A recycling company is warning the public about the dangers of putting batteries in the trash by sharing video of a fire started by one.
Ecomaine shared a video of its Dec. 1 fire on the internet. The fire occurred at its facility and took 40 minutes to extinguish, said CEO Kevin Roche, reported the Portland Press Herald.
“This is the most serious fire we’ve had, if we had not had personnel so close, it could have been catastrophic for us,” Roche told the Herald.
Ecomaine management hopes to avoid situations like this in the future and is using the video as a way to discourage disposing lithium ion batteries in the trash.
“With these batteries, a lot of people might not know what to do with them,” said Roche to the Herald. “They might think they are doing the right thing, but they have energy stored in them and they have to be treated differently.”
The company believes the fire ignited because of a laptop battery that was damaged during the processing of garbage and recycling material at Ecomaine’s plant in Portland, Maine.
“When the battery is damaged it short-circuits, there is a lot of heat, enough heat and energy to ignite flammable liquid,” added Roche via the Herald.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration has specific guidelines for transporting lithium ion batteries, laws for their disposal vary across the United States. Ecomaine suggests that people can donate used electronics instead of throwing them away, or search for proper battery disposal points.
USA Today reported that lithium ion batteries are used in electronics because of their capacity to hold energy, but that is also why they are potentially disastrous.
“Without Li-ion, there very likely would be no smart phones, tablets, laptops, et cetera,” said Jason Croy, a physicist in the Electrochemical Energy Storage department at Argonne National Labs in Lemont, Ill., via USA Today. “[People] want to do more with their phones, with the laptops, they want to drive 200 miles on a charge in their electric cars.”
The benefits of lithium ion batteries are also what makes them risky. Because they can deliver a lot of energy in a small package, there are thin layers of separation between elements inside. These elements can cause an explosion if they touch when a battery is damaged. These high energy components can also overheat and explode, according to ThoughtCo.
Lithium ion batteries have been the source of fires in a range of scenarios – from Boeing passenger jets to Tesla cars to Samsung cell phones. They also led to a recall of half a million hoverboards, USA Today reported.