DOE lab unveils sensor that can reduce risk of dangerous lithium battery failures
IntelliVent, a sensor developed by the DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, can prevent hazardous conditions from developing in outdoor battery cabinets.
IntelliVent is supported by DOE’s Office of Electricity and is designed to be installed in cabinet-style battery cabinets. The sensor responds to smoke, heat or gas alarms in the battery cabinet and automatically opens cabinet doors to prevent the build-up of flammable gases. The technology reduces the risk of explosions at battery installations, which can damage property or endanger lives.
When a lithium-ion battery reaches a critical temperature, the liquid electrolyte in the battery can evaporate and release toxic, flammable gases, including hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and propylene. This process is called thermal runaway.
“Depending on the size of the cell, these gases can come out very quickly and at a very high volume, which can lead to a fire or even an explosion,” said Matthew Paiss, technical consultant for the safety of energy storage at PNNL and one of the inventors of IntelliVent.
“Protecting our critical workforce is a high priority,” said Imre Gyuk, director of the Office of Electricity’s Energy Storage Program. “The IntelliVent project works to address a major safety issue that continues to hamper the widespread adoption of grid energy storage. PNNL’s expertise in grid energy storage, fire safety and disaster relief, and safety codes and standards enable the team to implement this technology. “
Recent fires at battery storage facilities in Surprise, Arizona, and Liverpool, England, have shed light on the dangers of these types of fires. The April 2019 incident in Arizona at an energy storage facility injured four firefighters, two seriously. In September 2020, firefighters in Liverpool, England, were called up for a 20 MW battery installation after an explosion occurred to find a large container of the grid battery system on fire.
This IntelliVent safety technology is a welcome addition to firefighters and utility personnel.
“This is absolutely in the right direction,” said Bobby Ruiz, the Peoria, Arizona fire chief whose firefighters were injured in the Surprise, Arizona explosion. “Opening all doors early before gas accumulation makes the incident safer. It also increases environmental awareness by being able to see if the batteries are smoking or on fire. And if extinguishing is needed, we can direct the water directly at the modules from a safe distance. “
Snohomish County’s public utility district is new Arlington Microgrid and Clean Energy Center, in Everett, Washington, will be the first to install the safety technology when it retrofits a 1.2 MW battery with the IntelliVent system.
“Nobody likes the idea of being the first to open the door on a suspect battery,” said Scott Gibson, energy storage project manager for Snohomish PUD, who expects the new safety system to be installed this summer. “This is where IntelliVent comes in.”
Intellivent designers developed the versatile system to work with a variety of sensors. Furthermore, the simple operation provides an early warning system to push the gases out. It is intended to reduce the risk of explosion, but due to the limitations of the product standard, it is not designed according to NFPA-69 (explosion prevention system standard).
IntelliVent is available for low-cost, non-exclusive licensing as PNNL strives for wide and rapid adoption important safety technology.
News item from PNNL