Lithium-Ion Battery Q&A Series: Battery Fire Supression

Posted by Lee Kaiser on Mar 6, 2023 9:00:00 AM


Join ORR Protection experts Lee Kaiser and Aaron Wille as they discuss Lithium-Ion battery safety and fire suppression systems for battery energy storage systems, like those found in data centers.

In this part of the series, our experts will explore the topic of fire suppression and answer the following questions:

  1. What are some alternatives that can better our response to BESS fires?
  2. Are there any clean agents capable of suppressing a Lithium-Ion battery fire?
  3. What are some other alternatives to suppressing a battery fire other than sprinkler systems and clean agents?

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You know 855, as we’ve talked about in one of the other questions, isn't really enforced in a lot of areas yet, but there's some good common sense approaches. There's requirements in 855 for labeling or signage on the door so that when the fire department shows up, they know that there are lithium-ion batteries on the other side of the door. Having some type of visual strobes or visual annunciation to let them know that there's not necessarily a fire on the other side of the door but, you do potentially have an atmosphere where your lower explosive limit is above the 25% LEL let's say, don't go into the space because the other space could potentially be explosive. There's some good common sense stuff in 855 that should be enforced.

Absolutely. If somebody wants to learn more about response, they really need to go to (NFPA has some great resources too) but really, as far as a response, New York City FDNY has got a lot of information out there. You can find it on the internet about what they require because they know it's going to be going into the city. In fact, it, sometimes it goes in without them even knowing it, right? They've got a lot of requirements for how to safely respond. The fire department, FDNY is one of the best fire departments in the world. They can handle any fire except for this type — it's got them spooked and they would rather see a whole big battery unit container going up in flames than that situation where there's just smoke coming out and they don't know what to do.

They don't know what's on the other side of the wall. No matter how we do this, we don't have x-ray vision. Where some of the battery energy storage system projects we've done, we've been applying the RKI gas detector product, and it is just one of many you could do. Where we have readouts that are 50 feet plus away from the containers that the fire department can safely watch — what's going on with the explosive atmosphere that this gas detector's monitoring while they're far away, they don't have to be up close to the container in our installations because that's safer for the fire department as well as the fire department connections for the water systems that the sprinkler systems that are part of those containers. All of that is far away. That idea comes from the FDNY and their requirements for battery system installation. Again, we'd recommend to anybody wanting to learn more, to take a queue from what FDNY is doing and look at their requirements.

ORR is a special hazard, it's a fire protection contractor, so our goal here is to keep the fire department from having to respond to a data center that's having a fire in an energy storage system. When we think about the fire suppression clean agent fire suppression business, are there any clean agents on the market that are effective in suppressing a lithium-ion battery fire?

Some of our manufacturers that we represent, and I'll call out KITA Fire Systems, had done a lot of early work as to the fire suppression effectiveness of the clean agent systems that they represent. We’ve followed their work for years now and they've done a lot of work on the extinguishing concentration required to clean agents to extinguish the fires. The best out of that 3Ms NOVEC 1230 product is the one leading the way, one of the reasons is because it's at the higher extinguishing concentrations required — it's safer. It's farther away from the upper-level concentration safety limits for human safety. There’s more cushion between the required extinguishing concentration and the safety level in the NOVEC 1230 product.

That's the one we go to. We know that it extinguishes the flames that happen. The problem is the duration of the event. We know it worked that the Surprise Arizona event everybody knows it's been talked about publicly. There was a NOVEC 1230 system installed there and it suspects that it did extinguish the flames, but it didn't stop the thermal runaway because the batteries remained hot. That is the problem with gaseous systems. The good thing about them is they put out fires because the gas has a heat capacity and an ability to absorb the heat from the flames and make the flames unstable and make them go out, but it’s not enough to absorb the heat from the batteries. That’s why other systems are really being looked at. I think it should be part of the strategy. If you go to our other webinars on this topic, we definitely think it should be part of the strategy, but it's part of a multi-layered approach. Aaron, what are some other alternatives potentially to suppress a fire in an energy storage environment other than clean agents or sprinkler systems? Well, I think building on what Lee spoke about, if clean agents aren't the answer, it's going to be water. We got water systems. We saw the 11-day sprinkler event that we had that just continually ran and ran and ran in order to extinguish that fire. The important part, I believe, is to catch it in the beginning phases. We've got to be able to try to catch it before it gets into a thermal runaway. Once it gets to that point, we're just going to have to keep dousing up with water in order to try to contain the situation. Some other exciting stuff that we've got is some nitrogen systems. We've talked about some water mist systems Dura Quench, Fike Dura Quench, Marrioff has got an excellent water mist product. We've got MAL options, GPU options, Vortex has a nice product, and the F500.

The F500, we don't talk about that a lot. We haven't in a lot of our information out there, but I'm getting excited about that product. We don't know if it's a solution for every situation, but F500 is called an encapsulating agent. A lot of people liken it to foam. It's not a foam product, but you do mix it with water at a certain concentration and then you apply it to the batteries and it will extinguish. Because it's a solution of water and F500, it'll cool the batteries. The water has a high capacity to cool things. We’re talking about data centers and UPS system applications, but there's lots of places where batteries are used.

I'm really excited about F500 and its use in other battery applications, the manufacturing of batteries,  I'm excited about it in use of recycling facilities for batteries. There's so many batteries out there now that are in the life that there are recyclers popping up all over and they're having fires. They're having a lot of fires. Even just regular waste recyclers are having fires because of lithium-ion batteries. F500’s and water, it's going to be a one of the keys to success in dealing with those fires.

Topics: Data Center, Featured Article, Featured Blog, Fire Suppression, Lithium Ion Battery, Battery Energy Storage Systems

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