back to article Tesla battery fire finally flamed out after four-day conflagration

The fire in a large battery using Tesla kit in Australia is out – four days after it started. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) in the state of Victoria wrote that the fire was declared under control at 1505 AEST on Monday, August 2. The blaze fired up on Friday, July 30. The fire burned all weekend, and at 0930 AEST on the …

  1. wolfetone Silver badge
    Joke

    How can we dance when our Earth is turning?

    How can we sleep when our Tesla batteries' are burning?

    1. Annihilator Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: How can we dance when our Earth is turning?

      The point of these projects is to get *rid* of oil, midnight or otherwise.

      (Terrific reference though - absolutely well done)

    2. Sceptic Tank Bronze badge
      Flame

      Re: How can we dance when our Earth is turning?

      Boo! Somebody else already pointed out in the first article that it's not just the Auzzies' beds that are burning.

    3. MarkSitkowski

      Re: How can we dance when our Earth is turning?

      It's called the Coriolis Effect

      1. Efer Brick

        Re: How can we dance when our Earth is turning?

        That's when you've downed a few too many tinnies!

    4. gandalfcn Silver badge

      Re: How can we dance when our Earth is turning?

      Earth turning? Not according to the Flat Earth cultists, the followers of Rowbotham and his modern disciples.

  2. Real Ale is Best
    Flame

    Extinguishers...

    Maybe they need to keep some tanks of liquid nitrogen on-site for putting out fires; I suspect CO2 handheld extinguishers won't be up to the job.

    I guess halon is out of the question.

    I'm actually surprised the containers don't have piping for injecting such fire suppression measures.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Extinguishers...

      Won't work. LiIon cells are their own oxidiser and fuel source.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Extinguishers...

        I suspect LN2 would drop the temperature sufficiently to stop combustion.

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: Extinguishers...

          Not even close. To give a simple comparison with water, lets take nitrogen starting at -200C compared to water starting at 0C, and going up to 100C. Nitrogen has specific heat capacity ~1 J/g/K, water is 4.2 J/g/K. So gram for gram, water will absorb 420 J, while nitrogen starting much colder will only manage 300 J. Obviously going to higher temperatures will only make the difference bigger. However, the biggest contribution is actually from vaporisation. The heat of vapourisation for water is 2.3 kJ/g, for nitrogen it's 0.2 kJ/g. So the total energy taken for a gram of each woud be 2.7 kJ for water, and 0.5 kJ for nitrogen.

          Plus of course there's simple quantity. Even if nitrogen was a bit better than water, how much of it could you actually keep on hand? Cryogenic gases are a right arse to keep sitting around the place; you need a ton of insulation, and either regular topups or your own production facility since you can't avoid having some losses. Water, on the other hand, you can just stick in a bucket. It's trivial to have a large water tower on hand if neccessary, or just take it straight from the mains for an essentially unlimited supply if possible. Throwing a few hundred litres of nitrogen onto a fire would never be as effective as throwing tens or hundreds of thousands of litres of water, even if the heat capacities were the other way around.

          This is why we use water in so many places. Using something that starts off a little bit colder doesn't help when there can be an order of magnitude difference both in heat capacities and availability.

          1. juice Silver badge

            Re: Extinguishers...

            Dumb question: why not use sand? It's generally chemically inert.

            Admittedly, pumping sand is technically complex, but for an installation like this, you could maybe have a crane or robotic JCB on site, ready to tip a few tonnes on any container which is making sparking noises...

          2. vtcodger Silver badge

            Re: Extinguishers...

            "Not even close" Nice analysis. And dead right as far as I can see. ... except ... I suspect that a part of the problem might be battery self-discharge rather than combustion of its component chemicals. As I understand it, when a Li-ion battery is raised to a temperature somewhat above 200C, it starts discharging spontaneously. Warming it further. Causing it to discharge even faster. ... Thermal runaway.

            A fully charged cell probably contains a watt hour (3600J) or more of energy. That's considerable potential heat. I doubt these cells are shipped fully charged as incinerating your battery bank not only cuts into your profit margins, but sullies the brand. Potential customers for your vehicles might decide to wait another few years before saving the planet. But, my understanding is that unlike some other battery technologies you can't fully discharge Li-ion cells and expect to recharge them later. So presumably they ship with some charge in the cells.

            I submit that it's possible that liquid Nitrogen might be more effective than you postulate because it could potentially make it harder for adjacent cells to overheat and contribute to the conflagration.

            Then again, probably not.

            I'd be interested in comments from those who actually know something about Li-ion battery fires.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Extinguishers...

              (Thankfully I don't know much about Li-ion battery fires, but I do have some info).

              I did the math a while back. One of our "big" batteries (bigger than passenger cars) had enough energy to vaporize something like 2500L of water if it were to burn.

              Your idea about liquid nitrogen cooling things to the point where fire wouldn't spread between cells is intriguing. In our packs, there's just so much material, so many layers, and so much mass that wouldn't work, but automotive may be different.

              As to charge, you can anticipate shipping around 30-40% SOC. Much lower and the initial charging gets tricky (or impossible, if you truly hit 0%). Much higher, and the risk and severity of fire go up.

