An investigation into a huge fire this year at a Guernsey Recycling site found that the blaze was ‘probably started by a battery being crushed by a mechanical claw’.
The investigation report from the chief fire officer found numerous areas for improvement, including stopping "hazardous waste" being taken to the site. The report also highlighted that staff failed to remove lithium batteries from materials delivered to the site.
With this evidence in mind, it is highly likely that this fire was caused by a lithium battery explosion from a modest sized battery unit found in items such as mobile phones and tablets. Although a relatively small battery, the resulting blaze pushed the fire service "to its limits" and took 13 hours to put out!
If a battery of such small dimensions can cause such a catastrophic result, the damage that could be caused by a lithium-ion car battery when it becomes a waste item is a huge cause for concern. Over 10 times the size and density of these smaller batteries, used lithium-ion car batteries pose a significant fire risk.
Whilst they are safely secured in a vehicle the risk of explosion is low and manufactures ensure combustion and ignition risks are virtually non-existent. However, once a vehicle reaches the dismantling stage, either due to crash damage or old age, the battery must be removed. Without the safety mechanisms that are inherent in the vehicle, the battery’s risk of explosion increases dramatically leaving dismantlers with a problem.
At present this problem is relatively minor. Although electric vehicles are no longer in their infancy, the volume reaching end of life status is still quite low. Fast-forward 10-15 years and this will no longer be the case. EVs will be the norm and, as with current combustion engine vehicles, many end-of-life EVs will be arriving in scrap yards, manufacturers, and insurance depots every single day. These cars will be dismantled in the same way as petrol and diesels are today, but with the added complication of the dangerous lithium-ion battery.
Although we are still some way off seeing significant volumes of EVs arriving for scrap, it is dangerous to rest on our laurels. Indeed, a small but steady trickle of EV batteries are already in need of disposal and this number is only set to increase.
As highlighted at the beginning of this post, the most significant risk for those in the possession of an end of life lithium-ion vehicle battery is explosion and fire. Their high electric voltage means that leaving these batteries standing in a corner of workshop or yard is a risky strategy. These batteries are highly flammable and are a significant health risk.
Not only this, they are also difficult to dismantle and make safe. As such, unless they have been full trained in lithium disposal, dismantlers, mechanics and scrap-dealers should avoid trying to deal with them at all costs. Fire, explosion and electrocution are all real possibilities.
So, what’s the solution?
The only feasible way to deal with these batteries is to do some research and involve some real experts from the start. Organisations such as Cawleys can not only safely dismantle these batteries, we can also provide a disposal service. We will come and collect the batteries, moving them away from your property into our specially built facility where we will safely dismantle them ensuring all elements and components that make up the batteries are put to best use via our unique recycling route.
What’s more, for those who are not yet ready to dispose of their lithium battery waste due to cost or logistics, we can provide safety storage boxes on a rental or purchase basis and help load the batteries into them safely.
Ultimately, the key to success for the end of life car industry is to be prepared. Although volumes may be low today, it will pay to speak to a certified battery waste provider who can guide you through the risks and provide a sustainable exit route that ensure your business, your premises and your employees remain safe when volumes increase.