ESTELA’s Lithium-ion Battery Safety Seminar was held on the occasion of the Palma Boat Show 2023 in Palma de Mallorca.
The panel and an audience of 75 superyacht captains, crew, suppliers and industry colleagues discussed responsible decision-making, safety protocols, battery chemistries, and best practice in choosing and managing battery-powered toys and systems on board.
The panellists discussed lithium-ion batteries, their significance in the marine industry, their benefits, hazards, and the need for proper management. Professor Paul Christensen, a world-renowned academic in the field of battery energy storage systems and electric vehicles, highlighted the importance of understanding and managing the associated risks to ensure safety in their usage. Robert Smith, of support vessel builder Shadowcat, emphasised the need for manufacturers to ensure safe usage and continuous improvements to prevent thermal runaway.
Pantaenius Marine Insurance is among a number of insurers not to have implemented specific conditions in their policies regarding lithium-ion battery vehicles and onboard installations, despite ongoing discussions about fire safety on superyachts. Marine Claims Service, a claims surveyor, pointed to improper water toy management and supervision as a frequent cause of battery failures.
The level of awareness regarding lithium-ion battery fire safety in water toys is expected to increase, but it is also important to consider monitoring installed systems. BatteryCheck, a battery data analytics startup, emphasises the importance of selecting the appropriate chemistry, structure, modules, strings, and thermal protection for electric vehicles and scooters.
🔈 LISTEN HERE: https://www.podbean.com/ew/pb-uz7q7-1459f5a
Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/yachtcast-with-estela-yachting-in-palma-de-mallorca/id1698077873
Professor Paul Christensen, consultant on all aspects of lithium-ion battery safety including fire detection and suppression. https://lithiumionsafety.co.uk/
Robert Smith, founding partner of SHADOWCAT Support Yachts. https://www.theshadowcat.com/
Imme Schmidts, Managing Director of Pantaenius Spain, specialising in underwriting marine insurance. https://www.pantaenius.com
Juan Roig, head of the Spanish office of Marine Claims Service, a company dedicated to yacht surveys following insurance claims. https://www.marine-claims.com
Michal Sastinsky, co-founder and CEO of BatteryCheck, an expert in data analytics and energy storage. https://www.batterycheck.com/
James van Bregt, editor and social media manager at ESTELA Superyacht Agency
James van Bregt, ESTELA:
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. Allow me to introduce our panellists, starting from left to right.
We have Imme Schmidts, managing director of Pantaenius Spain, specialising in underwriting marine insurance. Next to Imme is Juan Roig, head of the Spanish office of Marine Claims Service, a company dedicated to yacht surveys following insurance claims.
In the centre, we have Professor Paul Christensen, a distinguished researcher involved in projects funded by the Faraday Institution. His work focuses on informing first responders about the risks associated with lithium-ion batteries, particularly in electric vehicles and battery energy storage systems. Paul has extensive experience in advising government departments and serves as a senior advisor to the National Fire Chiefs Council in the UK.
Also joining us is Michal Sastinsky of BatteryCheck, an expert in creating technology solutions for business problems, with a background in data analytics and energy storage. Lastly, we have Robert Smith, who entered the superyacht sector over 20 years ago and co-founded Shadowcat, known for creating award-winning support vessels.
Today, our topic of discussion is lithium-ion batteries, which is a critical subject, especially in the marine industry where safety is a matter of life or death. I’d like to hand it over to Professor Paul to provide a brief overview of lithium-ion batteries, their significance in the marine segment, the benefits, hazards, and why we’re focusing on this topic today.
Thank you for having me. Lithium-ion batteries are considered the safest type of battery due to the absence of chemical changes during their operation. They function by the movement of lithium ions between the cathode and the anode. However, what makes them exceptional is their ability to store a tremendous amount of energy in a compact space. I want to emphasise that I am not demonising lithium-ion batteries; in fact, I think they are remarkable and vital for achieving decarbonisation goals.
Nevertheless, there are risks associated with lithium-ion batteries if they are mishandled or abused. Factors such as heating, overcharging, crushing, exposure to salt or humidity, manufacturing defects, or the introduction of contaminants can trigger a phenomenon called thermal runaway. During thermal runaway, gases are produced, including hydrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrofluoric acid gas, hydrochloric acid gas, hydrogen cyanide, as well as organic solvents in the form of droplets resembling smoke or steam.
