Proposed amendment F18-18 to the International Fire Code takes aim at “used and off-specification li-ion batteries.” If approved, electronic recyclers will be forced to reconfigure service, repair and transportation operations. Rather than focusing on the usability of used batteries, the ICC should instead, focus on better understanding types of defects that can lead to thermal events in li-ion batteries.
By: Craig Boswell
Earlier this year the International Code Council (ICC) failed to add a new section, amendment F18-18, to the International Fire Code (IFC) to address storage of new or off-specification li-ion batteries that would also include storage areas as high-hazard group H-2. However, the proposed amendment was rejected as the committee found issues with the package and container types, thermal runaway, ignition potential and unlimited area buildings. Currently, the amendment is under review and will be addressed at the ICC’s public comment hearing in Richmond, Virginia, scheduled for Oct. 24-31.
The proposed amendment imposes severe restrictions on how many “used and off-specification batteries” can be stored in a single indoor space. These restrictions would make the servicing, repairing and transporting of li-ion batteries extremely expensive, if not impossible.
For electronic recycling firms, amendment F18-18 has the potential to be severely damaging. Recyclers process a wide variety of consumer electronics – many of which contain li-ion batteries. The growing prominence of IoT and mobile devices is yielding more rechargeable li-ion batteries powering more devices and connected gadgets.
In other words, electronic recycling firms are constantly housing upwards of tens of thousands of li-ion batteries. Amendment F18-18 would easily impact how electronic recyclers handle and store li-ion batteries, and if applied, would lead to major, and potentially costly, operational changes.
However, while the ICC has a legitimate interest in regulating thermal events in li-ion batteries, they should be less concerned with whether a used battery is no longer suitable for their original function, and focus on better understanding the types of defects that can lead to thermal events.
In an effort to begin the discussion of how to properly handle different types of li-ion batteries, ISRI has conducted two sustainable materials management webinars to discuss collection strategies of li-ion batteries; testing for reuse for specific types of reusable batteries; and packing of batteries designed for recycling to meet Department of Transportation guidelines.
As the use of li-ion batteries grows, so will the thermal threat in the entire battery life cycle. However, thermal event risks can be managed effectively. Proper planning, risk assessment, storage methods, and response protocols can go a long way in managing thermal event risks of these batteries. If amendment F18-18 acknowledges differentiation between different types of li-ion batteries, used or not, and generates conversation to better understand how defects can lead to thermal events, the proposal could have the potential to advance safety standards for these devices. However, if F18-18 imposes restrictions on the handling, storage, and processing of these batteries that make the process uneconomical for electronics recycling firms, it could only serve to escalate the risk of processing these batteries as outlets for legitimate recycling processes are limited or non-existent.