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Explosion of U.S. Lithium Battery Plant Reignites Safety Issue

published: 2019-05-06 9:30

Explosion at a lithium-battery energy storage plant in the U.S. the other day, the first such accident ever, has refueled concern over the safety of lithium battery,. which is critical for its future development.

The accident broke out at a 2 MW lithium-battery energy storage system in Surprise City of Arizona State, causing injuries of four firefighters, two seriously. Utility firm Arizona Public Service (APS) and battery supplier Fluence are still probing the cause for the accident.

The accident has overshadowed the future of lithium battery, the most promising energy storage solution now. Development of energy storage systems in South Korea has come to a standstill, following 21 battery fire accidents, totaling 200 MW in capacities, due to humid environment, quality problem, and ill management, in recent two years, according o BNEF.

Safety risk for battery results mainly from improper installation or operation, plus failure of regular check, rather than battery itself. James Frith, London-based BNEF analyst, pointed out that electrolyte of lithium battery is prone to get fire in an environment with high oxygen content, adding that some cathode materials can release oxygen under high temperature, despite good sealing of battery.

Ravi Manghani, analyst at Wood Mackenzie, noted that should more fire accidents occur involving lithium battery, the development of the battery will slow down, with its future going to be threatened by other emerging battery energy-storage technologies.

The scenario, should it materialize, is a pity for lithium battery, as many municipalities and enterprises have had lithium battery as the priority choice for energy storage, following over 85% cost drop since 2010. Arizona, for instance, has targeted installing lithium-battery energy storage systems totaling 850 MW in capacity, alongside 100 MW PV power capacities, by 2025.

Given extensive applications of lithium batteries nowadays, their safety has become a global issue, prompting many scientists to engage in R&D on the development of blast-proof and shatterproof models.

(Collaborative media: TechNews, first photo is for illustration, courtesy of APS Twitter) 

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