            2. Cattledog

              Re: Extinguishers...

              F-500 Encapsulator Agent is widely used in Europe for LI-Ion battery fires and is specified in the Tesla Giga Factories (similar setup to Geelong but bigger) in Nevada, California and Texas. I'm surprised it apparently wasn't specified for the Megapack.

              F-500EA is available in extinguishers and works well.

              Have a look at this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjGOEYtqI24

              Also neutralises the Hydrogen Fluorine gas and other toxins that the burning batteries give off.

              Should be used in Aussie.

          3. This post has been deleted by its author

          4. John Robson Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Extinguishers...

            Thanks - hadn't done the maths, was really just commenting that the aim isn't to stop oxygen being available, but to keep the temperature down.

            Water, as it turns out, is far more effective, as well as being much easier to handle - but does the same job in terms of temperature reduction/limitation

      2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Extinguishers...

        Lithium-Ion cells contain very little elemental lithium. The hazard is from the flammable liquid electrolyte combined with the tendency for thermal runaway when they're damaged. They need something other than plain water to extinguish them.

        "Crews struggled to contain the blaze because water reacts with lithium-ion batteries to produce fire." as stated by the article is not correct.

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Extinguishers...

          Not just the electrolyte. The anode and cathode will release oxygen as they're heated and decompose, which is why I suggested that simply dousing the thing in nitrogen won't work. A BC or ABC extinguisher for a small battery will probably work, but for a fire of this size there's really not much that can be done to stop it.

          1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

            Re: Extinguishers...

            The anode and cathode will release oxygen as they're heated and decompose
            Blimey, this I wasn't aware of.

          2. Cattledog

            Re: Extinguishers...

            Have a look at my post above re F-500EA. Not well known but works well on Li-Ion fires.

        2. LogicGate

          Re: Extinguishers...

          The general consensus for firefighting a burning Lithium battery appears to be to use not only water, but A LOT of water. Cool it dow, smother the fire, and continue to apply water after the fire is out. If you can, submerge the whole battery compartment in water.

          1. Dr Scrum Master

            Re: Extinguishers...

            Why not just have submerged battery packs?

            As soon as a fire starts, open the flood gates.

            1. FeepingCreature

              Re: Extinguishers...

              Generally speaking, you probably want to keep batteries and water separated...

              Difficulty here may be flooding exactly one battery pack.

              1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

                Re: Extinguishers...

                Build separate (empty) pools, one per pack. Remotely closeable drainage to stop them filling with rain water (yeah even in Aus). Once a fire starts, flood the pool.

                Does increase construction and deployment costs though, and all the concrete needed to make the pools somewhat dents the eco credentials of these battery schemes.

                Question though. If the lithium and electrolyte therefore aren't consumed, will they later spontaneously combust if the pool is drained?

                1. Geez Money

                  Re: Extinguishers...

                  "If the lithium and electrolyte therefore aren't consumed, will they later spontaneously combust if the pool is drained?"

                  One of the nastiest things about fires in big lithium battery packs is their tendency to re-ignite hours or even days later. If you remember Richard Hammond totaling the Rimac, it took them something like three days to get it to stop constantly reigniting itself.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Extinguishers...

              At least one EV manufacturer has "dunk tanks" in the battery lab. If a battery under investigation starts on fire, hit the BRB and the table drops into a tank of water. I believe a fume hood also closes over the table.

              For the "big" batteries ("big" where batteries for EV cars are "small") they set up a quarantine area, preferably outside. The example site had a waterproof roll-down door so the area could be flooded with a meter or so of water.

              If something lights off on the plant, surround and drown in the theory. The water won't put out the battery, it just prevents anything else from lighting up.

              Anon, cause corporare won't like me talking about this.

          2. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Extinguishers...

            Makes the problems of extinguishing ICE fires seem trivial in comparison...

            1. teknopaul Silver badge

              Re: Extinguishers...

              And the plan is to have one of these buggers in every Lorry?

              How long would it burn if one went up on the M6?

              Chances of evacuation of the M6 in 4 days driving backwards is zero.

              1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                Re: Extinguishers...

                >And the plan is to have one of these buggers in every Lorry?

                Now imagine carrying 30 tonnes of LPG.

                The nice thing about dead dinosaur is that you get the oxidser for free from the air so you get much more bang per ton.

                1. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

                  Re: Extinguishers...

                  It is much easier to extinguish “dead dinosaur” than a battery - just prevent oxygen getting to it.

                  1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

                    Re: Extinguishers...

                    And the other thing about both LPG and petrol is it tends to dissipate once the containment is compromised. May get quite a big, hot and fast initial fire, but once it's been spread about a bit, it tends to become much safer.

                  2. Roland6 Silver badge

                    Re: Extinguishers...

                    Whilst it is natural to focus on the principle reagents, we shouldn't forget all the other materials packaged with the reagents; remember the Hindenberg, it wasn't the fuel (hydrogen) that caused the real problems, it was the other stuff that caught.

