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November 12th, 2009

Lithium battery recycling facility explodes

Published on November 12th, 2009 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect that Toxco’s recycling business includes all lithium batteries and is not limited to lithium-ion types.

Earlier this week there was an unexpected fireworks display in Trail, British Columbia, showing the results of what can happen with lithium batteries when something goes wrong.

Edmunds.com reported that recycling facility, owned by Toxco Waste Management, experienced a series of explosions last Saturday which created an impressive fireworks display for 45 minutes with smoldering continuing for an additional 24 hours. The recycling facility remained standing and nobody was injured, but this display certainly opens one’s eyes to the potential danger involved with recycling lithium batteries.

Firefighters on the scene could not dose the flames with water as usual due to lithium’s reactivity with water. The blaze produced emissions of sulphur dioxide and lithium hydrogen, but officials with Toxco state that, “The fire did not result in any negative impacts to the environment of the surrounding area.” The air quality within the region of the blaze is being evaluated by Environment Ministry officials for potentially dangerous chemicals, but they believe that the air quality has not been adversely affected.

The Toxco facility currently recycles batteries used in laptops, cell phones, and other electronic devices. The company claims it is the only firm in the world capable of recycling all types of lithium batteries. The batteries are held in bunkers maintained at -324° F, supposedly rendering the chemicals inert. The company says the blaze likely started with an internal short in one of the used batteries stored at the 70,000-square-foot facility.

Besides the Canadian plant, Toxco has facilities in Baltimore and Lancaster, Ohio; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and Anaheim, Calif. Toxco plans to add lithium recycling capabilities at the Lancaster plant, and has signed a recycling agreement with Tesla Motors. It was recently awarded $9.5 million from the DOE to support U.S. lithium battery recycling.

Toxco released a statement and at least one update on its website describing environmental precautions being taken and updates on the clean-up effort.


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One Response to Lithium battery recycling facility explodes

  1. G. Swift says:

    The plant recycles Lithium batteries, not Lithium-ion batteries. Very different chemistries.

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