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Fire risks posed by lithium-ion batteries

An image of Michael van Niekerk

MICHAEL VAN NIEKERK Proper ventilation and gas detection systems are essential to manage the off-casing phenomenon associated with these batteries

10th May 2024

By: Lumkile Nkomfe

Creamer Media Reporter

     

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Amid the increasing popularity of renewable-energy systems, including solar and battery energy storage systems, fire engineering consultant and manufacturer ASP Fire asserts that lithium-ion batteries pose unique fire hazards owing to their flammable electrolytes.

The company says that unlike traditional lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries can undergo thermal runaway, leading to intense fires that are difficult to extinguish. The risk is compounded by the emission of flammable gases during thermal runaway that can lead to explosions if ignited.

ASP Fire CEO Michael van Niekerk highlights the importance of adequate safety measures, recommending the construction of two-hour, fire-rated rooms to house lithium-ion batteries.

“Proper ventilation and gas detection systems are essential to manage the off-gassing phenomenon associated with these batteries. In addition, fire dampers are recommended to contain potential fires within designated areas, minimising the risk of it spreading to larger structures,” he explains.

While large-scale energy storage systems, such as those installed by electricity utilities, may adopt different risk management strategies, Van Niekerk highlights the importance of considering safety precautions in all installations. However, he asserts that the risks associated with improperly installed solar panels and batteries are significant in residential settings where ‘do-it-yourself’ installations are common.

Owing to these concerns, ASP Fire stresses the need to consult a professional for the design, installation and certification of renewable-energy systems. The company highlights that the proper integration and monitoring of components, along with the adherence to safety standards, significantly reduces the risk of fire incidents.

ASP Fire notes the growing interest in renewable-energy solutions has prompted the company to collaborate with solar panel engineering firms, offering its expertise in fire safety design.

“At a recent project in Sea Point, Cape Town, improper installation of batteries in a block of flats raised serious safety concerns. Our intervention as a fire safety professional helped rectify the situation, stressing the importance of seeking expert advice,” concludes Van Niekerk.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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