                    The big nasty since the turn of the century has been fluorine, used in gaskets, drive belts and electrical items and other ICE under-the-bonnet 'plastics' - that with heat and water readily changes into hydrofluoric acid...

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Extinguishers...

              There are different logistics and challenges to extinguishing both. Gasolene and diesel can leak and flow (possibly before igniting). Gasoline vapors are flammable. Oh, and for a given range, the ICE engine vehicle will have about 2.5X the thermal energy available in a fire than an equivalent Li-ion powered vehicle (I ran my numbers with a fully charged battery and a full tank of diesel).

              Electric vehicles add the concerns with high voltage (somewhat mitigated with first-responder training and with pyro to disconnect batteries in crashes)

          3. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: Extinguishers...

            using of LOTS of water makes sense. Though water + Lithium = hydrogen gas, the Lithium forms LiOH which would be chemically inert. So flooding the batteries with water would definitely put out the fire. But you'd still see a lot of chemical reactions while trying to put it out.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Extinguishers...

              If you could collect the H2 you could use that industrially - perhaps in some sort of airship

              1. General Purpose Bronze badge

                Re: Extinguishers...

                Stick it in fuel cells to power the fire engines.

      3. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Extinguishers...

        The fire triangle has 3 legs: heat, fuel, oxidizer

        you break one of them to put it out. Liquid N2 would probably help a LOT in that regard.

        Another thing you could use is a dry chemical that interrupts the ionic exchange at the boundary of the flame, such as PKP which is supposed to work on class D fires (like ordinance and pyrotechnics). I believe that halon can ALSO help in this way.

        So maybe what is needed is an easily ionized gas that literally steals the fire and cools the fuel. This would be a good product as these surge-handling batteries become more popular.

        As I recall, LiIon and LiPo usually catch fire because they were discharged too much, though charging them too fast can also cause this. It puts them in an unstable state when over-discharged. They'll 'pillow' as chemicals break down, forming (I think) hydrogen gas, or something equally bad at any rate. And of course they're made from one of the MOST reactive chemicals in the universe.

        (Maybe it would be a better idea to use a safer aluminum-based battery for this kind of high power capacity application)

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Extinguishers...

          Any other battery would be better for this sort of application than LiIon, which sacrifices a level of stability in exchange for increased energy density. At this scale, energy density is less of an issue, but LiIon has become the meme thanks to Mr Musk's marketing.

          IMO grid-scale storage is a dead-end anyway; it's only being pushed to try and paper over the problem of renewal intermittency. Regardless of one's views on renewables, a lot of the issues that these storage sites are supposed to fix would be better resolved with HVDC interconnects than with grid-scale storage. Energy storage, if it's required, should constructed at end-points, where it can be tailored to the needs of the consumer, whoever they might be.

          1. Confuciousmobil

            Re: Extinguishers...

            Redox flow batteries are designed for large scale storage where Lion batteries are totally unsuitable. Who’s bright idea was this project?

          2. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: Extinguishers...

            IMO grid-scale storage is a dead-end anyway; it's only being pushed to try and paper over the problem of renewal intermittency.

            Could we call it "solar and wind intermittency". If we rebuilt every waterwheel in the country and added new ones on wiers then the energy produced would only be intermittent on the occasions that the water in the rivers stopped flowing.

            Precisely why everything was pinned on wind and solar i'll never know; other than it's cheap and favours large land owners.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Extinguishers...

              it's cheap and favours large landowners. What's being farmed is subsidies

              I'll point out (yet again) that whilst "renewables" can slightly outmatch existing electrical carbon emitting generation capacity (TWH/year), there's a significant shortfall when you factor in decarbonising everything else.

              By the time you have electric vehicle fleets, eliminate oil/gas domestic heating and decarbonise industrial processes, you need somewhere between 6-8 times the existing annual TWh capacity (3-4 times just for transportation and heating) and renewables can't fill that gap

              ALL this stuff is merely bridging technology and heavy investment to the exclusion of everything else merely kicks the can down the road a few years. Rolling blackouts - everywhere - are likely to be the new normal in the 2030s and local battery packs won't help much because they won't get enough time to recharge

              Then there's the issue of grid capacity to carry the extra power.

              Street mains are predicated on a lowish average load per household (300-1500W in most of Europe) and widespread 7kW overnight charging will burn out local distributors as well as substation transformers (that's quite apart from the HV grid distribution issues and added problems caused by intermittent sources causing power loads to shunt quickly in directions and at speeds the grid isn't designed to handle)

              This battery fire shows that more thought needs to be put into site safety for balancing installations. I suspect wider spacing and mandatory cooling will be new requirements coming out of this

    2. maffski

      Re: Extinguishers...

      Aus is big. The safest, cheapest and easiest solution is to do exactly what they did. Space the batteries out and let it burn.

    3. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Extinguishers...

      They really ought to have piping to inject fire suppressants.

