Where to Store Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion (li ion) batteries serve as the cornerstone power source for a wide array of rechargeable devices. Emerging in the 1990s, the evolution of li ion battery technology has been remarkable, spanning from powering cell phones and laptops to driving electric vehicles (EVs) and fueling utility-grade energy storage solutions.

Despite the widespread adoption and benefits of li ion batteries, they are not without risk. As these batteries have become essential to virtually every rechargeable device, the visibility and awareness of their potential hazards have increased. Incidents involving dramatic fires or explosions due to li ion battery malfunctions are routinely reported in the news and on social media. However, it is crucial to recognize that such events are not the norm. Li ion technology remains predominantly safe, with these dramatic incidents representing a very small percentage of the billions of li ion batteries in operation worldwide.

Acknowledging and respecting the risks posed by li ion batteries is essential, requiring careful and responsible handling. This is particularly true for businesses and organizations that rely extensively on li ion battery-powered tools and equipment, as the more powerful batteries increases the potential risks. 

Battery Storage Codes & Regulations

For businesses contemplating a li ion battery storage location, one of the first steps should be to determine if there are any applicable fire codes that govern your locale. 

The most notable development in codes and standards has emanated from the 2024 amendments in the International Fire Code (IFC). According to the International Code Council (ICC), the IFC, a model code, is adopted in forty-two states and two U.S. territories. 

The IFC standards focus almost exclusively on li ion battery storage requirements. Within Section 320 of the 2024 IFC are new requirements addressing:

  • Permits
  • Fire safety plans
  • Storage requirements
  • Limited indoor storage in containers
  • Indoor storage areas
  • Outdoor storage

Adopted only at the local, territorial, and/or or state levels, the IFC is not federally mandated or enforced. And just because the IFC releases a new standard does not necessarily mean it is immediately enforceable in every jurisdiction that has adopted it. 

In order for model codes like the IFC to become legally enforceable, they must be adopted through the legislative process by the state, county, city, or other local jurisdiction. However, even once adopted, the effective date may vary. Some jurisdictions may enforce the new requirements immediately upon adoption, while others might allow a grace period for compliance. It is also essential to consider local code interpretations and any amendments specific to your jurisdiction

In addition to the new IFC requirements, some local jurisdictions are announcing their own fire codes in an attempt to reduce fire-related incidents caused by li ion batteries. New York City is one example. After successive years with hundreds of li ion battery-related fires causing multiple injuries and deaths, NYC has enacted stringent fire codes for businesses that operate battery-powered industrial trucks, industrial equipment, and mobility devices.

Another issue to consider is the threshold quantity of batteries that constitute “storage” under applicable guidelines. The IFC requires permits and adherence to their standards “for an accumulation of more than 15 cubic feet (.42m3) of lithium-ion and lithium metal batteries.” In New York City, the fire code applies based on the kWh of the batteries being stored or used.

Businesses that operate li ion battery-powered equipment should consult with their local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) on any requirements regarding li ion battery storage for the most up-to-date information. In addition to their AHJ, it is also a good idea to contact insurance carriers to determine if they have any specific requirements.

For companies that are not in a locale with current legal mandates regarding li ion battery storage, the writing is on the wall that new requirements are coming. The proactive and safe approach is to start observing these requirements right now and avoid the costly and often devastating effects resulting from a li ion battery failure that causes a fire or explosion.

Storing Li Ion Batteries – Basic Guidelines

In determining where to store li ion batteries, the most basic requirement is to ensure that the storage location meets the following guidelines. These are minimum conditions which must be satisfied to lessen the risk from li ion battery storage.

Because li ion batteries pose a unique fire and explosion risk, companies must take this into account and update their fire and emergency preparedness plans accordingly. The storage location should be equipped with fire detection devices (e.g., smoke detectors) and be within easy access to fire suppression equipment. 

Additionally, employees should be trained in li ion battery safety and emergency measures to be taken in the event a battery fails. All employees should know how to report an emergency and should receive evacuation training.

Follow manufacturer guidelines

Always consult and adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions for the optimal and safest methods and locations of battery storage.

 Ideal storage conditions

Store batteries in a cool, dry place at room temperature. Avoid extreme temperatures, as conditions below -13°F (-25°C) or above 149°F (65°C) can impair battery performance, cause potential damage, and increase the risk of battery failure (which may lead to fires or explosions).

Avoid direct sunlight

Position stored batteries away from direct sunlight. Exposure to sunlight can accelerate battery degradation and may result in internal overheating, especially if the battery is charging, thereby elevating the risk of failure.

Manage humidity

Select a storage location with low humidity levels to prevent moisture-induced corrosion and internal damage. This not only preserves the battery but also minimizes the likelihood of future battery failures.

Ensure proper ventilation

Maintaining effective ventilation in the storage area is crucial for li ion battery safety, serving dual purposes:

  • Heat dissipation: When batteries are being charged, they generate heat. Adequate ventilation helps dissipate this heat, averting internal overheating and potential battery failure.
  • Gas emission management: In the event of battery failure, hazardous gases (both flammable and toxic) may be released. Ventilation prevents the buildup of these gases, reducing the risk of creating an explosive environment.

Battery Storage Containers

In many li ion battery incidents, the battery is uncontained and sitting in the open while the battery is charging. When the battery fails and fire ensues, it rapidly spreads to nearby combustibles creating a significant, damaging fire. So, a primary step in proper li ion battery storage is to store them in a suitable container.

It is not uncommon to see recommendations to store batteries in a fire-resistant cabinet such as those used to store flammable liquids. On the surface, this appears to be sound logic as the cabinet will help protect them if a fire breaks out and may offer some protection if a battery fails while inside of the cabinet. Plus, this method meets several of the basic guidelines listed above.

