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Moss landing in California is reportedly the world´s largest lithium-ion battery storage facility.  Photo by  LG Energy Solution
08 Aug 2023

Despite the fire hazards of lithium-ion: Battery Energy Storage Systems are getting larger and larger

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Moss Landing in California is now the world’s biggest battery storage project at 3GWh capacity. China is also building large lithium-ion battery energy storage facilities. But China is also goign a different route, storing energy through physical weights in Gravity Energy Storage Systems. 

 

Cover photo: Battery racks provided by LG Energy Solution sit in former turbine halls at Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility, California. Image: LG Energy Solution.

 

EnergyStorage.News wrote on August 2 that Vistra Energy has announced the completion of work to expand its Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility in California, the world’s largest lithium battery energy storage system (BESS). 

An additional 350MW output and 1,400MWh energy capacity has been added to the plant, bringing it to a total 750MW/3,000 MWh.

 

Lithium-ion  batteries are fire prone and are notoriously difficult to extinguish - the more lithium the larger the fire

CTIF.org follows lithium-ion battery safety, and we wrote recently about two incidents in the United States:

On July 20th, a, malfunctioning battery bank starting off gassing toxic gas  in a Florida hospital, leading to 80 people being evacuated. 

Numerous deaths have occured in New York city this year alone due to malfunctioning lithium batteries in E-bikes, and the difficulties extinguishing fires in electric cars are well known. A fire in an EV pickup truck have proven to burn so hot it can easily easily spread to other EVs, even when parked outside in open air, as was seen in April this year.  

In May 2023, a 20,000 pound lithium-ion battery inside caught fire inside a battery factory in Jacksonville, FL on April 25th. HazMat crews worked on moving and cooling nearby batteries as to avoid an explosion.

On April 26, a large amount of lithium batteries stored in a shipping container created a similar situation in an industrial park near Gothenburg, Sweden.

Lithium-Ion battery powered vehicles have also been known to spontaneously combust and have allegedly sunken and or  damaged two large cargo ships in the past year. 

 

Lithium powered vehicles banned at sea due to fire risks

2023: A Norwegian ferry company banned EVs on a popular tourist route this year due to concerns of fire safety and the difficulties extinguishing these types of fires. The US Coast Guard banned damaged EVs from being transported at sea under any circumstances this year, due to the extreme risk of spontaneous ignition seen after EVs caught fires in large numbers after Hurricane Ian. 

 

Fire chief: Recent fire in a solar farm BESS in New York state a "great opportunity to learn"

On July 27, a lithium-ion battery fire in a solar farm by Lake Ontario in New York state took four days to extinguish. The fire sparked air quality alerts as large amounts of potentially toxic smoke was affecting the community. 

Niel D. Rivenburgh, deputy director for the Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Services said the incident is an opportunity for first-responders to learn from the incident as solar farms are emerging throughout the United States.

"There's been an incredible opportunity to learn from this incident... that's one of the reasons that we engaged, not just to let Chaumont stand down after their first 36 hours, but because if we get other chiefs and operators in here we are able to give them the tidbits of information to keep them safe when something happens in their solar projects."

 

So how are Battery Energy Storage Systems fire protected? 

The NFPA writes in their publication "Energy Storage Safety Fact Sheet" that , the use of energy storage systems, or ESS, has increased dramatically in the past decade...   However, the rise in the number of ESS installations requires the need for a heightened understanding of the hazards involved and more extensive measures to reduce the risks."

The fact sheet states that the fire department should develop a pre-incident plan for responding to fires, explosions, and other emergency conditions associated with the ESS installation, and the pre-incident plan should include the following elements:

1.  Understanding the procedures included in the facility operation and emergency response plan described

2. Identifying the types of ESS technologies present, the potential hazards associated with the systems, and methods for responding to fires and incidents associated with the particular ESS

3. Identifying the location of all electrical disconnects in the building and understanding that electrical energy stored in ESS equipment cannot always be removed or isolated

4. Understanding the procedures for shutting down and de-energizing or isolating equipment to reduce the risk of fire, electric shock, and personal injury hazards

5. Understanding the procedures for dealing with damaged ESS equipment in a post-fire incident, including the following:

a. Recognizing that stranded electrical energy in fire damaged storage batteries and other ESS has the potential for reignition long after initial extinguishment

b. Contacting personnel qualified to safely remove damaged ESS equipment from the facility (This contact information is included in the facility operation and emergency response plan.)

 

The NFPA also wrote in 2021 about residential regulations for BESS:  NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems, contains requirements for the installation of energy storage systems (ESS). 

The NFPA 855  Standard for the Installation of Energy Storage Systems does address  industrial  installations by definition -  However, it is a lengthy document which is would require thorough pre-study ahead of any fire, and the information is very detailed. It does outline electrical hazards and firefighting considerations - however it does not appear specifically to mention how firefighting should be approached when battery banks approach the size of Moss Landing, and the very large amounts of lithium would potentially be involved in a fire.  