      While Halon is expensive for firefighting these days as production stopped 20+ years ago there are alternative products these days that have the same insanely beautiful chemical reaction of taking the heat out of the fire when they are more than x% concentration in the air. Eg Fm200 or Novec 1230. (Halon does not remove the oxygen; that's a CO2 flood. With apologies to BOFH fans the resulting mix is not dangerous and will only give you a headache after about an hour working in the area after the alarm has sounded)

      And frankly, while Halon is a CFC and was contributing to eating holes in the Ozone layer using some of it to put a fire out is a lot more environmentally friendly than letting a fire burn for 3 days kicking out epically horrible chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid. (According to the Material Safety Data Sheet of any lithium based battery this is released on contact with the battery electrolyte with moisture in the air, or if somebody is spraying water on the fire to put it out...)

      1. Cattledog

        Re: Extinguishers...

        F-500EA quickly drops the temperature to below the ignition point and neutralises the hydrofluoric acid. Used overseas, can't understand why we aren't using it in Oz.

    4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Liquid nitrogen

      Not an expert in any way on the matter, but it seems to me that dropping a super-cooled liquid on a raging fire is an absolute guarantee of explosive results that might not correspond to the definition of "putting out the fire".

      1. WonkoTheSane
        Mushroom

        Re: Liquid nitrogen

        I see you've watched the "Thermite & Ice" youtube videos then?

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Liquid nitrogen

        "Not an expert in any way on the matter, but it seems to me that dropping a super-cooled liquid on a raging fire is an absolute guarantee of explosive results that might not correspond to the definition of "putting out the fire".

        Red Adair might or might not agree with you/ :-)

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Red Adair

          hasn't been agreeing or disagreeing with anyone for well over a decade.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Red Adair

            "hasn't been agreeing or disagreeing with anyone for well over a decade."

            Is your Ouija board broken?

        2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: Red Adair might or might not agree with you

          I'm not aware that Red Adair used liquid nitrogen.

          High explosives (like C4, I guess) for sure, but not liquid nitrogen.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Red Adair might or might not agree with you

            What you use to create the explosion isn't relevant so long as you get the desired result :-)

      3. Mark 85 Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Liquid nitrogen

        Not an expert in any way on the matter, but it seems to me that dropping a super-cooled liquid on a raging fire is an absolute guarantee of explosive results that might not correspond to the definition of "putting out the fire".

        Well, a bit of explosive does go a long way as it works on oil field fires. Not sure if it would work here as it would scatter the lithium over a wide area. See icon...

    5. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Extinguishers...

      The best flame retardant for LiIon fires is a bucket of sand

      It's usually difficult to dump that much sand on a big fire and it has the unfortunate side effect of keeping heat in

      In this situation I'd be concentrating on hosing down the adjacent units to keep them cool and there's a lot to be said for having some kind of spray system to automate this, but it'd be utterly useless in actually putting out anyhting that's actually burning

      1. Cattledog

        Re: Extinguishers...

        Johnson Controls specifies F-500EA for Li-ion Battery fires.

    6. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: Extinguishers...

      What would you do with a partially incinerated Megapack? Nobody's going to touch that.

      Give them Nichrome chimneys to suck the flames up to a safe distance from the other packs.

  3. Ali Dodd
    Holmes

    My maths is bad but

    210 megapacks each which store 3MWh to have a total storage of 300MWh

    Where did the other 330MWh of storage go?

    1. richardcox13

      Re: My maths is bad but

      ISTR the 300 was 300MW: the maximum output power, not 300WMh.

      1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

        Re: My maths is bad but

        (In any case, whoever wrote the phrase "3 MWh of power" could do with a gentle physics lesson on the difference between power and energy.)

        1. JBowler

          Re: My maths is bad but

          The math is wrong:

          >Tesla's shipping-container-sized batteries that can store 3 MWh of power. The project using the Megapack - 210 of them, to be precise, is called "The Big Battery" and will have capacity of 300 MegaWatt hoursonce [sic] repaired.

          There's nothing wrong with the fragment, "store 3MWh of power." It's just plain English.

          1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

            Re: My maths is bad but

            "store 3MWh of power."

            That’s wrong. Plain or not.

  4. IGotOut Silver badge

    By "under control"

    They mean it's burnt itself out.

    1. HildyJ Silver badge

      Re: By "under control"

      That does seem to be the standard for Tesla car fires - contain the flames to the car and let it burn itself out.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: By "under control"

        More or less

        Once a fire's well and truely taken hold anywhere, the best that firefighters can usually do is keep it from spreading. Putting it out is a bonus but not letting anything else burn is the primary goal

    2. thingo

      Re: By "under control"

      As a CFA firefighter, 'under control' states the incident is able to be handle with the resources 'on scene' (& already responding). It can still be quite dangerous.

  5. ClarkMills

    fire suppression entry pipe per container?

    Something that the fire department or even the site staff can hook a hose up to and completely fill the problem battery container?

    Obviously after the problem battery is first disconnected.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: fire suppression entry pipe per container?

      Slight snag. Apparently there was no water supply to the battery farm, so firefighters had to bring water in via tankers. From stuff I saw, the approach seemed to be to try and keep adjacent battery packs cool, and let the involved ones burn out.

