The United States Department of Energy (DoE) announced, through its Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), that it has developed a device designed to be installed in cabinet-type enclosures that are widely used in power plants based on renewable energy.
Its design aims to address the safety concerns related to lithium batteries, which are known to be highly explosive. When this type of battery reaches a critical temperature, the liquid electrolyte it contains can evaporate, releasing toxic and flammable gases. Scientists call this process “thermal runaway”.
The IntelliVent system responds precisely to this problem. Equipped with several sensors, it is able to detect smoke, heat or flammable gases in a battery compartment. When it is recognized, it will automatically open its doors. The aim is therefore to ventilate the storage area for the batteries at the first sign of a fire hazard, so that the operators can react in good time. It is also about enabling the fire brigade to intervene more quickly.
“If you open all doors early before gas builds up, the incident will be safer. It will also improve situational awareness by making it possible to see if the batteries are smoking or burning. And if extinguishing is necessary, we can direct the water directly to the modules from a sufficiently safe distance, ”says Bobby Ruiz, fire chief of the city of Peoria, Arizona, report from our colleagues at Renewableenergyworld.
A device that can detect the presence of smoke. Image Credit: IntelliVent
Reduce the risk of fire
As the site Indiaeducationdiary.in points out, there have been battery storage fires in various countries recently. These events highlighted the dangers that lithium-ion batteries can pose. In April 2019, for example, four firefighters were injured in a fire in an energy storage facility in Arizona.
An invention to protect soldiers from fire! Photo credit: Shutterstock / FXQuadro
Until recently, in September 2020, agents of the fire department of the City of Liverpool (England) had to intervene after the explosion of a container with lithium batteries in an energy storage center of 20 MW. “There are many similar battery modules today that could experience the exact same type of failure,” said Matthew Paiss, PNNL energy storage safety advisor and one of the inventors of IntelliVent.
Already a first customer
This intelligent fire-fighting system, developed on behalf of the US Department of Energy, will be commissioned soon. It will debut at the Arlington Microgrid and Clean Energy Center in the Snohomish County Utility District (PUD) in Everett, Washington.
Note that this energy infrastructure will house a battery park with a total capacity of 1.2 MW. While IntelliVent promises to drastically reduce the risk of explosion from batteries used in power plants, it is important to note that it does not meet the NFPA-69 standard for power generation systems.