The gas released during thermal runaway can be highly explosive, particularly if it ignites immediately. This can result in long rocket-like flames reaching temperatures of up to 1200 degrees Celsius, along with the release of corrosive acids. Alternatively, if ignition is delayed, an unconfined vapour cloud explosion may occur, which can happen even hours, days, or weeks after the initial incident. Large batteries, like those in electric vehicles, have experienced re-ignition in such cases.
In summary, while lithium-ion batteries offer numerous benefits, it is crucial to understand and manage the associated risks to ensure safety in their usage.
It is indeed a topic that requires attention and learning. Now, turning to Robert Smith, of Shadowcat, who specialises in designing dedicated toy carriers with significant battery content onboard. We would like to hear your perspective on best practices for storage and prevention measures.
Robert Smith, Shadowcat:
Indeed, there are distinct scenarios to consider when it comes to lithium-ion batteries. One aspect is the fixed installations on yachts, such as battery banks, while the other involves the toys and recreational equipment. While both scenarios face similar risks associated with lithium-ion batteries, the focus for toy manufacturers like us is to ensure safe usage and strive for continuous improvements.
In our case, we aim to keep the batteries in open areas with sufficient airflow and proximity to water. Additionally, prevention is crucial. We seek ways to avoid thermal runaway, which is the worst-case scenario. We carefully handle and treat our tenders, jet skis, and other equipment, recognizing their potential hazards. We prioritise proper management and precautions, ensuring that these potentially dangerous pieces of equipment are not treated casually or with negligence, such as using chargers that are not specifically designed for the device.
Prevention is key, as once thermal runaway occurs, it becomes significantly more challenging to manage the situation. Therefore, our focus is on preventing such occurrences and understanding the necessary steps to take if faced with a thermal runaway event. By emphasising prevention and taking proactive measures, we aim to ensure the safety of our operations.
In your experience, at the build stage with the captain involved, what is their knowledge like? How much are they taking these requirements into account in the design phase and how much of this comes as news to them?
It’s all news to them. The introduction of electric tenders and other electric-powered equipment is relatively new, and there is a lack of knowledge and understanding in the industry. It’s common for owners and clients to express interest in these innovative technologies without fully grasping the complexities and safety considerations involved.
This lack of awareness extends to captains and other professionals involved in the procurement and management of these systems. There is a learning curve for everyone, and it is essential to seek expertise from the industry’s experts and learn from their experiences.
Education and knowledge-sharing play a crucial role in addressing these challenges. It is important to ask the right questions, seek guidance from experts, and embrace new norms and safety practices specific to lithium-ion batteries. Understanding that handling these batteries is different from traditional fuels, such as petrol, is key to ensuring safe operations.
Recognising that mistakes can occur is a step in the right direction. By acknowledging these mistakes and actively seeking ways to rectify them, the industry can evolve and establish best practices that prioritise safety in the use of lithium-ion batteries.
Through events like this panel discussion, industry professionals can come together, learn from each other, and collectively enhance their understanding of the unique requirements and safety considerations associated with these new technologies.
Now, let’s turn to Imme from Pantaenius Marine Insurance. During our pre-panel conversation, we touched on the fact that some insurers have already started including certain conditions in their policies regarding lithium-ion battery vehicles and onboard installations. Interestingly, Pantaenius has not implemented such conditions. We would like to hear from you about the reasoning behind this decision and if you have any specific questions for Professor Paul Christensen, who has kindly joined us today from Newcastle to share his expertise in this seminar.
Please feel free to elaborate on why Pantaenius has not introduced these conditions and any concerns or queries you may have regarding the topic.
Imme Schmidts, Pantaenius:
I recently discussed this subject with our underwriters last week, as there has been a lot of ongoing discussion about the new and emerging issues surrounding lithium-ion battery fire safety on superyachts.
At present, we cannot definitively attribute the number of fire claims to lithium batteries. Therefore, for the time being, the Pantaenius Group has chosen to monitor the situation without implementing any specific clauses.
I understand that in the British market, you mentioned Beasley this morning. More are rumoured to be taking steps, and it is possible that several insurers will introduce measures in the near future. However, for now, Pantaenius has decided not to take any immediate action and instead focus on raising awareness among our customers.