      Kinda curious if these events will lead to different risk approaches, ie better fire suppression on site, or wider spacing.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: fire suppression entry pipe per container?

        could even end up being mandatory berms around the installed units to shield adjacent ones (and make the "hollow" into a ready-made dunk tank if needed)

        Lack of water is a big problem in many places. The nasty stuff being generated when you do hose down burning LiIon batteries is another consideration. You don't want hydrofluric acid getting back into groundwater runoff at any concentration

  6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Flame

    Two other Megapacks damaged

    Here's an idea: maybe space them out a bit more so that when something like this happens again (and it will) you don't risk the neighbouring packs?

    1. Francis Boyle

      As far as I can make out the unit that the fire started in and the one it spread to were in the same "megapack". The other megapacks may or may not have been damaged beyond some burnt paint (I doubt anyone's interested in checking them at the moment) but they didn't catch fire which suggests someone did their sums correctly.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Concrete

    Install the batteries over holes. When they catch fire, drop them into the hole, pour concrete over the top. Aussies love a barbecue so then you can chuck some steaks on top.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Concrete

      Ah - the Chernobyl technique....

      1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

        Re: Concrete

        Chernobecue. It gives you that get up and glow.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Concrete

          The Aussie technique would be to tow it outside the environment

          1. Ochib

            Re: Concrete

            Only if the front falls off

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Concrete

              I take it that the battery wasn't made of any cardboard derivatives ?

      2. Aus Tech

        Re: Concrete

        "Ah - the Chernobyl technique...."

        I saw the mini-series, and I also remember meeting some of the children from there, when they came out to Australia some time after the incident. The idea of using concrete to control the situation didn't work at all well.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Concrete

          >The idea of using concrete to control the situation didn't work at all well.

          It worked well enough, a bit like the idea of covering a Li-ion battery with sand, just that at some stage you have to start digging...

          In the case of Chernobyl, it did make the surrounding area safe enough (*) for the construction of the sarcophagus. Obviously, we now have to start digging, as the sarcophagus isn't a permanent solution, for that we would probably need to build a pyramid...

          (*) Relative term like the fire service saying "under control".

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Concrete

            "the sarcophagus isn't a permanent solution"

            It only needs to last 30-50 years. High level radioactive sources become inert in a short period of time

            (used nuclear fuel rods are LESS radioactive than new ones in about 350 years, but safe to handle in about 200 - new ones are barely radioactive - the irony of "you can make nuclear weapons from used fuel" claims is that the mixed isotopes generated mean that plutonium or uranium from such sources is "too radioactive" for bombs and will cause fizzles - making bomb grade materials requires short exposures and special geometry. Even 400 year old fuel rod plutonium is unusable for bomb making)

            Three Mile Island's meltdown reactor was cleaned up the fuel carted off back in 1993. Further dismaantling is planned over the next few years

            http://nuclearconnect.org/the-tmi-2-cleanup-challenging-and-successful

            1. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: Concrete

              >"the sarcophagus isn't a permanent solution"

              Firstly, apologies for confusing people by not being precise.

              I was actually referring to the New Safe Confinement and not the Shelter Structure aka sarcophagus.

              The NSC has a design life of 100 years(*), deemed sufficient to permit clean up to begin but wholly insufficient to cover the estimated 20,000 years that Chernobyl will remain highly radioactive.

              >Three Mile Island's meltdown reactor was ...

              TMI was a "level 5" nuclear accident, Chernobyl and Fukushima were "level 7".

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SpaceX

    Given Musk owns SpaceX, can't he develop these packs with a rocket engine under each?

    Fire starts then you just light the rocket and it gets it away from the rest to stop the fire spreading.

    Now where's my coat?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: SpaceX

      un-extinguishable boxes of fire attached to rockets that can be propelled from the homeland to other countries ? I think Boeing has all the IP.

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: SpaceX

      That's one way of towing it outside the environment...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Salt Water Batteries

    Stop using lithium when a longer term, less dangerous alternative would work better.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Salt Water Batteries

      Or just burn the Lithium ?

      You dig it out of the ground and set fire to it. Market it as "zero CO2 coal"

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Salt Water Batteries

        You don't find metallic lithium in the ground. It's so reactive that it will combine with pretty much anything, especially that common compound, water.

        In order to get metallic lithium, you have to take one of these lithium compounds from ore (it's often dug up as a waste product when mining other things), and subject it to some quite high energy reactions to liberate lithium, and then be careful how you store it.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Salt Water Batteries

          "(it's often dug up as a waste product when mining other things)"

          If it wasn't, it wouldn't be economic to extract. Almost all current lithium sources are a byproduct of potash mining

          If the price doubles then extraction from seawater is viable so don't believe the hype about "running out" - anyont pushing this is usually trying to scam you. (Lithium from Potash mining is dirt cheap to extract but transportation costs are a big factor. Extraction from seawater is expensive(ish) but the lowered transport costs make up the difference)

          The thing about "resources" is that they're only counted by economists if there's a demand for them.

