Last weekend, the advanced battery and electric drive industries dodged a bullet in Columbus, Ohio when a proposed amendment to the International Fire Code, F18-18, was not immediately approved. F18-18 will, however, soon be reconsidered. Public comments on F18-18 are due to the International Code Commission by July 16, 2018.
F18-18 takes aim at “Used and Off Specification Lithium-Ion Batteries.” The proposed amendment imposes, among other things, severe restrictions on how many “used and off specification batteries” can be stored in a single indoor space. The proposed restrictions would make the servicing, repair and transportation of lithium-ion automotive traction batteries outside a vehicle extremely expensive, if not practically impossible. The second life market for automotive batteries would likely be strangled in its crib. Even used car dealerships selling electric vehicles and shipping consolidators could get caught up in the broad scope of the proposed amendment’s language.
Proposed F18-18 makes two fundamental errors. First, it confuses used batteries and off specification batteries with batteries that are thermally defective. Whether a battery is new or used, and whether its power profile still meets the power requirements of its original specification, has little bearing on its risk of being involved in a thermal event.
F18-18’s second error is that it treats all lithium batteries the same. There is a world of difference between a highly sophisticated lithium-ion battery used to power a vehicle made by a major manufacturer and a lithium battery of unknown origin used to power a hoverboard.
The ICC has a legitimate interest in regulating the safe storage and handling of lithium batteries. Lithium batteries that are mishandled or poorly manufactured can pose a serious fire safety hazard.
But the ICC’s focus should be on thermally defective batteries, not on batteries that happen to be used or that are no longer suitable for their original function (but may still be suitable for many other functions). Where industry can and should get involved is in helping the ICC better understand what sort of defects can lead to thermal events in lithium batteries. Those thermally defective batteries should properly be the focus of the International Fire Code.
Fire codes have been described as a dull alphabet soup that only geeks and experts can appreciate. No comment on that. But what is clear at this point is that those codes can have a profound, negative impact on the economics of electric drive if they are written too broadly.
Sharon Bonesteel (Salt River Project), Nick Warner (DNV-GL), Dirk Spiers (Spiers New Technologies) and John Kincaide (Werecyclebatteries.com) are leading an effort among NAATBatt members to propose modifications to F18-18 in order to reduce its potential unnecessary burden on industry. I would urge all interested NAATBatt members to get involved in this effort.