 

METROPOLITAN Fire Chiefs, an association of fire services in cities above 1 million inhabitants, address the issue of firefighter safety in large BESS installations in their 2022 UFF Position Statement: "Technological Advancements Push the Boundaries of All Hazards and the Fire Service Emergency Response System".

The section on BESSs begin by referencing an incident  from 2019 when four firefighters were injured:

"On April 19, 2019, four Arizona firefighters received serious injuries because of cascading thermal runaway within a 2.16 MWh lithium-ion battery ESS that led to a deflagration event (Figure 3). There have also been numerous failures resulting in fire incidents around the world".

 

The METRO Fire Chiefs paper stresses the importance of operators / owners pre-planning for incidents together with the fire service, before an incident occurs: 

"... Owners and operators of ESS should develop an emergency operations plan in conjunction with local fire service personnel and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Owners and operators should also have a comprehensive understanding of the hazards associated with lithium-ion battery technology and the response capabilities of the local fire service. Additionally, it is important that there is communication between responding firefighters and personnel responsible for management of the ESS, who can aid in complete evaluation of system data to develop a clearer picture of system status and potential hazards."

The position paper also list training and Educational resources for energy storage systems in general: 

https://training.fsri.org/course/025-nearmiss-ess

https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Resources/Emergency-Responders/High-risk…

It also references a database over known BESS failureshttps://storagewiki.epri.com/index.php/BESS_Failure_Event_Database).

 

Photo from the position paper

 

However: The remaining question is: Can a single fire department even deal with a fire in a battery farm the size of Moss Landing - or the battery farms China is promising to construct by 2027?

Cross-Safety.org wrote in their report "CROSS Safety Report  Battery Energy Storage System concerns" in May 2023 that a safety panel in the UK agreed that "there are significant fire safety concerns related to BESSs. Battery storage is an essential part of society's move towards a zero-carbon future, but it needs to be done in a way that recognises and manages risk".

 

Battery Energy Storage Systems a "risk for firefighters"

They also concluded BESSs clearly pose a risk to firefighters, as evidenced by the incidents listed in the report: "... it is possible that the FRS may need to adopt a defensive strategy. This could lead, in event of a fire in a BESS, to limiting firefighting to protect surrounding risks and not directly tackle the fire. ... An uncontrolled fire is likely to lead to the production of toxic and potentially explosive gases entering the environment through the fire plume and contaminated water runoff. Firefighting is challenging when the BESS is in the open air. If it is inside the premises, this introduces further challenges and potential operational decisions that may lead to an uncontrolled fire. 

CROSS-UK report 1058 - Fire safety risks with lithium-ion batteries 

 

Aerial view of the Moss Landing site, including the Vistra natural gas plant which the site is historically better known for. Image: LG Energy Solution.
Aerial view of the Moss Landing site, including the Vistra natural gas plant which the site is historically better known for. Image: LG Energy Solution.

 

China is targeting for almost 100 GHW of lithium battery energy storage by 2027

Asia.Nikkei.com wrote recently about China´s China's energy storage boom: By 2027, China is expected to have a total new energy storage capacity of 97 GW. New energy storage systems in China are largely based on lithium-ion battery technology, according to the article. 

China has allegedly  pushed for the development of renewables as it strives to meet President Xi Jinping's pledges to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

The country reportedly expects to see 52% of electricity generation from non-fossil fuel sources already this year. 

The low price of lithium is thought to be the driver of this development, making the costs for creating battery banks more affordable. 

 

GESS - Gravity Energy Storage Systems

However, China is also creating what they claim will be the world´s grid scale energy storage systems based on physical weights, according to Smart-Energy.com. 

Energy Vault, a grid-scale energy storage solutions developer known for its gravity storage technology, is building a 25MW/100MWh  Gravity Energy Storage System next  to a wind farm and a national grid interconnection site.

Commissioning began in June on the power electronics and what the company calls “new ultra-efficient ‘ribbon’ lifting systems”, they stated in a press release announcing the construction. 

The system is expected to be fully grid interconnected in 2023 as planned with local state grid authorities, which Energy Vault states will make EVx the world’s first commercial, utility scale non-pumped hydro GESS.

The GESS is located outside of Shanghai in Rudong, Jiangsu Province, China. Image courtesy Energy Vault.

The GESS is located outside of Shanghai in Rudong, Jiangsu Province, China. Image courtesy Energy Vault.

CNTY stated in a press release:  “With the continuous increase in the proportion of new energy installed capacity (…) the high proportion of renewable energy connected to the grid has put forward higher requirements for the power grid’s peak regulation, frequency regulation and consumption capabilities...

... China Tianying’s ‘100MWh complete set of gravity energy storage equipment’ is currently the world’s largest complete set of gravity energy storage equipment. Its basic technical route is to use new energy such as wind and solar power or grid valley and flat power to raise the gravity block to a certain height, so as to convert the electric energy into potential energy for storage.

According to Energy Vault, the EVx system is expected to have round trip efficiency (RTE) above 80%.