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Australia: Tesla 13 tonne lithium battery fire fuels concerns

Published by MAC on 2021-08-08
Source: Sidney Morning Herald, CFA, Financial Times

Victorian Big Battery not so great start.

Emergency services issued a warning for toxic smoke in the nearby Batesford, Bell Post Hill, Lovely Banks and Moorabool areas. Residents were warned to move indoors, close windows, vents and fireplace flues and bring their pets inside after a fire erupted at Victoria’s new Tesla Big Battery, the largest lithium-ion battery in the country. It took three days for the blaze to be extinguished.

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Tesla ‘big battery’ fire fuels concerns over lithium risks

Latest incident comes as utilities around the world increasingly rely on lithium-ion to store renewable energy.

Financial Times

August 3, 2021

A fire at one of the largest Tesla battery installations in the world has drawn fresh attention to the risks of batteries used to store renewable energy for electricity grids.

It took three days for the blaze to be extinguished after it started during testing in a shipping container holding a 13 tonne lithium-ion battery, at Moorabool near Geelong in Australia, and spread to a second battery pack.

The “Victorian Big Battery” project using the Tesla Megapack is the largest in the country, with 210 packs capable of storing up to 450 megawatt-hours of energy for the electricity grid.

Owned and operated by the French renewable energy developer Neoen, it was scheduled to begin operating before the peak summer demand period this year. Neoen said it was too soon to tell how the commission would be affected and testing would resume only once safety conditions were met.

The incident comes as utilities around the world from Australia to California increasingly rely on large lithium-ion batteries to store renewable energy from the wind and the sun. The same type of batteries as those used in electric cars, they can deliver power quickly to the electricity grid.

The amount of energy storage deployed last year rose 62 per cent, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie, and the market is set to grow 27-fold by the end of the decade.

Yet there have been a total of 38 large lithium-ion battery fires since 2018, according to Paul Christensen, a professor at Newcastle University.

In Beijing, a fire at a lithium-ion battery installation in April killed two firefighters and took 235 firefighters to control. Last September, a large lithium-ion battery in Liverpool, owned by Danish renewable energy company Orsted, caught fire in the middle of the night.

Lithium-ion batteries can catch fire after a process called “thermal runaway”, which results when a battery is overcharged or crushed. Heat as well as a mixture of gases are produced, which when released form a vapour cloud that can ignite or cause an explosion.

In 2019 in Arizona, a grid-scale lithium battery fire threw a firefighter more than 20 metres from the container door, leaving him with a brain injury and broken ribs. That fire started after a short circuit in one lithium-ion battery cell, according to a report released after the incident.

Because of the release of gases “we don’t have a definitive answer of what is the best way to deal with an EV [electric vehicle] fire or energy storage fire,” Christensen said.

“They [lithium-ion batteries] are essential to the decarbonisation of this planet but their penetration into society has far outstripped our actual knowledge of the risks and hazards associated with them,” he said.

The risks will only increase as individual households increasingly install lithium-ion batteries to store energy from solar panels, or to reduce reliance on electricity grids following a spate of extreme weather events, he said.

In Australia, fire crews wore breathing apparatus and hazmat suits as they attempted to contain the flames, Fire Rescue Victoria said. Drones were also deployed.

Matt Deadman, lead officer for alternative fuels and energy systems at the National Fire Chiefs Council in the UK, said lithium-ion battery fires burn for much longer than usual fires and water only reduces their spread.

“It’s about cooling the batteries and you can extinguish the flame but lithium-ion batteries will produce their own oxygen as they break down — they will keep catching fire again, we just take as much heat as we can out of them,” he said.

“At the moment we rely on tried and tested firefighting methods using water which is effective but it’s not a golden bullet for solving these things as quickly as you possibly can,” Deadman said.

Tesla said last month revenues from its energy storage and generation business, which includes sales of its Megapack batteries, more than doubled in the latest quarter to $801m.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, said safer variants of lithium-ion technology such as lithium-iron phosphate batteries — which use iron and phosphate instead of the metals nickel and cobalt — are suitable for its large battery installations.

Gavin Harper, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham, said: “It is essential that we don’t stifle new innovation as it is imperative that we decarbonise rapidly, but at the same time, we need to take a precautionary approach as we deploy new technologies at scale.”