          The supply of lithium is virtually infinite but "resources" only count existing mines. On the other hand there are "zero" thorium resources, despite hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the stuff being available in rare earth mine tailings and tens of thousands of tonnes of refined stuff buried in the Utah desert by the US DoE (because they culdn't GIVE it away)

          Wind and other renewable "resources" suffer from another issue - the fact that the low hanging fruit is always the first harvested means that people end up with unrealistic expectations of performance and cost returns. I know of 3 windfarms in New Zealand which aren't paying for themselves - Investors piled in because the first two were highly profitable, but those first two were sited in the best possible position in the country (possibly the best position in the world for wind generation)

  10. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    It's true

    Everything in Australia is trying to kill you.

  11. Elledan Silver badge

    Flow batteries?

    We have been promised that flow batteries would make grid-level storage cheap and safe since at least the 1980s. Instead it seems that these lithium-ion batteries are what we'll be rolling with for the foreseeable future.

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Flow batteries?

      There are proven alternatives to Li-ion for grid storage in the marketplace. Li-ion just happens to be what Musk has on his cart. However, I'm not sure the alternatives like Sodium-Sulphur are any better from the Stuff_I'd_Just_As_Soon_Not_Have_in_my_Neighborhood_point_of_view.

      1. Robert Sneddon

        Re: Flow batteries?

        NGK in Japan has been developing and selling sodium-sulphur batteries for grid storage for a while now. The battery pack they had outside their offices as a technology demonstrator caught fire and it took about two weeks for the fire to be confirmed as extinguished. Four days for the lithium-ion battery pack mentioned in TFA is quite respectable in comparison.

        There's a sodium-sulphur battery storage facility in Rokkasho in Japan used to buffer the energy from a small windfarm. It held the world record for a long time as having the largest capacity of a grid-connected battery (245MWh). The batteries are arranged in a large open compound, well separated to make it easy for firefighters to get at any battery units that light off without the chance of the others catching fire too.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Flow batteries?

          Sodium sulfur(*) batteries have the "slight disadvantage" of needing to be at 300C to operate efficiently. That makes handling and housing them a tad tricky, given the molten sodium inside 'em likes to do nasty things if exposed to oxygen (or water) in an even nastier way than Lithium

          Lithium/air or Lithium/water reactions are mild compared with sodium ones (and both are mild compared with potassium)

          (*)Yes, I know, but it's the official spelling now.

      2. Geez Money

        Re: Flow batteries?

        I'm firmly of the belief that when this all blows over we'll be back to digging a lake on top of a hill and buying pumps and turbines as the best method of grid attached storage. Flow batteries solve a lot of the problems with other kinds of battery (they're sort of halfway between a battery and a fuel cell) but the technology has never matured to where using them is practical unfortunately.

        1. vtcodger Silver badge

          Re: Flow batteries?

          Pumped storage actually works pretty well. But:

          1. You have to be prepared to lose between a quarter and a third of your input energy due to round trip inefficiencies

          2. You need to move a lot of water. My cocktail napkin says you need to move about a cubic meter of water through 100 vertical meters to store 1kwh of energy.

          3. You need to have a lot of water (but it doesn't have to be fresh water) available and you need fair sized "hills" that aren't overly pointy to put your upper reservoir on.

          4. You need to use the facility a lot, otherwise the fixed costs -- which are the same whether you use it or not -- will make the cost per kwH prohibitive.

          On The Other Hand, ideally it's good for many thousands of recharges without performance deterioration.

          It's actually used to, for example, store power from nightime water flow from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario for daytime/early evening usage peaks in the New York City area.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: Flow batteries?

            2. You need to move a lot of water. My cocktail napkin says you need to move about a cubic meter of water through 100 vertical meters to store 1kwh of energy.

            One ton (1 cubic meter of H2O) through a 100m drop will yield 1000*100*9.8 Nm, rounded 1MJ, which is a bit under 0.28kWh

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Flow batteries?

            TL;DR: pumped storage works ok, but there aren't enough places to build pumped-storage facilities

            Especially in large flat places like Australia

        2. ricardian

          Re: Flow batteries?

          2 MW tidal energy device?

          https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-57991351

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: Flow batteries?

            That's a generator, not an energy storage system.

            And while tidal energy won't actually stop in the foreseeable future and doesn't depend on the weather the way wind and solar do, it has its cycle where it slows, stops and reverses four times a day. Which you'd want a buffer for.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Flow batteries?

              The world's only commercial tidal barrage (in france) ended up being decommissioned becaiuse it was uneconomic

              1. Ivan Headache

                Re: Flow batteries?

                Just this last week

                https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-scotland-57991442

              2. Geez Money

                Re: Flow batteries?

                Canada has experimented extensively with tidal in the Bay of Fundy, where the tide raises and lowers by nearly 20x the global average (the most on Earth as far as I'm aware). The flow of water through the bay (and thus amount of electricity you could generate) exceeds that of all rivers on Earth combined by a comfortable margin so the appeal is quite obvious.

                Unfortunately nobody has been able to build a tidal generator that can survive any measurable period of time there without being absolutely destroyed. That's the problem with useful amounts of tidal, we don't really have material science or engineering to build the required turbines, we're probably closer to fusion. Current projects spend more time down than up and are constantly being rebuilt and repaired until their inevitable cancellation.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Flow batteries?

