9.6 Packaging, Handling, Storage, Transportatio, and Disposal
This discussion provides general guidelines for shipping,
handling, and use of lithium batteries. There are several publications which
deal with specific types of lithium batteries and special situations. These
publications are listed in the References. Individuals dealing in detail with
lithium batteries should consult those publications.
Packaging must be in accordance with specifications, contract
documents, and current domestic and international regulations for shipment (see
Shipping and Transportation
In general, lithium batteries are classified as hazardous
materials and their shipping and transportation (including packaging) are
covered by various international and domestic regulations. The following are key
documents regulating the shipment of lithium batteries:
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO):
Technical Instructions for Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by
International Maritime Organization: International
Maritime Dangerous Goods Code
U.S. Department of Transportation: Code of Federal
Regulations (CFR 49) "Transportation."
These regulations identify small lithium batteries as
"non-dangerous" and exempt from most of the regulations and can be shipped under
all modes of transportation. Current issues of the various regulations and
exemptions should be consulted.
Most lithium batteries will tolerate temperatures upto 70°C,
however, to ensure maximum shelf life batteries should be stored at normal room
temperatures, preferably not exceeding 40°C. Extremely low temperatures are not
likely to be harmful, but better performance will be obtained if the batteries
are allowed to warm to ambient temperature before use.
Most lithium batteries contain volatile
solvents, some of which are flammable. Others are toxic and corrosive. The
storage area should be ventilated to prevent accumulation of harmful vapors
from leaking or defective batteries. See Section 9.7
for details on handling a lithium fire.
Long term storage areas should be monitored for the presence of
toxic and flammable gases which are contained in the battery electrolyte. If the
ventilation system fails or if there is an indication that a battery has vented,
self contained breathing apparatus should be donned before entering the storage
Handling and Use
The most important condition to avoid with all lithium
batteries is excessive heat. Most lithium batteries are designed to vent if
the temperature becomes too high (90 to150°C, depending on the design). Venting
prevents case rupture at high pressures and possible serious injury from
fragments and ejected material. However, venting is an undesirable occurrence
which itself could cause damage and injury through the release of toxic and
corrosive gases. Lithium batteries and equipment should not be placed near heat
sources such as flames, ovens, or heaters.
Heat problems, however, usually arise from internally generated
heat. High currents and poor heat dissipation can lead to excessive heating.
Short circuits can lead to very high currents. Most batteries contain safety
devices which deactivate the battery under high current and high temperature
Cells or batteries should not be punctured, crushed, opened, or
subjected to physical abuse. Short circuits within a cell can be caused by
puncturing or crushing. In these cases safety devices are ineffective and
violent vents can occur with such treatment.
Primary lithium batteries may contain devices to prevent
inadvertent charging. Charging a lithium primary battery deliberately is
considered severe abuse and an explosion can result.
Some multicell lithium batteries can be made to explode by
overdischarging. This situation can cause the voltage of one cell to reverse and
become negative. This abusive condition may be exacerbated at low
Some lithium cells are constructed in "standard" sizes, common to
non-lithium chemistries. These cells, while physically interchangeable with
cells using other chemistries, may not be electrically interchangeable since
they have different voltages and operating characteristics. Hazardous conditions
will arise if such cells are mixed or misapplied.
Before a battery is used, it should be inspected to ensure that it
is in good condition. If it is damaged, deformed, or shows signs of leakage, it
must not be used.
If during use a battery or battery compartment becomes hot or
shows signs of venting, the equipment should be turned off if possible. After
the battery has cooled, it can be removed. Personal protective equipment may be
necessary for handling faulty or suspect batteries.
Because of the reactivity of lithium, batteries containing lithium
may be classified as hazardous materials. Different lithium batteries may
contain other hazardous materials as components of the electrolyte or cathode.
Used or spent lithium batteries may contain residual lithium. Such batteries may
also be considered as reactive and/or hazardous waste. Damaged or defective
batteries may also be considered hazardous waste.
Some fresh lithium batteries are not considered hazardous because
of the small amount of lithium they contain. A single used battery of this class
would not be considered hazardous waste. However, in large quantities, small
used batteries might constitute hazardous waste. This situation should be
evaluated on a case by case basis. Local regulations should be consulted.
The only lithium battery type specifically
considered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the
Li/SO2 battery. Used Li/SO2 batteries containing
residual lithium are considered to be reactive and, therefore, hazardous
waste. They must be disposed of in licensed secured landfills or treatment
facilities. Balanced Li/SO2 batteries which have been completely
discharged are not reactive because essentially all the lithium and sulfur
dioxide have been consumed. Multicell Li/SO2
batteries acquired under
specification MIL-B-49430 since January 1989 may contain a complete discharge
device. All such batteries are clearly marked. The complete discharge device is
a non-reversible switch which puts a resistor across each leg of the battery.
Five days after the device is activated the battery is completely discharged and
is no longer a reactive waste. There may, however, be concerns about toxicity.
Local authorities should be consulted on requirements for final disposal.
Only Li/SO2 batteries containing balanced cells can be completely
discharged with safety. There are some cell designs (for example, certain
sonobuoys) which contain excess lithium. These should not be completely
discharged either in use or before disposal.
Undamaged, used lithium batteries classified as hazardous waste
should be packaged and stored in a similar manner to new batteries, but in a
separate area. The actual labelling, transportation, and disposal must be
performed by personnel thoroughly familiar with the applicable regulations and
required procedures. Military installations will have this performed by the
Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO).
Damaged, leaking, or vented batteries must be handled with care
and isolated from other batteries and equipment. Protective clothing and
equipment must be used when handling such batteries. Disposal will be
accomplished through DRMO unless the batteries are considered unsafe for routine
disposal. Naval Weapons Support Center Crane is currently developing alternative
methods and procedures for proper disposal of all Navy lithium