The disadvantage to a completely sealed cabinet is that it lacks ventilation. As previously described, adequate ventilation is a key requirement to safe li ion battery storage. The ability to dissipate heat is central to avoiding total battery failure. Additionally, ventilation helps prevent the dangerous buildup of flammable vapors that accompany battery failure which may lead to an explosion. 

In the 2024 IFC, the code specifies that “containers shall be open top and constructed of noncombustible materials or shall be approved for battery collection.” The IFC chose open-top containers because:

  • Open-top containers allow for better ventilation. 
  • In case of a battery failure, an open-top design facilitates heat dissipation.
  • Emergency responders can quickly access and address any issues within the container.
  • An open-top design allows for more effective fire suppression measures if needed.

The IFC also limits the number of batteries per container and total stored. The IFC stipulates that “not more than 15 cubic feet (.42m3) shall be permitted to be stored in containers, . . . and individual containers or groups of containers shall not exceed a capacity of 7.5 cubic feet (.21m3).”

Battery Storage Location

Assuming you are storing li ion batteries in a container, the next decision is where to physically locate the container. The first consideration is to position the battery storage away from combustible materials. The IFC specifies a minimum separation distance of not less than ten feet (3m). It should be noted that this is a minimum distance. Battery failures that lead to fire are dramatic events that can expand significantly from the point of origin. The more separation battery storage has from combustible materials, the better.

Should you have multiple containers of stored batteries, they must be separated as well. The IFC mandates that battery storage containers have at least three feet (.9m) of open space between  them.

In situating battery storage containers, there are other considerations. For example, they should not obstruct egress or passageways. The IFC is specific in requiring that battery storage containers cannot be located “within five feet (1.5m) from exits or exit access doors.”

To address the safety of personnel, the storage area should also be restricted to authorized staff only, especially in environments with a large number of batteries or where high-capacity batteries are used.

For areas that experience natural disasters, it is also worthwhile to take the potential consequences of these events into account. In locations prone to earthquakes, you should ensure that the storage setup is secure and that batteries cannot easily fall or get damaged. In flood-prone locations, avoid storing batteries in basements or low-lying areas that are at risk of flooding. 

Aside from situating battery containers, the construction characteristics of the storage area are another factor to consider. The premise is that should a battery fail and progress to the fire stage, the construction materials of a storage area can greatly impact the rate and extent of fire spread.

According to the IFC, if the li ion battery storage area is located “in a building with other uses, battery storage areas shall be separated from the remainder of the building by two-hour rated fire barriers or horizontal assemblies.” Any such fire barriers or horizontal assemblies must be constructed in accordance with the applicable sections of the International Building Code (IBC).

Even if your company’s battery storage does not meet the threshold quantities of the IFC, their requirements are good guidelines to follow in terms of separation distances and housing your battery storage in an area with fire-rated construction.

Fire Protection and Emergency Preparedness

Because li ion batteries pose a unique fire and explosion risk, companies must take this into account and update their fire and emergency preparedness plans accordingly. The storage location should be equipped with fire detection devices (e.g., smoke detectors) and be within easy access to fire suppression equipment. 

Additionally, employees should be trained in li ion battery safety and emergency measures to be taken in the event a battery fails. All employees should know how to report an emergency and should receive evacuation training.

To assist emergency responders, it is a good idea to ensure that the battery storage area is accessible and clearly identified in case of an incident. If storing li ion batteries is a new aspect of your business, notifying the local responders about this in advance will be greatly appreciated and will enhance their response and scene safety should an incident occur.

For businesses meeting IFC’s threshold quantity of battery storage, the IFC has stringent fire protection requirements that include:

  • Comprehensive fire safety plan
  • Automatic fire suppression systems
  • Fire detection and alarm systems
  • Explosion control (in some instances)

Justrite’s New Li Ion Battery Charging and Storage Cabinet

As a pioneer in the development of fire-rated cabinets and containment solutions, Justrite is aware of the hazards that li ion batteries can present when not stored or charged correctly. To address this, we introduced our Lithium-Ion Battery Charging Safety Cabinet model 231703. Designed for benchtop use, the purpose-built cabinet allows businesses to charge and store li ion batteries safely and efficiently.

The cabinet's advanced features include:

Double-wall steel construction with insulation: The insulating air gap creates a strong barrier that can contain explosions and intense heat, while keeping the cabinet's exterior safe to touch.

Pressure relief vent system: The vented door panels are engineered to mitigate the impact of explosive battery failures.

Reinforced steel door latch plates: Steel latch rods and fortified latch cradle plates ensure that the doors stay securely shut in case of a battery explosion.

Flame arresters: A two-layer wire-mesh screen absorbs heat and prevents flames from escaping the cabinet.

Door hinge flame guards: Special guards block flames from escaping through the hinges, reducing the risk of secondary fires outside the cabinet.

Crossflow fan ventilation system: The steady airflow through the cabinet keeps batteries at a cooler temperature while charging.

Spring-loaded dampers: Sealing automatically when internal temperatures reach 135°F (57°C), the dampers dramatically decrease the emission of harmful smoke and gases by up to 99%.

Innovative filtration system: The vent system includes a filter that captures smoke and effectively neutralizes toxins.

Heat-activated expanding door seals: Designed to swell in response to rising temperatures, these seals help to prevent the escape of smoke, fumes, and flames through the door frame.

Justrite’s Lithium-Ion Battery Charging Safety Cabinet is tailor-made to offer an optimal environment for li ion battery storage while mitigating the specific dangers associated with battery malfunctions. The combination of advanced design, robust materials, and innovative safety features serve to effectively contain any potential hazards, thereby preventing the spread of fire and toxic gases into the workplace.