11.09.2023 • Topstoriesfire prevention

Dirk Band about the "New Everyday Risk" Lithium-Ion Batteries

Dirk Band, Director Sales at Wagner Group, talks about the special fire risks of lithium-ion batteries and effective protection methods.

Dirk Band, Director Sales at Wagner Group. ©Wagner
Dirk Band, Director Sales at Wagner Group. ©Wagner

GIT SECURITY: Mr. Band, lithium-ion batteries are already very widely used – and present a very specific fire risk. What relevant figures do you have on the number of fires they have caused and the cost of the consequences?

Dirk Band: To the best of my knowledge, there are no accurate statistics on this. However, according to the Institut für Schadenverhütung und Schadenforschung der öffentlichen Versicherer (German Insurance Companies Accident Prevention and Research Institute), fires caused by lithium-ion batteries have become ‘typical’ incidents. The Institut für Sachverständigenwesen (Assessors’ Institute) refers to a ‘new everyday risk’ and justifies this view with the increasing number of devices equipped with these energy sources. And this number is continually increasing too: Statistics predict the production of lithium-ion batteries in 2025 will have a combined power of 1,402 gigawatt hours – in 2018 it was only 326 gigawatt hours.

Kuno Neumeier, the CEO of Logivest and the spokesman of the Logistics Properties group of the German National Association of Logistics (BVL e. V.), is expecting that just in the logistics industry alone the need for warehouse areas for lithium-ion batteries in Germany will increase by the year 2030 to around 7 million square meters. The main driver of this development is the increasing number of e-cars and e-bikes as well as all the tools and household electrical items that are driven by these accumulators. Considering these figures, it has become necessary to take some appropriate fire protection measures now in order to prevent major damage later.

Numerous cases of enormous destruction have already been documented. Take, for example, the freighter Felicity Ace with around 4,000 VW cars on board that sank after a fire in February 2022, or the recent fire on board the Freemantle Highway in Dutch waters. Although it hasn‘t yet been finally proven that the cause of the fire was a so-called ‘thermal runaway’ in an electric car, experts assume that this might be the case. Enormously high value goods were destroyed here within a short time period: most of the load and presumably the entire ship; one person lost their life; and there was potential for an ecological disaster. Fires of this type can bring a company to financial bankruptcy, leaving the consequences for people and the environment aside that can hardly be quantified. It becomes obvious: Every individual fire – just because of the consequential damage – is one fire too many.

As a company that provides holistic fire protection solutions, we try to prevent fires caused by these batteries from even starting. Of course, even we cannot prevent the self-ignition of a battery, but we can strictly limit the damage. We have developed the fire protection solution for Kettler Alu-Rad on the basis of a comprehensive risk analysis, defining the protection goals, doing numerous fire tests and acribic project management. Our solution minimizes the effects of any thermal runaway and protects up to 50,000 e-bikes that are stored in the high-bay warehouse from any spread of fire.


What is the special fire risk of this type of battery?

Dirk Band:
The spectrum of energy storage types using lithium-ion technology is relatively broad, and they present very different risk scenarios. But a common factor for all the lithium-ion batteries that are being used today in many electronic devices, because of their compact energy storage and long life, is their high potential fire risk and the great damage that they can cause.

A thermal runaway can have mechanical, electrical or thermal reasons. Mechanical damage or manufacturing defects, overcharging, deep discharging, or overheating can all easily cause a short circuit or set a chemical reaction going that leads to the self-ignition of the battery. This suddenly releases the stored energy, with subsequent escape of gases, sparks, flames or even fireballs or explosions. Gases including CO, CO2, H2 and O2 can be released – an uncontrollable fire can result that cannot be extinguished. Chain reactions in the vicinity, whether within the battery pack or with adjacent goods, can lead from what would normally be a simple battery fire to damage of enormous scale.


What fire protection methods are effective in the case of lithium-ion batteries?

Dirk Band:
When you are considering fire protection, it is first important to define the protection goals. In most cases, business continuity is the prime aspect. So although a battery fire cannot be completely avoided, the first priority becomes keeping its effects to a minimum.

It is vital to recognize the start of a fire at an early stage and find out exactly where it is. Early detection, by using Titanus aspirating smoke detectors for example, makes it possible to quickly take appropriate action and to protect people and goods. Physically removing the burning battery can sometimes be sufficient. Reducing the oxygen content in the air, as we do with the OxyReduct system, can prevent a fire from developing under defined conditions.

The oxygen reduction technique is ideal in closed, automated environments, such as the high-bay warehouses found in the logistics industry, although there is a large number of factors to take into account. The specialists at Wagner are always available to give their advice on this very topical and complex matter.

 

Related Article:

Wagner's installation of OxyReduct at Kettler Alu-Rad for their automated high-bay warehouse

 

This is an article of our jubilee issue. Click on the button to find all of the interviews, articles and the e-paper.
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