PNNL invention reduces risk of battery storage explosions

RICHLAND, Wash. – As more companies turn to large scale, battery storage projects for backup power sources, experts at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PNNL, wanted to make sure these facilities don’t risk exploding.

Unfortunately, there have already been dangerous fires and explosions at battery storage facilities in Arizona and across the world in Great Britain.

These facilities contain rows of lithium-ion batteries that can store energy from a solar or other source of collection, for backup for local municipalities.

READ MORE: Richland’s new solar and battery project is first of its kind in Washington

Matthew Paiss a technical advisor with PNNL, used to be a firefighter and wanted to be able to protect those who respond to battery storage fires.

“We thought, ‘what’s the simplest way to prevent an explosion?’ and that’s, open the doors up,” he said.

A team at PNNL, including Paiss, came up with IntelliVent. It’s a system of sensors that can detect when the batteries are overheating, and open up vents to minimize the risk of explosion.

“It is designed to operate automatically, at the earliest detection of thermal runaway; and thermal runaway means that with lithium-ion cells, if they’re abused some way whether over charged or allowed to get too hot, they can actually start degrading and producing more heat on their own. It’s designed to open up all the doors at a very early stage, and while it’s not a suppression system, and you could still have fire and thermal runaway, you will not have the risk of explosion,” Paiss explained.

The former firefighter said the problem for responders is when they get to these fires, or reports of smoke, is there’s no way to look inside to see what’s happening, without risking an explosion.

“We felt that if doors are open, and people can actually see is there continued smoking or fire then, that’s invaluable,” he said.

The team’s hard work is already paying off. Snohomish PUD plans to install IntelliVent at their Arlington Microgrid Project in Everett, Washington.

“That’s really our goal with this project, is to make this easily accessible by manufacturers, to provide another level of safety that right now isn’t available in large scale energy storage systems,” Paiss said.

The technical advisor went onto explain IntelliVent could be used on a facility like the Horn Rapids Solar Storage Station in Richland, but the key is that the battery storage facility has doors that can open in case of an emergency.