This article is the first of our two-part series on battery energy storage systems (BESS). It serves as an overview to these systems and the steps you can take to protect your facility against their corresponding fire hazards. Stay tuned for a future article on specific products and capabilities related to fire safety and BESS.  

Essential Fire Safety Tips for Battery Energy Storage Systems

Does your facility house a battery energy storage system (BESS)? If so, it may be at a higher risk for fires — and you might therefore consider investing a little more into fire prevention and protection

NFPA 855 covers all things related to the installation of stationary energy storage systems in detail. But while the standard discusses storage systems for various types of batteries (lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, flow, etc.), we’re going to direct our main focus in this blog to those that hold lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion battery energy storage systems have been known to pose the greatest fire risk for facilities. Here’s a little more information as to why, as well as to how you can protect your facility and people against them. 

What Fire Hazard Is Associated with Lithium Battery Energy Storage Systems? 

As long as lithium-ion batteries are stored and maintained properly, they don’t pose significant risks. However, for many facilities, it becomes easy to forget about them or keep up with regular inspections and maintenance — and of course, there’s always a chance that something unexpected happens. That’s why it’s important to understand the potential hazards and do your best to prevent and prepare for them. 

Thermal Runaway

The main fire hazard associated with lithium-ion batteries is thermal runaway. Thermal runaway is a chain reaction that occurs as heat builds up in a lithium-ion battery faster than it can be dissipated. Here’s a more detailed runthrough of how thermal runaway works:

  • When a lithium-ion battery malfunctions or suffers damage, it will likely experience an increase in internal temperature, which can be either gradual or sudden. 
  • As temperature increases, the battery releases a toxic and explosive gas, which is what causes thermal runaway to occur. 
  • Then, the chain reaction leads to an explosive release of all thermal and electromechanical energy stored in the cell, and the ignition of the toxic gas that’s been released. 

6 Fire Safety Tips for Lithium Battery Energy Storage Systems

All that said, it’s a smart choice to devote some time, energy, and money into figuring out a plan of action to protect your facility from the threats that thermal runaway can bring. To do this, you’ll want to consider these six safety tips for lithium battery energy storage systems: 

1. Build Your Battery Energy Storage System In Accordance with NFPA 855

NFPA 855 is a standard that discusses a list of requirements to ensure safety, and it’s critical to read and follow them carefully. By building your battery energy storage system in accordance with NFPA 855, you can ensure you’re doing the best you can to prevent any risk and protect your property, products, and people.

It’s important to note here that NFPA 855 is updated fairly frequently, often on an annual basis. Industry experts are continuously learning more about lithium-ion batteries and the risks associated with them, so you should refer to the most current safety standards available for adequate protection. 

2. Develop an Emergency Operations Plan in Conjunction with Your Local Fire Department and AHJ

If you plan to install a lithium battery energy storage system in your facility, you should consult with your local fire department and authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to develop an emergency operations plan. This plan should be different from your emergency operations plans for other fire hazards, as battery energy storage systems pose different, often more severe, risks. Your local fire department and AHJ will likely have a greater understanding of lithium-ion risks, and will therefore help in creating a more successful plan. 

3. Create Signage to Identify the Contents of Your Battery Energy Storage System

As you install your battery energy storage system, you should also implement some signage around it. This signage should include information about the contents within your system. This helps to alert facility operators or first responders of the potential risks associated with the installation. 

4. Equip Your Facility with Explosion Protection Devices

NFPA 855 requires that any facility with a lithium-ion battery energy storage system should be equipped with an adequate special hazard fire protection system, namely an explosion protection device. While there are a variety of explosion protection devices to choose from, explosion vent panels are some of the most popular. These panels are installed on the top of the battery energy storage system to safely direct the explosion upward, away from most of your people and property. 

5. Install a Fire Sprinkler and/or Suppression System

Fire sprinkler and suppression systems are the bread and butter of fire protection. They do most of the work to combat fire effectively, or at least until your local fire department can get to the scene. If your facility doesn’t currently have one, you’ll want to invest in one (or both!) of them. 

What’s the difference between fire sprinkler systems and fire suppressions systems? Fire sprinkler systems release water, while fire suppression systems release gaseous, chemical, or foam agents. In most cases, it’s recommended that facilities with highly combustible substances install a fire suppression system since water isn’t as effective against them.

6. Install Specialized Hazard Detection Systems

One of the most important choices you can make for limiting fire and explosion damage from battery energy storage systems is which specialized hazard detection system you install. There are a variety of detection options that can detect the conditions that precede thermal runaway — from temperature increases to off-gasses, smoke, or flames. 

The earlier your malfunctioning battery is detected, the sooner you can notify first responders, sound your alarms, evacuate the premises, and activate fire sprinkler and suppression systems. Depending on your unique application, some detection options may suit your facility better than others. Consult with a fire detection expert to help make the best choice. 

Lithium battery storage is essential to your facility’s operations, but it can also present significant fire hazards, especially if you don’t have the right fire protection solutions. Get expert battery storage fire protection from Vanguard Fire & Security. Contact our team to get help discovering, implementing, and maintaining the fire protection system that will keep your facility safe.

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