Firefighters bring large battery fire near Geelong under control

Australia Fire Authority (CFA)

August 2, 2021

More than 30 fire trucks and support vehicles and about 150 firefighters from CFA and Fire Rescue Victoria responded to the incident, which started about 10.30am on Friday morning.

They found a 13-tonne lithium battery inside a shipping container was fully involved and crews wearing breathing apparatus worked to contain the fire and stop it spreading to nearby batteries.

An Advice Warning was issued at 18.36pm on Sunday 1 August for Bell Post Hill, Lovely Banks, and Moorabool.

This was downgraded from an initial Watch and Act Warning for toxic smoke that was issued on Friday.

FRV initially led the response to the incident, with CFA taking control of the incident at 3.30pm. The two agencies worked in support of one another throughout the incident, and were also supported by Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria and the EPA.

A scientific officer was on scene conducting atmospheric monitoring, while FRV’s specialist RPAS (drones) unit was also deployed.

CFA Incident Controller and District 7 Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer Ian Beswicke praised the multi-agency response to the “challenging situation”.

“We’ve had lots of specialists on site… all that expertise helps us come up with some really good decisions about what we need to do to respond to these types of fires,” he said.

“There was one battery pack on fire to start with, but it did spread to a second pack that was very close to it.

“The plan is that we keep it cool on the outside and protect the exposures so it doesn’t cause any issues for any of the other components in the power station.

The cause is undetermined and will be investigated once it is safe to do so.

Fire breaks out at Tesla Big Battery; toxic smoke warning issued

Emergency services issued a warning for toxic smoke in the nearby Batesford, Bell Post Hill, Lovely Banks and Moorabool areas. Residents were warned to move indoors, close windows, vents and fireplace flues and bring their pets inside after a fire erupted at Victoria’s new Tesla Big Battery, the largest lithium-ion battery in the country.

Nick Toscano

Sidney Morning Herald

July 30, 2021

“We can confirm that during initial testing today at approximately 10-10.15am a fire occurred within one of the Tesla Megapacks at the Victorian Big Battery,” Neoen Australia managing director Louis de Sambucy said. “No one was injured and the site has been evacuated.”

Neoen and Tesla are working with emergency services to manage the situation.

Emergency services issued a warning for toxic smoke in the nearby Batesford, Bell Post Hill, Lovely Banks and Moorabool areas. Residents were warned to move indoors, close windows, vents and fireplace flues and bring their pets inside.

Neoen said the site had been disconnected from the power grid and there wouldn’t be an impact on the state’s electricity supply.

The Australian Energy Market Operator said the site was safely isolated from the power grid.

“We can confirm the incident has not impacted electricity supply,” a spokesman said.

“We continue to work with the asset owner, Victorian electricity network businesses and relevant authorities in response to the incident.”

Paul McArdle, of energy market consultancy Global Roam, said the first sign of any operations at the big battery was at 6.15pm on Thursday, with 25 megawatts of charging.

“It only started operating 24 hours ago,” he said. “It’s not been a great start.”

The Victorian Big Battery, with a capacity of 300 megawatts and 450 megawatt-hours, is three times bigger than the initial size of billionaire Elon Musk’s Tesla big battery built in South Australia in 2017.

It is scheduled to begin operating before this summer’s peak demand period.

In Australia and worldwide, battery technology is emerging as key to supporting the greater uptake of renewables by overcoming the problem of intermittency when it is not sunny or windy. Big batteries capture and store excess power created during times when conditions for renewable energy are most favourable, and then release it when it’s needed during peak-usage periods such as during heatwaves.

The Victorian Big Battery is one of several battery projects that have been announced in recent months. Origin Energy unveiled ambitious plans to build a 700-megawatt battery at its Eraring coal-fired power station in NSW, which would be the nation’s largest, while AGL is seeking to roll out 1000 megawatts of batteries across several sites.

The Victorian Big Battery will be owned and operated by Neoen. The company will pay for the construction of the battery and maintenance, while consumers will pay for use of the battery through their power bills.

The Andrews government says this cost will be offset by the reduction in power costs. But industry representatives for the nation’s largest energy and gas providers have criticised the project as a “bad idea”, which lacks independent scrutiny of costs and benefits or clarity on how it would participate in the energy market.

One of the Tesla megapack batteries at the site in Moorabool, near Geelong, caught fire during testing shortly after 10am on Friday, according to French renewable energy giant Neoen.


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