August 12, 2021

Why do Tesla batteries burst into flames?

An explosive toxic blaze at one of the world’s largest Tesla battery installations in Victoria has highlighted the dangers of lithium-ion batteries used to store renewable energy.

Aerial view of a Tesla battery fire at the Victorian Big Battery site at Moorabool near Geelong.

A Tesla lithium-ion battery was engulfed in flames which then spread to an adjacent battery bank.

The fire broke out during testing of a 13-tonne Tesla megapack at the Victorian Big Battery site at Moorabool near Geelong and took three days to extinguish.

More than 150 people from Fire Rescue Victoria and the Country Fire Authority responded to the blaze to ensure it didn’t spread to other batteries. A toxic smoke warning was issued with nearby residents warned to close windows, close fireplace flues and bring their pets inside.

Up to 450 megawatt-hours of energy was planned to be stored in this massive project, making it Australia’s largest. It’s scheduled to start up before summer’s peak demand.

The blaze occurred at a time when utilities are increasingly relying on massive lithium-ion batteries to store renewable energy generated by the wind and sun. They’re the same type of batteries that go into electric cars, and they can send power to the grid quickly.

Lithium-ion global risks

Recently there have been significant lithium-ion battery fires around the world.

Earlier this year, two firefighters were killed and 235 firefighters were needed to put out a fire at a lithium-ion battery facility in Beijing. A large lithium-ion battery caught fire in the middle of the night in Liverpool last year.

When lithium-ion batteries are overcharged or damaged, they can catch fire. Heat is produced as well as a mixture of gases that can ignite or explode in a process known as thermal runaway.

Aerial view of firefighters trying to contain and extinguish a Telsla battery fire at the Victorian Big Battery site at Moorabool near Geelong.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control after burning for more than three days.

Lithium-ion batteries keep catching on fire

Lithium-ion battery fires burn for considerably longer than regular flame. 

Extinguishing the flame is difficult because lithium-ion batteries manufacture oxygen as they break down so they keep catching on fire again and again until they burn out.

As more homeowners install lithium-ion batteries to store energy from solar panels or to lessen their dependency on electrical grids, hazards will only grow.

Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries far safer option

The three most popular rechargeable batteries – Nickel Cadmium (Nicad), Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) and Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) have different qualities.

Li-ion batteries are high performance but dangerous. Nicad batteries are very robust but terrible for recycling and the environment. NiMH batteries like the B.Solar FoxESS Batteries are more dependable and safer because they are protected from thermal runaway thanks to their underlying technology.

NiMH batteries have two to three times the capacity of NiCd batteries of the same size, with significantly higher energy density.

NiMH batteries are made of environmentally friendly materials and are recyclable.

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