have a high energy density, a long life span, better charge and discharge efficiency, and offer many other advantages over other battery chemistries.
While lithium-ion batteries provide a great solution to power EV and HEVs, they have unique safety challenges: When improperly handled, stored, or transported, they present hazard potentials, such as uncontrollable fires and heat burns.
As leaders in hybrid and electric aftermarket products, we want to ensure that our clients and customers are informed of these risks and have proper precautions and countermeasures in place. This blog is for informational purposes only; lithium-ion vehicle batteries are dangerous and hazardous material and should only be serviced by a trained professional.
Handling Li-ion batteries
When working with most EVs and newer HEVs, one will inevitably encounter lithium-ion batteries. To avoid injury, it’s important to know how to safely use and handle them.
First, no matter how experienced you are, it’s important to always wear safety equipment. This includes personal protective equipment (PPE), such as safety eyeglasses and speciality heat resistant gloves. It’s also recommended to remove jewelry that may potentially come in contact with battery terminals.
Choose a worksite that is free of combustible materials and preferably has a concrete floor and cinder block walls as well as adequate height and ventilation. Keep both a Class D fire extinguisher and a water fire extinguisher nearby. Use the former on a battery fire that has just started and the latter on a battery fire that has advanced and is getting hot.
Before working on the battery, ensure battery terminals are covered with insulating tape to prevent unintentional discharge, which can lead to short-circuiting and fires. Inspect batteries for damage, especially noting any cells with dents or punctures. Be aware of any leaks which are often detected as a sweet-smelling odor. Use a commercial absorbent material to contain any leaks and remember that the fluid and its vapor are very likely to be flammable. If a battery has signs of damage, properly dispose of it immediately. Damaged batteries can lead to internal failures that result in fires, even when handled properly.
When removing a battery from packaging or an enclosure, do not use excessive force or sharp tools. Puncturing a lithium-ion battery can lead to multiple safety hazards, including jets of flammable gas that can damage your skin and that will ignite into flames.
As a business, you should have documented instructions for handling, storing, and transporting lithium-ion batteries. This will help ensure that everyone within the organization understands how to properly handle lithium-ion batteries.
Storage of Lithium-Ion Batteries
Proper storage is just as important as properly handling batteries. Even batteries that are sitting in storage can catch fire or explode if not properly stored. A separate, stand-alone warehouse building is ideal.
Have a safe designated area where batteries will be stored that will minimize the risk of batteries being bumped, knocked over, or damaged in other ways. As we mentioned before, battery terminals should be covered to prevent unintentional contact. No other objects, especially heavy objects, should be stored on top of the batteries. Batteries must not be stacked one on top of each other. Ideally, each battery will be stored in its own bay, and each bay will have a firewall plus thermal insulation to isolate flames and heat. Also, set a reasonable limit on the storage density of batteries for a given warehouse space.
The batteries should be stored away from direct sunlight, heat sources, and water. Temperature can have a significant impact on the battery's performance and lifespan, so it is important to store the battery in an environment that is between 20-25°C (68-77°F). The area should also be dry, and well-ventilated, with fire suppression systems in place.
A balanced, lithium-ion battery retains its performance when stored above 20% state of charge [SOC]. However, safety concerns often direct batteries to remain under 50% for storage and shipping. Charge the lithium-ion battery between 20% and 50% SOC before storing it for an extended period of time. Check battery SOC every month to assure that it remains over 20%. Irreversible damage may occur when lithium-ion batteries are stored at low SOC for extended periods of time. This can result in loss of performance or worse, uncontrolled lithium plating on subsequent charging that in turn can cause fires.
The storage facility should have a Class D fire extinguisher, which is designed to extinguish fires involving combustible metals during the onset of a battery fire. However, it may not always be possible to address emergent fires in the storage facility. Once heat is generated, water fire extinguishers or water from fire suppression systems can help to reduce temperatures and douse any combustibles to reduce the risk of fire cascading to adjacent batteries. Additionally, there should be a fire-resistant container (e.g. metal drum) with sand or other extinguishing agent, to safely store damaged batteries for disposal.
Lastly, there should be an emergency action plan (EAP) where the batteries are stored. If a battery does catch on fire in the facility, safety measures will help protect employees from injury and reduce further damage.
Transporting Lithium-Ion Batteries
Transporting batteries can be more dangerous than simply storing or handling them. Mishandling batteries during transit can cause fires and potential explosions leading to extensive harm. Please refer to the link regarding US DOT guidelines for shippers found here.
Certification for shipping may be required. However, following the above regulations and applying common sense rules when planning to transport lithium-ion batteries. The first safety consideration is to select proper packaging. Packaging should be designed to ensure that battery terminals are covered and insulated throughout transport to prevent an inadvertent short circuit. Each battery should be placed in its own self-supporting packaging enclosure made of sturdy, non-conductive materials.
Additionally, lithium-ion batteries should be packed in a way that prevents damage from shifting and where other objects cannot damage them. This means securing the batteries and other packages in a way that moving and shifting will not occur during transit. Transporting damaged or swollen batteries can be dangerous and proper disposal of such units as battery waste should be considered instead.
Keep the batteries at a safe temperature during transport. Avoid exposing them to extreme heat or cold, as this can damage the batteries and increase the risk of a fire. It is also important to note that lithium-ion batteries should be transported with less than 30% state of charge, this will help to reduce over-discharge and the possibility of safety issues when the battery goes into service and cycles.
Lithium batteries are often regulated as hazardous materials. If you are transporting batteries in a country with regulations such as the U.S, make sure to abide by their regulations and requirements. For additional recommendations, you can visit the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration website. They’ve provided guidance on safely transporting lithium-ion batteries. (Find out more here)
NuVant LVC-30 (Lithium)
With more EVs and HEVs coming into the marketplace using lithium-ion batteries, A3 Global and NuVant Systems have started to work on our next generation of battery testers. We’re currently developing the NuVant LVC-30 to service the most common types of electric vehicle batteries.
The LVC-30 will allow a technician to identify faulty modules and cells within electric vehicles when their warranties have lapsed and the battery begins to lose its capacity. Like the EVc-30 (designed for NiMH batteries), the LVc-30 (Lithium) will have 30 channels and offers 3 to 10 V operational voltage range, allowing a battery pack to be processed with only 90 minutes of labor.
Here is what the LVC-30 first generation will be able to perform:
- Charge/discharge Li-ion modules and cells
- Identify weak cells (voltage, Ah capacity, internal res)
- Replace weak cells with balanced cells
Currently, the LVc-30 is in development and will be available for pre-order purchase in late 2023. To learn more about how we can help diagnose, service, repair, or replace your EV and HEV batteries, contact us here.