Lithium-ion batteries are found in cell phones, laptops, and tablets. They’re also frequently found in devices used in the workplace, such as power tools, medical equipment, body cameras, and smart PPE.
Because lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable and can store a lot of energy in a small space, they’re ideal for many commercial applications.
However, the same features that make lithium-ion batteries so useful can also present a potential hazard. Since they contain so much energy, lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to overheating – which can lead to a fire or explosion.
Lithium batteries are generally safe, but there are a few things you should know in order to protect your workers and your facilities.
How lithium batteries work
To understand why lithium-ion batteries can pose a safety hazard, it can be helpful to understand how they work. Here’s a quick chemistry lesson!
- When the battery is put to use, chemicals inside the battery break apart and produce ions and electrons.
- These ions move from one end of the battery, generating a flow of electrons in order to release energy.
- In regular batteries, this process can only happen once before the battery becomes useless.
- However, the chargers used for lithium-ion batteries solve this problem by using another power source to move the ions in the opposite direction. This restores the battery’s energy so it can be used again.
- Over time, this process wears out the battery. Eventually, it loses its ability to hold a charge.
Why lithium-ion batteries fail
Lithium-ion battery failures are rare — only about two or three battery packs per million. In fact, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than suffer a battery-related incident!
However, problems can pop up when batteries suffer damage or contain manufacturing defects. For example, lithium-ion batteries in equipment can get damaged if they’re exposed to water or high temperatures. Or, they can get dropped, crushed, or punctured. Sometimes, batteries get damaged when trying to remove them from devices using too much force.
When lithium-ion batteries fail, the heat released causes a chain reaction known as thermal runaway. This rapid release of heat and energy is what causes fires and explosions.
Lithium-ion battery safety precautions
Fortunately, most of the risks from lithium-ion batteries in the workplace are easily avoidable or manageable by following a few simple precautions:
- Only buy batteries from a reputable manufacturer or supplier.
- Unplug devices when they are fully charged to avoid overheating.
- Store batteries in a cool, dry place away from flammable materials.
- If you notice that a battery is damaged, leaking, bulging, or overheating, immediately remove the device from service and place it in a non-flammable material such as Cell Block.
- Never throw lithium-ion batteries in the trash. Contact the experts at Battery Recyclers of America for proper disposal.
The bottom line
Lithium-ion batteries are a safe and dependable source of energy both at home and on the job. By understanding how these batteries work, their potential hazards, and appropriate precautions, you can reduce the chances of a battery fire or accident.
And when the time comes that your lithium batteries can’t do the job anymore, Battery Recyclers of America is here to help you recycle them safely and in compliance with all applicable regulations. Best of all, we handle pickup and transportation so you don’t have to worry about it. Contact our team today!