Bonfire Bonanza: Giant Lithium Batteries Literally Ready to Explode On Energy Scene

tesla fire

Boosters assert that the hopeless intermittency of wind and solar will soon be remedied by the addition of giant lithium batteries. Well, that’s the marketing pitch tossed up by renewable energy rent seekers, anyway.

The volume of electricity stored by these so-called ‘giant’ batteries is risible, and their cost astronomical, such that the grid-scale storage of electrical power is simply a fantastic pipe dream.

Which, given the article below, may be no bad thing.

How do you Extinguish a Lithium Battery Fire?
Watts Up With That?
Eric Worall
4 March 2021

A few weeks ago I asked a fire fighter friend how they extinguish electric vehicle battery fires.

He said “Oh you mean like a Tesla or something? The answer is you can’t. You cordon off the area, and spray a fine mist of water on the fire to try to keep the temperature down until it finishes burning. Takes a few days until it is safe”.

The problem is, besides being highly flammable, lithium is literally the lightest metal. At atomic number 3, it is the first element in the periodic table which is a solid. The two previous elements, hydrogen and helium, are both gasses.

Lithium is so light, it floats on water (lithium density 0.543, half the density of water). Lithium is entirely happy to blaze away while sitting on the surface of a puddle of water.

So if you try to smother a lithium fire with sand, the sand sinks to the bottom, and the lithium floats on top.

Lithium melts at 180C / 356F, and burns at 2000C / 3632F – almost more than hot enough to melt steel, more than hot enough to destroy most composites and metals like aluminium.

The fumes from a burning lithium fire are highly toxic, capable of causing death or long term dementia like brain injuries – so you need to keep members of the public at a safe distance. Fire fighters need to wear respirators if they approach the flame.

There are chemical extinguishers, but my fire station friend didn’t seem to think much of them, at least not for large lithium fires.

I guess you might be able to smother a large lithium fire by dropping a Chernobyl style sarcophagus made of steel on top of it, or possibly made of some other material which could handle the heat. Then you could fill the sarcophagus with an inert gas like Argon, or just wait for the oxygen to run out. But equipping fire departments with a sarcophagus device large enough to smother an EV fire, and the equipment required to deploy it, would be an expensive exercise.

What does your fire department do when they have to extinguish a large lithium fire? I’d love to know, so I can tell Australian fire departments. Cordon off the area and spray a mist of water at the fire for a few days would be a serious inconvenience or worse, if the burning vehicle was say blocking an important road junction, on the high street, or in someone’s residential or workplace garage or workshop.
Watts Up With That

battery fire
One of South Korea’s big batteries having a ‘moment’

7 thoughts on “Bonfire Bonanza: Giant Lithium Batteries Literally Ready to Explode On Energy Scene

  1. Mmm, I wonder how long the Hornsdale battery would burn AND how the environment would look after it eventually burns itself out?
    Wonder how those living within it ‘fallout’ area will survive without serious ongoing health issues?
    Wonder what will happen to the farms and their animals that are contaminated from the ‘fallout’ – how long will the contamination linger – I bet its not a day or two?
    Will winds distribute the ‘fallout’? What about ground water, household rainwaters tanks, rivers?
    And they intend to build one at Port Stanvac along with solar panels, then there are all those cars we are being pressured to buy, let alone all the household storage batteries to store excess energy for the ‘big boys’ to sell on – ah well once the metropolis suffers adverse effects maybe sense will return to our energy production requirements!
    But will it be too late to prevent total devastation of the thing these items were meant to save = the environment!!!!!

    1. I believe it takes between 10 and 11 tonnes of cooling water per MWh of capacity per hour to keep one of these things under control (over 2 or 3 days). I don’t know what harm the fire water would do. If a battery energy storage system was allowed to burn out, well I’ll let you work it out for yourself, this is a copy of part of a document sent to a planning authority about a 50 MWh BESS: –

      “As the article goes on to conclude with respect to Hydrogen Fluoride (HF):

      • The amounts of HF released from burning Li-ion batteries are presented as mg/Wh. If extrapolated for large battery packs the amounts would be 2–20 kg for a 100 kWh battery system, e.g. an electric vehicle and 20–200 kg for a 1000 kWh battery system, e.g. a small stationary energy storage.

      Given the present configuration of the **** BESS and the clear inadequacy of the separation within the containers and between the containers themselves, if a fire occurred in one part of the BES, it would simply spread to the whole block of containers, which comprised up to 8 x 3.6 MWh of batteries. Therefore the amount of hydrogen fluoride released would be: (20 – 200 kg) x 28.8, which gives a figure of 576 kg (0.58 tonne) to 5,760 kg (5.8 tonnes).”

      Another part of the document reads as follows:

      “The European Chemical Agency (ECHA) provides the following classification for hydrogen fluoride:

      • Danger! According to the classification provided by companies to ECHA in REACH registrations this substance is fatal if swallowed, is fatal in contact with skin, is fatal if inhaled and causes severe skin burns and eye damage.

      • Acute Toxicity Category 2 H300: Fatal if swallowed
      • Skin Corrosive Category 1A H314: Causes severe skin burns and eye damage
      • Acute Toxicity Category 1 H310: Fatal in contact with skin
      • Acute Toxicity Category 2 H330: Fatal if inhaled.

      In 2015, the Fire Protection Research of the German Federal Provinces published its Report No. 175 on the ‘Investigation of the fire behaviour of lithium ion and lithium metal batteries in various uses and the derivation of usable and tactical recommendations’. The following rule of thumb for the release of hydrogen fluoride was provided based on theoretical calculations:

      • 150 litres of gas forming hydrogen fluoride per kW/h of battery energy

      Given that hydrogen fluoride has a vapour density of 0.921 g/l this equates to 0.138 kg. For an 8 x 3.6 MWh battery the resulting quantity theoretically released would be 4 tonnes.

      Therefore, releasing such large quantities of hydrogen fluoride in a fire scenario, along with other toxic products of combustion, has very serious consequence, as is discussed in the following section.”

      If you want to see the whole document, I would need an email address to send it to (free). This particular planning application was “Invalidated”.

  2. Hi, I think you’ll find it’s worse. STT used these words: “Then you could fill the sarcophagus with an inert gas like Argon, or just wait for the oxygen to run out.” That might stop the initial explosion if you’re lucky, otherwise oxygen is not required for the burn. Don’t take my word for it. Check it for yourself then extrapolate what harm a major battery energy storage system can produce in the event of a loss of control of process.

  3. can you confirm that hydrofluoric acid is produced when the gases escaping the fire react to water. Hydrofluoric acid is corrosive to all tissue Human or animal and will be widely spread into the environment. The acid is not inert how long does it stay active.

  4. Can a Tesla or two of them parked in a garage power a home when there’s a blackout if there was a way to make it a backup battery source? If so for how long would it keep all the appliances running? Maybe it would just keep a few lights on? Might be a nice reference.

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