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Lithium-ion Battery Fire Challenges

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Lithium-ion batteries are widely used around the globe. From powering our mobile phones to electric vehicles, Li-ion technology plays a big part in the world today. More recently, Li-ion cells are being used to provide backup power to facilities such as data centers, hospitals and anywhere else that may need a reliable back-up power source. 

Lithium-ion batteries last longer, recharge faster and are much smaller than the valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries that are typically used for backup power. They are also more efficient and have a longer lifespan. So why aren’t lithium-ion batteries more widely used? 

The Threat of Lithium-ion Technology

Lithium-ion batteries can be very volatile. If they are overcharged, damaged or treated incorrectly they can explode or cause serious fires. When one cell in a battery fails, it can cause other cells to fail, causing a domino effect that jumps from cell to cell, battery to battery and rack to rack. In fact, in the last four years there has been a number of serious incidents, including:

23 Serioius Fires in South Korea
23 serious Li-ion battery energy storage system (BESS) fires in South Korea between 2017 and 2018. After initially blaming the poor operation of the facilities, the government finally concluded that faulty batteries were to blame after further investigations[1].
4 Fire-Fighters Seriously Injured
In April 2019, 4 fire-fighters were seriously injured by a BESS explosion in Arizona that is believed to have been caused by an internal cell defect.[2]
UK BESS completely Destroyed
In September 2020, a 20MW BESS in Carnegie Road, Liverpool was completely destroyed following an explosion in one of the containers.[3]

The Stages of a Lithium-ion Battery Failure

There are four main stages to Li-ion battery failure:

Stage 1 – Initiation Abuse Factor
Stage 1 is the initiation abuse factor. This can be electrical, thermal or mechanical abuse that causes the battery to start to fail.
Stage 2 – Off-gas Generation
The second stage is off-gas generation; as the battery begins to fail, electrolytes break down and generate gas that is released from the cell in an off-gas event. This stage occurs immediately before thermal runaway; a situation where an increase in temperature changes the conditions in a way that causes a further increase in temperature and is typically the last thing to happen before a fire occurs.
Stage 3 – Smoke Generation
The next stage is smoke generation. This is an indication that the cell has reached the stage of thermal runaway and that the cell can experience rapid disassembly at any moment. The smoke is produced inside the cell and, if the cell has already experienced a vent or rupture from the off-gas event, the smoke is able to escape the battery and is detectable by smoke detectors. Following smoke generation, there is usually very little time before the cell catches fire.
Stage 4 – Fire Generation
Once smoke generation occurs, the battery is in an extremely vulnerable state and can catch fire or explode at any moment.

The Risks and Challenges

Once the cell catches fire, it has reached a full state of thermal runaway and is generating its own heat. As these cells decompose, they generate their own oxygen, further fueling the fire. Furthermore, as one cell fails, it can cause other cells in its proximity to fail, creating a very large and destructive event. Therefore, detecting potential failures during the early stages is essential in preventing a serious incident.

Due to technological limitations, it has previously been impossible to detect a Li-ion fire until thermal runaway has occurred and smoke is present. This leaves very little time to deal with a potential failure before it develops into a severe and catastrophic event.

Fortunately, there are now systems that can detect cell failure at the earliest possible opportunity so that any potential fires can be assessed and dealt with before serious harm is caused. 

The Solution

The Li-ion Tamer is a rack monitoring system for lithium-ion battery racks from Xtralis. It provides an extremely early warning of battery failure by detecting the gas that is released during the off-gas event stage of Li-ion battery failure. This means that potential fires can be detected and dealt with before they become out of hand and spread or cause significant damage. 

The Li-ion Tamer rack monitor uses sensors to monitor the air inside the rack to provide single cell failure detection without electrical or mechanical contact of the cells. This means failures can be detected around 6 minutes before thermal runaway occurs, 6 minutes before cell voltage sensors can detect an issue and nearly 7 minutes before lower explosive limit (LEL) gas detectors, making it the fastest Li-ion rack monitor on the market.

The Li-ion Tamer rack monitoring system is easy to install and is compatible with all Li-ion battery form factors and chemistries.

Why Choose Eurofyre?

Complete System Supplier
Eurofyre supplies all aspects of fire detection and its associated safety products, including battery rack monitoring systems, and can provide expert advice and consultation.
Demonstration and Training
We offer demonstrations and expert training on a range of systems, including Li-ion Tamer rack monitoring systems, in our very own sophisticated training facility.
After-Sales Support
Eurofyre offers both on-site and telephone support to assist you in ensuring that your system is fully functional and operating at maximum efficiency. Our after-sales care and support are second to none.

For more information about Li-ion Tamer Rack Monitoring systems, or to discuss any of the other products that Eurofyre has to offer, please feel free to get in touch either by phone on +44 (0) 1329 835 024, by email to sales@eurofyre.co.uk or via the online enquiry form situated on our contact page.

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