An exponential problem. Will safety drive the future of the Lithium-Ion Battery?

Lithium-Ion Battery Safety

Lithium-ion batteries offer a light and highly efficient way to store and reuse energy. As a result, they account for the vast majority of “installed power and energy capacity”, according to a report released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But while we are carrying around our phone’s in our pockets and driving electric cars powered with over 7,000 individual cells, lingering questions remain about their safety.
Recent Incidents
Famously, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 made headlines in 2016 because of overcharged cells exploding, An individual in Kentucky was even hospitalised as a result. The fallout cost Samsung billions of dollars and negatively affected the way that the public perceives the brand. Less well known but just as seriously, lithium-ion batteries contributed to a fire at an Arizona battery facility. The incident led to the hospitalisation of four firefighters who responded to the incident.
An Exponential Problem
It is argued that while these incidents are undoubtedly news-worthy, they are a small risk as the rate of failure compared to the number of lithium-ion batteries out there is statistically low. However, it’s not just the chemistry but the way lithium-ion batteries are put together – particularly for large scale residential and microgrid scale batteries – that highlights why even a small risk is unacceptable. Batteries are typically made up of many small cells. A 1MWh battery can have up to 144,000 cells – and statistically, that means 420 cells may be at risk of catching fire at some point in their life. With so many cells packed together to form the battery, the runaway effect of a single failure can be catastrophic.
Changing The Game
The demand for energy storage will continue to grow, especially given the fact that there are more companies and governments interested in renewable energy these days. However, organisations are waking up to the safety challenges at large scale.
Uncontrollable fire or ‘thermal runaway’ is a significant safety risk. Businesses that understand the challenges ahead and can deliver solutions that address the safety issues that plague the energy storage sector will shape the next wave of large scale storage, and in doing so help organisations move forward with confidence towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.
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