        "cost benefit"

        If you can make use of existing at-scale technology churning out millions of LiIon cells the cost per Wh is less than that of other technology such as flow batteries

        Mass and size aren't considerations for terrestrial fixed applications and it really doesn't matter if Flow Batteries are better when they cost ten times (or more) as much (dittio sodium-sulphur)

        High tech innovation isn't always the best solution:

        Back in the 1950s, the UK discovered that existing runways on "empire routes" were too short (particularly "hot and high" african ones) for new fangled jet aircraft, so the Air Ministry came up with a spec told Vickers to build it and BOAC to buy it

        By the time the VC10 reached service, virtually all the airports in question had solved the problem by extending their runways - for a total cost across all sites far less than ONE VC10, let alone the R&D costs. As a nice side benefit, by building to accomodate 707s (and other jets) those airports could now handle any jets that came along, not just being restricted to the VC10

        As soon as BOAC was "commercialised" and able to drop the government mandated, "Empire routes" it did. The need for VC10s had long-since evaporated and few were sold - virtually nobody needed a "hot and high shortfield" capable airliner when all the commercial short fields were no longer short

        The result nearly killed Vickers, much as Comet nearly killed de Havilland (the crashes weren't the issue, it was simply too small to be economic), Brabazon killed Bristol (built to compete with luxury liners in a world that wanted passenger capacity) and Caravelle killed Sud Aviation (too short a range due to being Paris-centric in design - it wasn't just the British who were shortsighted in requirements)

    2. MarkSitkowski

      Re: Flow batteries?

      What's wrong with pumping water uphill? I seem to remember it worked well in Wales...

      1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: Flow batteries?

        You need a hill. And you need water.

  12. Jeffrey Nonken
    Coat

    We didn't start the fire

    Soz. Already got my coat.

  13. UDP-Port-53

    Why LiOn?

    Why Lithium Ion battery? Why not mechanical battery? We are talking MEGAWATT here, right? Why chemical solution when another solution would not create environmental impact when disaster happened?

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Why LiOn?

      Mechanical stuff has a VERY low energy density. Take this 600MWh storage, which is 2.16*10^12 Joule. One Joule is one Newton-meter. Ten Joule is the energy released by one kilogram (and a bit) dropping one meter. 2.16*10^12J is 2.16 million tons dropping 100m, or 216000 tons dropping one kilometer. 2.16 million tons is 2.16 million m^3 of water, or 863 Olympic swimming pools. Of which you need two, with 100m height difference.

      And that's not counting conversion losses.

      The Vianden reservoir in Luxembourg can hold 10.8 million m^3, with a drop of nearly 300m, so theoretically holding ten times the energy this installation can hold; its practical capacity is about 5000MWh. It takes an entire fucking hilltop, with the upper reservoir having a circumference of 4.8km. I've ridden around it. Dinorwig, written up in El Reg's own Geek's Guide to Britain a couple of years ago, is 9000MWh.

      There have been projects with cranes hoisting and lowering blocks of concrete (not that nice with respect to the environment during production either, although it must be said that afterwards concrete has very little tendency to catch on fire; there are still the motors/generators though), or train waggons on inclined tracks, but those are in the piddlingly small league at best.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Roll on Iron-Air Batteries

    These don't burn like LiON.

    Simpler and cheaper than what Tesla uses.

    For sites like this, they only need about 1/10th the number of Lithium batteries if you have FE-Air ones as well.

  15. Timbo Bronze badge

    What about removing...

    ...any Oxygen in the vicinity?

    I assume the battery pack fire needs O2 to burn, so if the MegaPack's are sealer and had a built-in pump that could remove the O2, wouldn't that put out the fire?

    Or as someone else said (in an earlier reply) if the Li-ion is it's own oxidiser so it burns without the need for any "atmospheric" O2?

    In which case, reverse the flow and pump IN a gas that suppresses the reaction?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about removing...

      Timbo,

      The key question is what this 'Magical Gas' is ?

      You are looking for a gas that preferentially uses up the O2 thereby starving the Li-ion reaction / fire.

      As far as I can work out that would be a very reactive gas and probably as big a problem as letting the Li-ion fire burn out.

      Any chemist want to state otherwise ?

      1. Geez Money

        Re: What about removing...

        Offhand I can't think of anything short of a thermobaric weapon that could consume that much oxygen in an open space that quickly. Especially since the battery provides its own oxygen.

      2. Timbo Bronze badge

        Re: What about removing...

        "The key question is what this 'Magical Gas' is ?"

        Sorry, I should have been clearer.

        I was thinking of removing the O2 via a pump, and thereby creating a (partial, or better) vacuum - rather than adding a "Magical Gas" that "used up" or even replaced the O2 (and assuming Halon is not suitable/acceptable etc).

        BUT, if the batteries are creating their own O2, then sucking out any original O2 that was in the MegaPack won't really help. :-(

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      I assume the battery pack fire needs O2 to burn

      They don't. Not from the outside anyway. It's the energy they store that's now released rapidly and uncontrolled, heating up the cell to the point its component chemicals break down. One of those released components is oxygen.

