Lithium Battery Warning: Loose Cells

Posted on 3/8/2021 by Lauren Scott and Roger Marks

Earlier this year, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warned consumers not to purchase or use loose 18650 lithium-ion cells.

The 18650 lithium-ion cell is characterized by its 18mm x 65mm size, which is slightly larger than a AA battery. These rechargeable cells come in both flat and button top styles, and usually boast 300-500 charge cycles, making them appealing choice for high-drain devices like laptops and flashlights.

Manufactured as a component for battery packs, these loose cells are being removed from the battery pack, re-packaged, and sold as batteries on the internet, CPSC says. The lithium-ion cells are also being installed in small consumer products, such as lamps, vaping devices, personal fans, and toys without the required safety protocols.

When installed in a device or battery pack, lithium-ion cells are protected from short circuit. Once removed and sold separately, they have exposed metal terminals that can short circuit when they touch metal objects. This can lead to additional complications, such as fires, explosions, and thermal runaway.

Consumers are being advised not to use loose lithium cells and report any problems with lithium-ion batteries to
Join Lion for the Shipping Lithium Batteries webinar training on March 30 for expert-led training on how to safely ship batteries by ground, air, and vessel.

How to Ship Lithium Batteries Safely

In transportation, packages containing lithium-ion and lithium-metal batteries are subject to US and international hazardous materials regulations. These batteries must be packaged, marked, labeled, documented according to rules in 49 CFR, the IATA DGR, and the IMDG Code

Personnel who package, mark, label, handle, offer, or document lithium battery shipments are required to complete hazmat training at least once every three years according to 49 CFR, Subpart H. 

Learn more: 4 Questions to Answer Before You Ship a Lithium Battery

What Is Thermal Runaway?

Lithium-metal and lithium ion batteries have high energy density and, if they short circuit, can generate extreme heat. They are prone to “thermal runaway.” This occurs with strongly exothermic reactions: increased temperature from the chemicals catching fire releases energy, which releases more heat. It’s a self-perpetuating loop that makes these types of fires very difficult to extinguish.

Loose lithium cells are prone to short circuiting and over-heating. This makes loose lithium cells more likely to experience thermal runaway than their lithium battery counterparts, increasing the chance of fires, explosions, serious injuries, and even death.

Training to Ship Lithium Batteries Big or Small 

Be confident that your personnel are properly trained to offer lithium batteries for transportation. Join us on March 30 for the Shipping Lithium Batteries Webinar. This expert-led live webinar covers the latest regulations that shippers must know under 49 CFR (US DOT), the IATA DGR, and the IMDG Code

Tags: hazardous materials, hazmat, lithium battery, Lithium battery safety, lithium-ion, shipping lithium batteries

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