Battery Safety – Reducing Their Fire Risk

There are several risks associated with storing, handling and transporting batteries. The most catastrophic of which involve their potential to create a fire. Depending upon where the batteries are located at the time the consequences of a fire can be severe. Below is a picture of a fire that occurred at a Perth scrap battery operator’s yard in March 2018. The cause of the fire is believed to be the metal straps used to secure the batteries to a wood pallet, creating a short circuit between a battery’s 2 terminals.

Photo showing damage caused by a fire at Perth Scrap Yard. The fire was believed to be created by incorrect packaging of used lead acid batteries on a wood pallet.
Fire damage at Perth Scrap Yard, caused by used lead acid batteries being incorrectly packed on a wood pallet

Despite Battery Rescue’s BTS Containers (pictured below) providing a safer alternative to the use of wood pallets, there are still some fire risks associated with their use. The 2 main risks are due to the incorrect stacking of batteries into the container, when steel case batteries are present and the inclusion of other battery chemistries with the lead acid batteries.

Below we have documented how to identify lead acid batteries from other battery chemistries and how to safely stack lead acid batteries into the BTS Containers so as to avoid potential fire risks.

Photo showing example of safe battery storage
Safe stacking and storage of used lead acid batteries at a Western Australian Mine Site

Correct & Safe Stacking of Lead Acid Batteries in the BTS Containers

Used Lead Acid Batteries (ULAB) pose a fire risk, particularly if they retain residual charge. The main risks come from poor stacking and from the inclusion of metal objects and in particular steel case batteries that can cause a short circuit between 2 battery terminals.

For this reason, steel case batteries can never be stacked on top of other batteries where the steel case is resting on top of the underlying battery’s terminals. If possible, we recommend placing them at the bottom of the container. If this can’t be done due to the BTS Container already having several layers of batteries stacked inside, then the steel case battery must be insulated from the underlying battery. The easiest methods to achieve this are:

  1. Fold a cardboard box (so that it is at least 3cm thick and insert between the steel case and underlying battery terminals.
  2. Tape the terminals of the underlying battery with a heavy-duty tape.

All batteries should be stacked in the vertically, upright position and the batteries should be packed reasonably snuggly to prevent any excessive movement during transport. A battery than can topple on its side or upside-down during transport could represent a fire risk.

The following video demonstrates how to safely stack batteries into Battery Rescue’s BTS Container. For a full set of videos on how to operate the BTS Container, including how to erect, close and collapse the BTS container.

Which Types of Batteries can be Stacked in the BTS Containers?

Only lead acid batteries can be placed in the BTS Containers. No other battery chemistries can be included. If you are unsure if a battery is a lead acid battery or not, look for the Pb (lead) symbol, with a rubbish bin crossed out, similar to the example below. Batteries with this symbol can be included in Battery Rescue’s BTS Container.

Lead acid batteries can come in many shapes and sizes and some are wet (acid electrolyte), also referred to as flooded, while others are non-spillable, also referred to as sealed lead acid, valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries, AGM and industrial batteries due to their use in industrial applications such as solar & UPS backup. Non-spillable batteries include use a gel like electrolyte and hence are less prone to leak than spillable batteries. Some examples are shown below;

This is a steel case battery so precautions must be taken stacking with other batteries. See above “Correct & Safe Stacking of Lead Acid Batteries in the BTS Containers” for details on how to safely stack steel case batteries with other lead acid batteries.

Why Other Battery Chemistries Cannot be Included with Lead Acid Batteries

The inclusion of lithium batteries with lead acid batteries poses a significant fire risk, as damage during transport to a lithium battery can result in a runaway thermal event and subsequent fire and / or explosion (note a fire may occur many hours after the Lithium battery has been damaged). Larger Lithium batteries are noticeably lighter than their lead acid equivalents. Some examples of Lithium batteries are shown below;

Other battery chemistries that pose a significant fire risk are wet alkaline batteries, as the alkaline electrolyte can react dangerously with the acid electrolyte found in lead acid batteries. A picture of a wet alkaline battery is shown below;

Ni-Cd, Wet Alkaline Battery

Dangerous Goods Labelling Requirements

Both Lithium & Wet Alkaline Batteries are classified as dangerous goods and have different packing, labelling and marking requirements under the ADGC, so their transport with lead acid batteries is not possible. Please note Battery Rescue’s containers are marked for Lead Acid Batteries only (UN Number 2794).

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