6 Comments

Summary:

As recently as August, the largest lithium battery recycler in North America — Toxco — snagged a $9.5 million grant from the Department of Energy to build out battery recycling capacity in Ohio and pledged to provide “end of life management” for advanced vehicle batteries “in […]

explosionflickrAs recently as August, the largest lithium battery recycler in North America — Toxco — snagged a $9.5 million grant from the Department of Energy to build out battery recycling capacity in Ohio and pledged to provide “end of life management” for advanced vehicle batteries “in a safe and environmentally sound manner.” But this weekend multiple explosions and a major fire at the company’s Trail, British Columbia recycling facility can be fairly called bad advertising for that business.

The event remains under investigation, but Toxco believes it was caused by an internal short in one of the batteries in storage at the Trail facility, which handled batteries ranging from smaller cell phone batteries up to some weighing 1.4kg (about 3 lbs.), Canada’s Globe and Mail reports. This adds fresh fuel to smoldering fears about the safety of lithium-ion batteries (you might recall the reports and photos of laptop fires caused by overheated lithium batteries in years past) for use in the upcoming generation of plug-in vehicles, as well as for recycling and disposal of the devices.

Part of the danger with lithium stems from the fact that it reacts violently with water — that’s why the more than 50 firefighters called to the Toxco blaze let the chemical burn out. According to Canada’s Globe and Mail, Toxco took several measures to keep the volatile battery chemical in check, cooling batteries to nearly 200 degrees below 0 degrees Celsius, and storing them in 45-gallon drums on wooden palettes within “earth-covered concrete bunkers.”

These days a slew of venture-backed battery companies see opportunity where lithium-ion batteries fall short, and they’re building part of their business case around promises to deliver safer and more stable batteries for electric vehicles, and at higher energy densities (in general, the higher the energy density of lithium-ion batteries, the more volatile the technology).

The solution proposed by Berkeley, Calif.-based Seeo, for example, comes in the form of a nano-structured solid-state battery based on a polymer electrolyte, rather than the liquid electrolyte that has been the “weak link,” according to founder and technology director Mohit Singh, and is the cause of much of the safety concerns. The startup also claims its battery can operate at a much higher temperature compared with currently available lithium-ion batteries — opening the possibility for use in more rugged, outdoor applications, such as attached to a solar system.

Planar Energy Devices, meanwhile, is developing large-format and thin-film batteries with a “laminated safety separator,” which Planar says protects cells from thermal abuse and will not melt and short with high heat like conventional separators providing a thermal shutdown mechanism.

We’ll likely see increased competition in the battery recycling industry itself in coming years, too, as more advanced vehicle batteries come onto the market. After 8 years or so on the road, a typical lithium-ion battery will exhaust its useful life in plug-in vehicles, but much of its value as an energy storage device remains. The Renault-Nissan Alliance, making some of the biggest bets in the industry on electric vehicles, thinks capturing that value through recycling and reuse could be a key to reducing the price tag for plug-in cars. Taking a lesson from Toxco, though, it seems making that process safer will be another important step.

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

  1. [...] Battery Safety still a problem. Too bad this still happens.  Be careful out there!  Click here to [...]

    Share
  2. [...] As recently as August, the largest lithium battery recycler in North America — Toxco — snagged a $9.5 million grant from the Department of Energy to build out battery recycling capacity in Ohio and pledged to provide “end of life …Read Original Story: Explosion!: Lithium Battery Safety Still A Problem – Earth2Tech (blog) [...]

    Share
  3. oh, I had never thought about the “accelerant” issue with lith batteries on fire. They put a magnesium slug in the burning man one year and wow- what a brilliant flash and heat shock when it went. Good these firemen were aware before hand. This leads me to another thought- crank cooks stealing the batteries for the lithium to use in meth synthesis. The book “atomic boyscout” also has some references to his use of lithium in reclaiming/refining one of his pet materials- an ‘atomic science project in the garage’ real story. Add the location of the deposits and we are less than assured a glorious and easygoing lithium future.

    Last thought, where did they come up with the company name? It could easily be from a comic book or a silly movie. Tox- co as in toxic(s) company? That’s just a keeper.

    Share
  4. Keep in mind there is a major difference in reactivity between a Li-Ion battery and standard Lithium Metal battery. Li-Ion batteries do not contain pure lithium, but instead an alloy material that is much safer. Be careful not to conflate the two types of batteries, because they are not even close to the same thing.

    Share
  5. [...] is a much greater challenge when it comes to one of the main drawbacks to that chemistry, its potential for thermal runaway. Xtreme Power’s batteries, on the other hand, work at room temperature, Coe [...]

    Share
  6. [...] MPH, that costs tens of thousands of dollars, and that maybe has a battery in its belly that requires a sophisticated system of thermal controls – is a far scarier [...]

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post