I have my differences with SAE. For one, I think its Levels of Autonomy are a badly thought-out concept that encourages automakers to engage in deceptive practices (I feel that any system that doesn’t take on financial liability is Level Zero). I’m also known to disagree with EV advocates who hate the idea of Level 3 EV charging. Sure, SAE only has Level 1 and Level 2 charging in the J1772 spec document, but EV drivers and a good chunk of the industry calls DC fast charging “Level 3,” making it the de facto standard and an important definition to at least understand, even if you don’t want to be “incorrect” and use it yourself.
But, just because I don’t agree with SAE on everything doesn’t mean I don’t respect it as an organization. It is clearly a thought leader in the industry, and it has a lot of expertise. When the SAE speaks on something, most of the industry listens.
So, it’s important that the SAE has recently spoken up about battery safety. Specifically, the storage of lithium-ion batteries. This is a big deal, because even just looking at recent news, there have been several instances where lithium-ion batteries caught fire in various electronic devices, e-bikes, and cars. For example, more than 200 fires were caused by lithium-ion batteries in New York City in 2022, taking six lives and injuring nearly 150 people. Moreover, the batteries of electric cars have been known to overheat and catch fire while charging, and sometimes just sitting around at a high state of charge. In addition, e-bike batteries have also been known to catch fire due to overcharging, physical damage, or manufacturing defects, going up in difficult to extinguish flames even when sitting at home not being charged or discharged. It is crucial to understand the warning signs, guidelines, and measures to prevent lithium-ion battery fires and ensure safety in all devices that use them.
So, it’s an important thing for people in an industry increasingly relying on batteries to think about and implement safety measures for.
“There have been several events involving lithium-ion batteries in storage which have led to the development of new fire codes. These code changes aim to improve the safe storage of lithium-ion batteries, but do not provide specific knowledge about the hazards and mitigations available for every situation,” said Ronald M. Butler, CEO, ESSPI (Energy Storage Safety Products International) and sponsor of the new document. “SAE J3235 Best Practice for Storage of Lithium-Ion Batteries was developed to provide guidance for mitigating these potential risks associated with the storage of large format lithium-ion batteries.”
SAE J3235 is a comprehensive guideline developed by battery industry experts and fire and emergency response specialists to educate storage facilities on the potential hazards associated with lithium-ion batteries. The guideline highlights the importance of developing a safe and robust storage plan by properly identifying the battery type(s) to be stored and the storage location.
It provides an overview of fire suppression and detection technologies, along with considerations for containment, fire detection and suppression, emissions management, and run-off controls. By following the guidelines in J3235, storage facilities can prioritize safety while handling lithium-ion batteries.
Why This Is An Important Document To Consider
I don’t have a subscription to SAE MOBILUS nor can I justify personally spending $106 to download the full document and review it. But, if you’re working for any kind of facility that stores lithium batteries, it may be a good idea to buy it.
The direct safety benefit of relying on a document developed by industry and fire suppression experts is pretty obvious. You can’t keep defective battery cells from catching fire, especially when you consider that even automotive manufacturers sometimes don’t know of a dangerous defect for years. But, knowing how to mitigate the damage and keep a small incident from becoming a disaster is important.
Less directly, there’s also an argument to be made for reducing liability. If the worst happens and it goes terribly wrong, your facility is on much better legal ground if you can show how you followed expert guidance instead of only being able to explain that you were winging it. That alone is probably a good thing to consider.
Some Suggestions If You Can’t Afford It Like Me
I know many people may have come here looking for some safety advice for lithium batteries, and sending you out to a link that asks you for $106 is probably not going to be satisfying. So, I dug up some suggestions that may or may not match what you’d find in the J3235 standards document.
Here are some guidelines for the safe storage of lithium batteries:
- Identify and classify the specific types of batteries to be stored and its properties, such as battery capacity, voltage, and chemistry. Look up how to safely handle batteries of the type you’re handling.
- Store the batteries in a location that has adequate ventilation and temperature control, free from any flammable materials that could exacerbate a fire.
- Keep batteries in a fire-resistant container with proper labeling, indicating the type and quantity of the batteries.
- Stored batteries should be under regular monitoring of authorized personnel for signs of damage, leaks, or swelling.
- It’s crucial to segregate damaged batteries and dispose of them correctly in a container designated for hazardous waste and be extra cautious with them before proper disposal.
- Train personnel to handle lithium-based batteries, identify hazard signs, and respond to emergencies.
- Install smoke detectors, fire suppression equipment, and grounding systems to prevent electrostatic discharge as needed, depending on what you’re doing with the batteries and associated BMS systems.
- Develop and practice emergency response procedures like using flame-retardant blankets and sand or specialized foam in case of a lithium battery fire. You’ll want to consult with experts on this.
There’s no way to come up with a comprehensive list of safety suggestions, but these should make for a good, solid start for further research into safe practices.
One example of this I’ve seen is a local e-bike shop that I’ve visited. While nobody else in town will work on off-brand e-bikes (those not made by a high-end brand like Trek or Specialized), the one shop that I know does this has a special climate-controlled battery container box that’s positioned away from other structures in case of a battery fire.
Do you have any other tips for the safe storage of lithium batteries? Be sure to share them in the comments.
Featured image: a screenshot from Aptera showing battery cells.
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