Are Lithium Ion Batteries Safe?
9:25pm 30th March 2017
We ask if Lithium Ion Batteries are actually safe for use in home power storage systems or not?
Lithium Ion batteries, like all batteries, store their power using a chemical process. Different processes have different energy densities and characteristics, like sensitivity to heat and longer term usable storage capacity (most batteries degrade over time).
The particular question with Lithium Ion and their safety, in part, relates to their incredibly high energy density; a high energy density means there is a lot of 'chemical potential' stored in a given volume. In essence there is more energy in a Lithium Ion battery to go wrong 'with' if something does happen to go wrong. Also Lithium Ion has a nasty characteristic of being able to self sustain a fire event, it literally can feed off itself. For instance on some planes with Lithium Ion backup batteries, they actually have a 'vent' to the outside, so if they do happen to catch fire all the heat and fumes go outside..
Now, if we were to just install basic Lithium Ion batteries in our homes without appropriate safe guards, we would be setting ourselves up for a disaster. Luckily though manufacturers of Lithium Ion batteries for home use have worked hard to put in place multiple design safe guards to prevent 'run away' fire situations occurring, they do this by:
- Physical Design - making the battery robust and secure
- Monitoring - checking temperature and battery vitals to ensure it does not overcharge
- Installation Procedures - ensuring it isn't installed in places where it could be a problem.
So, Lithium Ion batteries have the 'potential' to catch fire; but the actual risk of them doing so has been reduced through design and processes to actually make it not a significant worry.
Note: this does not mean all batteries are the same and that all battery installers are the same; you still need to do your homework and ensure you have a safe battery and an approved and trained installer fit the battery.
You should also check to ensure that appropriate installation standards are in place, both with the battery and with training with the installer, an installer who does not understand the standard cannot do an installation to it...
So why all the fuss?
I think some if it is justified, you wouldn't want to be putting a Lithium Ion battery on your fire escape route for instance, nor would you be wanting to put it close to any sources of intense heat. Hopefully the installation standards cover this, although I would prefer it if governments actually mandated where battery systems are permitted or not; then everybody would know what is permitted or not.