Fire-Hazardous Waste Materials: Risk Analysis and Assessment of Portable and Lithium-Ion Batteries in Waste Management Systems

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


A close look at the history of fire incidents shows that the waste industry has always been prone to fire. After a number of landfill fires in the 1990s and numerous fire hotspots in interim storage facilities in the 2000s, waste fires have occurred more and more frequently at waste treatment plants in recent years. The large amount of damage these cause leads to increased insurance problems of a serious nature. Moreover, the impact of frequent waste fires conflicts with the aims of environmental protection and climate change mitigation. The increased use of lithium-based batteries as a powerful form of energy storage was only seen from a resource point of view for a long time when considered as future waste. Now safety aspects and the potential risk that lithium-ion batteries pose have come into focus as they constitute a fire hazard for numerous waste management sites. This doctoral thesis consists of two subject areas, namely, “Analysis of fires in waste management systems” and “Risk analysis and assessment for portable batteries”. In an elaborate fire-cause investigation, over 550 fire incidents from across the last twelve years were analysed. This revealed a sharply increasing trend in the number of fires. Unknown fire causes top the list of the most relevant causes of fire, followed by self-ignition and batteries. Waste storage facilities and shredding units showed themselves to be the most critical hotspot locations. Mixed solid waste fractions such as residual waste, bulky waste and commercial waste were the most affected waste streams. An evaluation of the data indicated it was of high quality and significance. If we compare batteries’ use phase and end-of-life phase, portable batteries, especially lithium-based batteries, show very different hazards and risk potentials. With respect to the different mechanisms through which lithium-ion batteries can be abused, research has shown that waste batteries are mostly affected by thermal or mechanical abuse during waste management processes. Investigations conducted to detect the whereabouts of batteries not collected on a separate basis have revealed high amounts of portable batteries in municipal solid waste streams (e.g., 718 t in residual waste, 41 t in lightweight packaging waste and 17 t in metal packaging waste in 2016). A comparison of these numbers with the amount collected separately (2,188 t in 2016) highlights the significance of these relative amounts. Risk analyses have revealed that approx. 24% of lithium-ion batteries have a critical state-of-charge in their end-of-life and demonstrate mild (in 12% even severe) thermal runaway reactions when critically damaged. According to a scenario-based risk assessment, the potential risks of portable batteries have to be considered too high to maintain a sustainable form of waste management. Finally, strategies and countermeasures are presented, including, for example, eco-design, extended producer responsibility and intensified measures to raise awareness.
Translated title of the contributionBrandgefährlicher Abfall: Risikoanalyse und -bewertung von Geräte- und Lithiumbatterien in abfallwirtschaftlichen Systemen
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Montanuniversität
  • Huber-Humer, Marion, Assessor B (external), External person
  • Pomberger, Roland, Assessor A (internal)
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

embargoed until null


  • Risk
  • Portable Batteries
  • Lithium batteries
  • Lithium-ion accumulator
  • Waste Management

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