Lithium-ion batteries for vehicle traction is one of the hottest topics in the automotive world, with many unofficial experts creating the wildest stories and with the least information to find.
Li-ion batteries are rather new technology, but they find their way to our households everywhere. The non-traction types can be found in cell phones and laptops and other devices. The traction types are found in bicycles, cars (electrical vehicles and hybrid vehicles: EV or H/EV) but also toys like hoverboards.
With reference to the climate (where probably the environment should be mentioned) to prevent direct emissions (direct, as the power to charge them is almost always of fossil origin anyway), we must admit, the radius may be limited but the acceleration of an EV is phenomenal. But batteries (the Li-ion type) cannot be ignored or denied any longer as they are everywhere and EV ELVs start to enter our businesses.
So where do we find information about these batteries?
We hear many stories, but we need solid information. What should we pay extra attention to? Most dismantlers have heard of IDIS. IDIS provides rather good information about batteries. Described is the system and how to dismantle batteries from hybrids and EVs. When the information is incomplete or wrong, IDIS is easy to approach and listens to your comments and will adjust the information. But this information is limited to dismantling and high voltage. No directions or tips for storage are given and about flammability of damaged batteries. Transport is regulated in ADR legislation, but storage isn’t. In some EPR schemes reference is made to collectors and recyclers and some provide transport containers that can be used for temporary storage, but that’s about it.
What do we need to be aware of when handling EVs or batteries and what are the characteristics of these batteries?
First there’s the high voltage. Li-ion is able to store a lot of energy in relatively low weight, compared to lead-acid batteries or other conventional types. They can also be charged rather quickly. Also Li-ion batteries want to decharge quickly, so regulation technology is necessary. For this there’s always some electronics on Li-ion batteries, easy to recognise by the lights that are always on them, even when they are used as starter batteries, almost looking like lead-acid ones. A lot of safety features are built in to Li-ion batteries and as said, information is in IDIS and most training teaches how to disconnect and secure the high voltage systems.
The other typical characteristic is the flammability of the electrolyte in the cells. It burns by itself when released from the cells. And when it burns, it does so at a temperature of 1200°C and is not to be extinguished. It will light up again and again until it has completely burned out.
When is a Li-ion battery prone to catch fire?
- When it’s damaged. This is visible. It could be hit and cracked or dented, or it can come out of a burned vehicle. Leaking Li-ion batteries smell a bit like soap. Even if the battery didn’t burn itself, the heat can have it affected.
- Overcharging. This can only be measured. The battery is unstable and can catch fire at an unpredictable moment.
- Undercharging. Almost empty, a battery can become unstable too. By simply charging the battery, will this stabilise it? Nobody knows. Measure it.
- Another way of detecting unstable batteries is feeling if they are getting warm while nothing is done. A spontaneous warming up is alarming. Always secure it and have it collected right away.
What we advise, is to have a suspect battery leave the yard as soon as possible. Dismantle it as soon as possible and have it collected by an authorised collector. Your EPR network knows, the producer of the brand knows. Avoid a Li-ion fire. Leave damaged EV’s outside if the battery is suspected. Storing it inside may burn down your complex and even your neighbour’s. Make sure even when stored outside, in case of fire it cannot expand to anything else, ensure it can be reached easily by emergency services (they may be able to protect everything else around the fire) and it can burn out without damaging anything else. The same counts for a dismantled unstable battery.
We need to have respect for them and recognise them as they are. Good batteries are great for trade. Even batteries that are under 80% capacity can be refurbished by specialists or rebuilt to energy storage systems. As long as cells in the battery pack can store energy, there’s a goal for them which is very sustainable. Just don’t ‘tinker’ with them and make bad ones or suspected ones leave your yard before anything happens. Store the good ones in such a way that they are protected from anything around them. Do not store them with other goods, avoid other activities such as charging in the same room where used batteries are stored.
In some countries working groups are busy trying to find out what’s the best way to store them. Make sure you are in such groups, before ineffective very expensive measures are advised. It’s possible to handle them in a safe way, but as long as there are no directions for them, you need to be the wise party and avoid any emergencies. As soon as there is more information about batteries, we will share this knowledge with you.