After several instances of unexpected fires during the transit or use of lithium ion batteries, insurance companies became concerned about what risk they may pose.

“When new property hazards emerge, businesses turn to us for answers,” a spokesperson for commercial property insurer FM Global, which just performed a detailed hazard assessment of lithium ion batteries in its fire technology lab.

If you run a small business that uses lithium ion batteries in your small electronics, you should be concerned, as well. These common batteries can pose a rare but serious fire hazard unless they are stored properly, and a fire involving lithium ion batteries could destroy your property or seriously injure your customers.

To make matters worse, if a fire occurred at your premises or warehouse and your storage of the batteries were found to be negligent, you could be held liable for any injuries and losses.

What’s the danger? Spontaneous fire and venting of toxic gases.

Lithium ion batteries are dense with energy and contain flammable electrolytes and fumes. If they are damaged or overheated, they can spontaneously burst into flame and begin venting flammable gases which can ignite nearby batteries. Moreover, they can reignite after the fire seems to be completely out.

The major fire hazard arises when a battery pack is crushed or punctured, which releases the flammable internal components. The larger the battery, the greater the quantity of flammable components and stored energy found inside. Larger batteries tend to ignite more quickly than smaller ones and should be stored especially carefully and at the lowest state of charge possible.

If a fire unrelated to the batteries starts near their storage location, the heat can cause venting or a thermal runaway reaction within the battery cells. Unlike traditional batteries which contain corrosive but non-flammable components, lithium ion batteries are both a fuel and an accelerant for fire. In other words, the presence of stored batteries can make an unrelated fire more toxic and faster moving.

Tips for safely storing lithium ion batteries

  • Carefully store lithium ion batteries in a cool, dry place.
  • Be careful moving the boxes with forklifts, which could damage the battery packs.
  • As much as possible, store them in smaller, separated groups to minimize fire jumping.
  • Keep the battery packs inside their corrugated board cartons and use plastic dividers as fire barriers.
  • Water is the most effective, widely available fire suppressant for lithium ion battery fires, so storing them beneath a ceiling sprinkler is ideal.