We aim to inform them about the associated risks and encourage them to conduct proper risk assessments for these lithium batteries.
Juan, you’re on the coalface when it comes to things going wrong, on the claim side. Could you tell us about some experiences with these fires and give us an idea of how often lithium-ion batteries are involved in claims?
Juan Roig, Marine Claims Service:
Well, as mentioned before, there are two systems on board: the fixed systems and the toys. We often find issues with the batteries on the toys. The batteries on the fixed systems have better controls and monitoring, making it easier for the crew to manage and control them. However, when it comes to the toy batteries, unfortunately, the problem mainly arises when they are being used and charged.
It’s a bit of an oversight. They don’t effectively control the charging process of these batteries. In the cases where incidents have occurred, the batteries tend to blow up during the charging or recharging cycle.
This is the most problematic time, in my opinion. Therefore, they need to have better control and supervision during this phase.
Paul, I understand that you already work with at least one marine insurer. Based on your experience, do you think insurers like Pantaenius are right or wrong, so far, not to have particular stipulations in their policies?
It would be wise to monitor the situation for now, considering the relatively low occurrence of significant battery fires compared to the vast number of devices and batteries worldwide.
Risk is determined by the probability multiplied by the hazard. While the hazard is substantial, the probability remains low, which underwriters consider. However, I want to emphasise a couple of key points.
Firstly, there is no single “lithium-ion battery.” Instead, there are several different chemistries, each requiring a specific charging protocol. It is crucial to use the appropriate charger for the specific battery or device you have, rather than resorting to cheap and mismatched options.
Currently, it is sensible to remain vigilant. Another aspect of risk is the sample size. Although the number of electric vehicles is still relatively small, it is growing, and new manufacturers may enter the market with varying levels of wisdom and knowledge. Thus, it is important not to opt for cheaper alternatives.
Furthermore, as these devices age, the impact of thermal stability on their use and ageing is still not extensively researched. However, it is known that lithium-ion batteries tend to become less stable over time. Academics in this field unanimously agree that repeatedly ‘rapid charging’ lithium-ion batteries can lead to their destabilisation, potentially resulting in thermal runaway at room temperature.
Should I be charging my mobile phone overnight?
You can, but I strongly advise against charging devices under your pillow. There have been unfortunate cases of young girls losing their lives due to charging mobile phones in such a manner. It is essential to charge devices on a safe surface, away from bedding or flammable materials.
Additionally, I understand that electric scooters and bikes are present on your yachts, which are marine vessels. It is crucial to recognize that salt and humidity pose significant risks to lithium-ion batteries. For instance, the cruise catamaran MS Brim, and the Viking Gymir, a river cruise vessel; both experienced incidents where lithium-ion batteries exploded or caused a vapour cloud explosion due to salt and humidity.
When it comes to choosing suppression systems, it is essential to exercise caution and select appropriate systems for your specific needs. I won’t delve into extensive details, but regarding E-scooters and E-bikes, unless they have the proper ingress protection designed for ship use, they can be vulnerable to salt and humidity. If they are solely designed for street use and brought on board, it could introduce substantial risks.
Lastly, it’s important to note that if an E-bike or E-scooter goes into thermal runaway within your home, there is an 8% chance of fatality and a 64% chance of ending up in the hospital.
I’m curious to know if any of the captains here, or anyone in our audience who has a network of captains, brief their guests about the proper handling of their devices onboard. It would be interesting to hear if anyone has any comments on this or if they plan to implement such briefings based on the information shared so far.
Marlies, Boogie, perhaps you can share your experiences? (referring to two captains in the audience) Do you have any protocols in place?
Captain Marlies Sanders:
Yes, we do. We address the issue mentioned earlier regarding phones overheating while charging. We make sure to inform guests that if they charge their phones overnight, they should not place them on their beds or leave them charging on their pillows when they leave their cabins.
We aim to raise awareness because, as you mentioned, not everyone is fully aware of the potential risks associated even with their phones.
In a previous trip, we had those wonderful SeaBobs, and unfortunately, the batteries cannot be separated from the actual devices. Ideally, on board you’ll have a dedicated fireproof box, big enough for people to put their devices in.
