FSRI Research Engineer Presents to SFPE on Fire Dynamics and the Impact of Lithium-ion Energy Storage Systems
In December, Adam Barowy, Research Engineer at UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), presented a webinar on the “Impact of Li-Ion Energy Storage Systems on Residential Garage Fire Dynamics” to the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). The presentation summarized 2022 preliminary findings from two series of full-scale experiments investigating the impact of fire dynamics of lithium-ion batteries in residential garage structures, including a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) project led by UL Solutions and the FSRI research project, Impact of Batteries on Fire Dynamics.
The initial research by UL Solutions centered around large-scale experiments in laboratory conditions that simulated a residential ESS installation in an attached two-car garage. The experiments examined the impact of battery involvement on compartment fire behavior and in response to firefighter ventilation operations. When batteries became involved in a compartment fire, thermal runaway battery gas contribution to vent-limited conditions significantly increased the flammability of the smoke, which quickly ignited in response to a simulated vent saw operation. Findings also demonstrated explosion risks when batteries release flammable gas during thermal runaway followed by a delayed ignition of those gasses.
Building off the UL Solutions project, FSRI conducted further experiments to understand the relationship between battery gas release quantity and the resultant deflagration hazards to typical residential garage structures, occupants, and first responders. A representative residential garage was built outdoors and then exposed to various explosion simulations. The preliminary findings included that the garage door is the weakest part of the structure and may create a projectile hazard in the driveway for firefighters performing size-up in the rare event that a large quantity of unburned battery gas accumulates in the garage before igniting.
Learning objectives for the hour-long presentation were broad. Barowy shared indicators of lithium-ion battery thermal runaway off-gas accumulation in compartments and emphasized the ignition explosion hazards created by lithium-ion off-gas accumulation. He also explained how lithium-ion battery gas can increase the flammability of under-ventilated compartment fire smoke and the ways fire involvement of ordinary combustibles fire may conceal lithium-ion thermal runaway indicators and impair or prevent identification of lithium-ion battery involvement in a compartment fire.
The testing, experimentation, and analysis presented by Barowy is a collaborative effort between FSRI and UL Solutions that will continue into 2023. The full webinar is available on SFPE.org.
In addition, FSRI developed an online training module highlighting tactical considerations to help first responders better understand the hazards of lithium-ion batteries. The training is available in the Fire Safety Academy.