Thermal Runaway Gas Sensing and Fire Suppression / Ventilation for Li-ion BESS

The use of Li-ion batteries as a method of storing energy, either from baseload plants during non-peak-usage hours or from renewable but intermittent resources when they produce more than the present consumption needs, is growing rapidly.  However, in the last 5 years or so there have been dozens of publicized major fires (and even some firefighting personnel injuries and fatalities) in battery energy storage systems (BESS) installed around the world.  A lot has been learned from these fires, as well as parallel learnings from the transportation industry that is also rapidly electrifying and mostly using Li-ion batteries to do so.  While Li-ion technology has been around for 30 years, the grouping of large amounts of cells in vehicles and energy storage systems is relatively recent, and so there are plenty of lessons to learn.  Some of the learnings are about how to design the battery systems to limit cell-to-cell, module-to-module, rack-to-rack, and container-to-container propagation of events that start as an individual cell thermal runaway.  Such designs include spacing, heat absorbing or cooling materials between cells or groups of cells, etc.  Other advances and research are in the area of early detection, disconnection, and fire suppression.  Because we are still in the learning phase, sometimes the supposed solutions can cause problems if not properly implemented.  For example, there have been significant BESS thermal runaway events initiated or exacerbated by cooling systems and fire suppression systems that leak or apply suppression water to cells that are not in danger, but whose electronics are not sealed against the damaging corrosion and shorting effects of water intrusion.  IEEE has a PES standards committee (Energy Storage and Stationary Battery, or ESSB) that works on standards for all kinds of stationary batteries and the safety issues surrounding them, including Li-ion BESS.  This committee has a Codes subcommittee with members placed on key Fire Code committees, such as NFPA 855 and the IFC, that deal with the fire suppression aspect of this issue.  The 3rd edition of the joint IEEE 1635 / ASHRAE 21 standard on thermal management and ventilation for stationary batteries is presently in ballot, and the whole revision has been written to include information about gassing and thermal management of Li-ion batteries in stationary applications (previous editions covered only lead-acid and Ni-Cd technologies), with some references to gas sensing and fire suppression.  Below you will find multiple links to IEEE conference papers and magazine articles that deal with the subject of Li-ion thermal runaway gas sensing and fire suppression.  There is additional research that was recently given at conferences or webinars that has not yet been posted to online sources, but is coming soon, and there will be more to come in the next few years, including revisions to major Fire Codes as more is learned about how to best detect, limit, and manage these Li-ion BESS thermal runaway events.

Active Committees/Task Forces of Interest

To learn more & get involved, please check out the IEEE PES Energy Storage and Stationary Battery (ESSB) Committee website

  • Note that the website lists both in-person and online meetings.  The next face-to-face meeting will be this January 2022 in Alabama, USA.

NFPA 855 has ongoing meetings for the next edition, and public input is welcome.

Technical Reports & Applicable Papers or Presentations
IEEE Xplore:
Other Available Material

June 2020