You may be surprised to learn that one of the largest fire risk issues that waste recovery companies have to deal with comes from the object we can’t seem to do without – lithium-ion batteries.

‘Thermal Runaway’ creates a genuine fire risk

Although these innocent looking batteries are generally categorized as non-hazardous waste, they pose a genuine fire safety risk due to their flammable components and high energy density when subject to external forces or damage.

The most common failure of Li-ion batteries is through ‘thermal runaway’. This is the process when chemical reactions within the battery result in substantial heating of the battery cell, which further accelerates the chemical reactions and the generation of temperatures up to 900°C.

Although the manufacturers manage the risk of damage with packaging solutions, there is no packaging protection in the recycling process and many consumers still incorrectly dispose of batteries in landfill. Both the recycling and waste disposal processes usually involve heavy mechanical machinery such as shredders, creating a risk of mechanical damage and triggering a thermal runaway scorching fire. Naturally, this is a significant issue for the recycling industry as detection and separation of Li-ion batteries is effectively searching for the needle in the rubbish haystack.