Recent findings have shown an increase in the number of fires caused by Lithium Ion batteries, specifically in materials recovery facilities (MRFs). Last month’s U.S. EPA report concluded that 64 waste facilities experienced a total of 245 fires caused by, or likely caused by, LIBs or lithium metal between 2013 and 2020. The report states, “Our findings indicate that LIB fires are happening across the full spectrum of the waste management process, but MRFs appear to have faced the brunt of the negative impacts.” Of the facilities affected by LIB fires, MRFs were also reported to have had the highest incident of service disruption.
Lithium Ion batteries can be found in many of our everyday electronics such as, cell phones, laptops, wireless headphones, tablets, and even calculators, but the risk comes with damage to the battery while being recycled, if not spotted in time. The report concludes that one of the most common causes of the fires is damage to the battery, and includes details of how the fires are sparked, and processes that could lead to battery damage and potential fires.
The report states, “When a battery casing is punctured, crushed, or otherwise mechanically damaged, the separator may be pierced. If the separator is breached, a short circuit can develop as the anode and cathode come into contact, allowing the LIB’s stored energy to be rapidly released. This short circuit creates heat buildup, which can then trigger thermal runaway in other cells.”
The IT asset disposition process can be especially dangerous and lead to batteries being jostled or bumped by other pieces of hardware, resulting in a battery unexpectedly releasing its stored energy and beginning the self-heating process which can lead to combustion. HOBI International Inc. follows an established set of industry safety standards in regards to the potential LIB fire risk including a list of safe, approved tools and procedures used in the battery removal process. HOBI believes that a potential solution lies in the development of a mechanism capable of determining the discharge of lithium-ion batteries or discharging the battery at a quick but safe rate.
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