      The only way to stop a li-ion battery 'fire' is to quench it; the other two factors: fuel and oxygen, it provides itself.

  16. DenTheMan

    Used batteries?

    I am not totally sure of this but was it not the Powerwall that uses old Tesla car batteries.

    If that is the case here then maybe it was always an accident waiting to happen.

    1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: Used batteries?

      This needs to be configured as an actual wall. Two dimensional, where smaller battery subassemblies are all on an external surface. And can be released and ejected by thermal fuse links. Mount it over a sand pit and when one unit catches fire, drop it and let it burn.

      Better cooling as well if there are no marginal units buried in the middle of a bank.

  17. bigtreeman

    NiFe

    How many times do I have to say Nickel Iron is the best technology for large scale batteries.

    Environmentally friendly,

    nearly indestructible,

    good for 50 + years ...

    yada yada yada, the list goes on

    oh, only problem, they last too long

    and don't have to be replaced every 5-10 years

    so not economically feasible.

    1. Robert Sneddon

      Re: NiFe

      The problem with long-lived NiFe batteries is the nickel and iron elements need to be very pure. Nickel, well 99.9% purity is feasible at a cost but commercial-grade iron is a chemical zoo at the best of times and getting ALL the impurities (carbon, silicon, sulphur, phosphorus, manganese, potassium etc.) out of iron feedstock takes a lot of expensive processing.

      NiFe batteries cost about ten times the price of lead-acid batteries for the same capacity, in part because there's less demand for them but a lot of the price is due to the difficulty of making them to a decent standard i.e. the sort of batteries with a real fifty-year lifespan.

  18. the spectacularly refined chap

    Good work chaps

    At the time of writing this article has 67 comments. They can be quickly summed up:

    "I did chemistry once, I'll prove how much I know by saying how to put the fire out."

    It then branches in to two main themes:

    "Do this" and blow up the entire plant, turning a relatively small fire in to something of Buncefield proportions, or

    "Use Unobtainium" without any reference of where to source it if it not immediately to hand.

    As we all know, the best way to put a fire such as this out is a few kilograms of virgin gnat's eyebrow hair. It's a lot of gnats to keep on standby though and going round them all with hair clippers is rather time consuming. I'm glad the fire service in question managed to resolve this without wider damage instead of calling upon Reg commentards.

  19. gandalfcn Silver badge

    So who was responsible for the design and implementation of all this kit (the Megapack)? Mr. "I don't want to be a CEO" himself.

    "CFA officials said the fire is the first known such incident to afflict a Megapack". But not Lithium Ion cells so that is somewhat disingenuous. Tesla products are infamous for poor quality

    And LiON fires are mainly due to poor quality control.

    There are many questions to be answered about the design and safety aspects of Megapacks (as the comments here prove) which Musk doesn't seem worried about, as usual. And his fanbois dismiss them as project fear.

  20. arachnoid2 Bronze badge

    I wonder

    How much pollution this " clean" form of energy produced. Where's the explosive pie dish when you need one?

    Maybe the opposite course of just dousing it with oxygen to make it burn out quicker is the answer.......

  21. Charles Smith
    Coat

    Cry Oh Genick

    Inject liquid oxygen to shorten the duration of the fire.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cry Oh Genick

      Charles Smith,

      Just go to liquid Ozone (O3) if you must 'shorten the duration of the fire' !!! :)

      For ultimate silliness regarding 'A Quick Fire' AKA 'Explosion from Hell' would be to drop, from a great height, liquid Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) on the Li-Ion fire. (Great height needed because you do not want to be anywhere near to the 'fire' when it is quenched with HF.)

      Li-Ion Fire problem solved ..... instantly.

      Replaced by many, many other problems of greater concern. !!! :)

  22. Twanky

    I find it strange that anyone is surprised that 300MWh of stored electrical energy cannot just be 'put out' when accidents happen. If my rough calculations are correct one of these Megpacks 'stores' the same amount of energy as 20,000l (38.197097 kGrapefruit) of petrol/gas (car/auto fuel) together with enough oxygen to ensure complete combustion.

    I'm impressed that the energy release was so slow.

    1. pklausner

      No.

      1 Megapack stores 3 MWh.

      1 liter of gasoline stores ~ 9 kWh

      So one full size container of batteries translates to ~ 300 liters of fuel.

      1. Twanky
        Pint

        Agreed. Re-reading the article and visiting Tesla's site (https://www.tesla.com/en_au/megapack) does indeed show that a single megapack is only 3MWh - not 300MWh.

  23. SusiW
    Flame

    What about the "Battery Gigafactories..."

    ...that his Muskiness (and others) are proposing to build?

    I've often wondered how fast a fire in one section of the factory would spread, and just how hard it would be to quench and make safe.

    You'd need A LOT of firewalls and open spaces to ensure you do not get the indoor equivalent of a forest wildfire flashing from section to section as things heat up.

    Sure, careful segregation of processes would help, but once it got going...

    Nasty.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021