Warehouse fire tests lead to lithium-ion battery recommendations

by Inside Logistics Online Staff
JOHNSTON, Rhode Island—Lithium-ion batteries, so useful in smartphones, electric cars and energy storage systems, can catch fire and explode. The risk is magnified in warehouse settings where hundreds of thousands of batteries could be stored.

FM Global, one of the world’s largest commercial property insurers, has conducted new research to refine fire protection guidance for lithium-ion batteries stored in warehouses. The research included large-scale fire tests at the FM Global Research Campus in Rhode Island, home of the largest fire technology lab in the world (10,000 square metres, six stories high).

“When new property hazards emerge, businesses turn to us for answers,” said Louis Gritzo, PhD, vice-president, manager of research at FM Global. “Executives, risk managers, fire protection organizations, municipalities and insurers all need definitive, empirically conclusive information on how to cost-effectively manage this increasingly prevalent storage risk. Now we have it.”

Among the key findings:

  • Corrugated board cartons and plastic dividers tend to catch fire before significant involvement of the batteries stored inside.
  • Large-format lithium-ion batteries, such as those used in electric cars, generally present a higher hazard than small-format batteries used in smartphones and laptops. Large-format batteries tend to ignite more quickly in a warehouse fire.
  • Properly configured ceiling sprinklers can suppress the fire, whether ignited by an exploding battery or an external source.

The tests build on FM Global research reported in May 2013 which, like this latest phase, was conducted in partnership with the nonprofit Property Insurance Research Group (PIRG) and in collaboration with the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF).

A detailed report of the testing, data and fire protection recommendations is available for free online at the company’s website, and a summary is available at www.nfpa.org/lithiumbatteryhazards. The findings will inform FM Global Property Loss Prevention Data Sheets, which provide engineering guidelines that risk managers, property owners and code authorities can use to protect their facilities.

Established nearly 200 years ago, FM Global is a mutual insurance company whose capital, scientific research capability and engineering expertise are solely dedicated to property risk management and the resilience of its client-owners.