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How to Protect Against Fires in Battery Energy Storage Systems

How to Protect Against Fires in Battery Energy Storage Systems

Posted 3/27/2024

Alt Title: Fire Suppression for Battery Energy Storage Systems


As the demand for renewable energy sources escalates, Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) have become pivotal in stabilizing the electrical grid and ensuring a continuous power supply. However, the high-density energy stored in these systems poses significant fire risks, necessitating cutting-edge fire suppression solutions. 


Understanding BESS Fire Risks


BESS are complex assemblies that store electrical energy in a chemical form, typically using lithium-ion batteries. These systems play a key role in stabilizing the electrical grid, storing excess energy during low demand, and releasing it during peak times. Despite their benefits, the chemical components within lithium-ion batteries pose significant fire risks if not managed correctly – thanks to something known as “thermal runaway.”


Thermal runaway occurs when an increase in temperature within a battery cell leads to a self-sustaining reaction that further elevates the temperature. This reaction can be triggered by any number of factors, including overcharging, internal short circuits, mechanical damage, or external heat sources.


Once initiated, thermal runaway can cause the battery cell to vent hot gasses and potentially ignite, leading to a fire. The heat generated can also spread to adjacent cells, causing a chain reaction that can quickly escalate and lead to an explosion.


BESS fires are dangerous on multiple levels. There’s obviously the immediate safety hazard to anyone in the vicinity of the fire/explosion. Then there’s the environmental impact of having various gasses and chemicals released into the air, water, and anything else that’s nearby. Finally, there are financial consequences associated with BESS fires, including downtime, replacement costs, and potential liability issues.


3 Powerful Ways to Protect Against BESS Fires


For businesses that use battery energy storage systems, there are several proactive steps that can be taken to protect against a fire. This includes three specific methods:


  1. Specialized Fire Suppression Agents


One of the primary methods to combat thermal runaway in BESS is through the use of cooling agents. These substances work by absorbing the heat generated by the battery cells, which prevents the temperature from reaching levels that could trigger thermal runaway. 


Water-based solutions with additives are usually used as cooling agents. The additives can reduce the surface tension and allow it to penetrate much deeper into the modules of the battery to provide better cooling of the cells.


Aerosol fire suppression systems are another effective and popular option. They release a fine mist of microparticulate solids suspended in gas, which can extinguish fires by interrupting the chemical reactions occurring in the flame. These systems are compact, easy to install, and can be highly effective in confined spaces, making them suitable for BESS installations. 


The big benefit of aerosol suppressants is that they’re non-conductive and leave no residue, ensuring the sensitive components within the BESS are unharmed. In other words, there’s a lot less collateral damage involved. 


And while not nearly as common, there are also dry chemical fire suppressants. These are usually built with sodium bicarbonate or monoammonium phosphate, and they work by coating the fuel source and smothering the fire, interrupting the chemical chain reaction. While effective, their use is more limited due to the potential for the residue to harm electrical components.


  1. Gas-Based Fire Suppression Systems


There are also gas-based fire suppression agents. These systems offer a non-conductive and residue-free solution, making them ideal for protecting BESS and associated electronic equipment. These systems typically employ inert gasses or clean agents that can pretty rapidly reduce oxygen levels around the fire or absorb heat to extinguish flames without leaving any harmful residues that could damage the battery system.


Inert gasses, such as nitrogen, argon, or blends thereof, work by displacing the oxygen in the air, effectively suffocating the fire. Clean agents, on the other hand, include chemicals like FM-200 (heptafluoropropane) or NOVEC 1230 (fluoroketone), which extinguish fires primarily through heat absorption.


  1. Early Detection and Automated Response Systems


In the context of Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS), the adage "prevention is better than cure" couldn't be more applicable, particularly when it comes to fire risks. Early detection and automated response systems are crucial in this preventive strategy, offering a two-pronged approach to not only identify potential fire hazards before they escalate but also to initiate immediate suppression measures, minimizing damage and ensuring safety.


Early detection systems are designed to identify the initial signs of a malfunction or anomaly that could lead to a fire, such as overheating, short-circuiting, or gas emissions from battery cells. These systems use a variety of sensors to monitor the health and status of BESS, including temperature sensors, smoke detectors, and gas sensors (which are used for very early detection).


Once a risk has been identified, automated response systems should kick in to suppress the fire (or threat of fire) as soon as possible. These automated systems may include automatic suppression activation (triggering some of the suppression systems we discussed above), isolation protocols to prevent the spread to adjacent cells, and ventilation control to remove smoke and toxic gasses from the area. 


Integrating Fire Suppression With BESS Design 


For maximum effectiveness, early detection and automated response systems are often integrated with the BESS's Battery Management System (BMS). This creates a much smoother process with fewer delays or unnecessary friction.


The BMS plays an important role in overall battery health and performance monitoring, and its integration with fire detection and suppression systems ensures a coordinated approach to risk management. This integration allows for real-time decision-making based on comprehensive data, from battery performance metrics to environmental conditions, ensuring that responses are both timely and appropriate to the detected risk.


Cease Fire: Your Source for Advanced Fire Suppression Technology


At Cease Fire, we believe in creating powerful, advanced solutions that allow businesses and organizations to mitigate major fire-related risks and threats so they can focus on the things that truly matter. This includes fire suppression systems for battery energy storage systems.


If you’re looking to learn more about our BESS fire suppression technology, we would love to discuss your specific situation in further detail. Just contact us today to learn more!