The level of awareness regarding lithium-ion battery fire safety generally will continue to increase, of course. However, we must also consider installed systems. For instance, let’s take the yacht Luminosity as an example. This 107-metre Benetti incorporates a hybrid system and carries a staggering 36 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries. Currently, it is facing sanctions and is being mothballed, with reports suggesting that it will be left unattended in a port, which could potentially lead to an accident.
Now, Michal, I’m particularly interested in your perspective as someone focused on innovation. It seems like you are looking towards the future, potentially with a comprehensive battery monitoring system.
This would involve marketing and technology aimed at monitoring the battery health, hopefully to prevent failures or detect issues before they escalate. I would appreciate it if you could shed some light on your approach and how it relates to both installed systems and devices brought on board, including toys and other gadgets.
Michal Sastinsky, BatteryCheck:
If you’re a manufacturer of battery packs, it’s crucial to select the appropriate chemistry and consider the battery pack’s structure, modules, strings, and thermal protection. These factors contribute to the overall installation quality in electric vehicles or scooters. However, the most unpredictable element arises from how we use, don’t use, misuse, charge, don’t charge, or overcharge the batteries. These practices have a significant impact on battery life and safety.
Our approach involves engaging once the battery is installed and in use. We all agree that prevention is the most important aspect in this case. To effectively manage battery safety, we must measure and monitor it. We collect battery telemetry measurements from the battery management system and apply our analytical code to detect anomalies and identify potential battery failures.
By observing patterns over time, we aim to predict battery failures or explosions, which can occur within seconds. Additionally, we strive to estimate the remaining useful life of the battery. This valuable information is shared with device or vehicle manufacturers who need to be aware of any issues. Service providers who use batteries as backup sources can also benefit from our insights.
When it comes to the lead-acid battery space, which remains a significant market, it’s worth noting that many lead-acid batteries are not monitored at all. Despite being a longstanding and reliable technology for 160 years, it is essential to handle lead-acid batteries with care and avoid assuming that one battery fits all scenarios.
It is important to recognize that each vehicle or device requires specific charging and discharging protocols. Contrary to popular beliefs propagated by the media, the notion of fully charging or fully discharging batteries as a universal solution is misleading. We, as human beings, have diverse needs and constraints, and it is not practical to adhere to rigid charging routines. Instead, there should be a focus on implementing proper management systems, ensuring appropriate installations, and enabling effective monitoring.
By prioritising safety, we strive to make the charging and discharging processes as secure as possible. This involves understanding the unique characteristics of each battery and developing tailored approaches to address the diverse needs of different vehicles and devices. With proper management systems in place, we can optimise battery performance while maintaining a high level of safety. It is crucial to emphasise the importance of proper installation and diligent monitoring to ensure the longevity and reliable operation of the battery systems.
It’s a challenging situation when we have guests who are eager to use certain amenities like Seabobs, but we are unable to allow it due to safety concerns. Balancing best practices with the practical realities of our industry can be difficult, especially when we have bosses who may not directly manage the boat but ultimately have decision-making authority because they pay the wages.
During trade shows, I make an effort to approach battery manufacturers or relevant parties and conduct a brief three-minute test. If they pass the test and show awareness of potential issues, they are open to discussing integration of data and obtaining valuable information. Unfortunately, many industry players fail to grasp the importance of proactive safety measures until a detrimental incident occurs.
Robert, could you share your insights on best practices regarding design, installation systems, and the inclusion of toys and other devices brought on board? Specifically, I’m interested in understanding how Shadowcat addresses fire safety and battery safety, particularly in extreme cases like Hodor. Most of her payload may not be battery-powered vehicles, but she does carry a submarine, I believe.
How much emphasis was placed on fire safety and battery safety during the design process, and what measures did you take to mitigate potential hazards?
Robert Smith, Shadowcat:
The submarine is in an A60-rated room with high fog, which is considered one of the better water substances for dealing with fires. However, even in an A60 room, it won’t necessarily save you if you experience thermal runaway and release gases. As soon as you open that door, even hours later, you are facing an explosive situation.
Unfortunately, we lack onboard personnel who possess sufficient knowledge about safe entry and boundary cooling. While the space may seem cool, opening the door can be dangerous. Therefore, we aim to keep everything on the open deck whenever possible.
It’s crucial to address the valid point raised about devices like Seabobs. Trying to confine them in a box for charging purposes increases the risk of damage to both the device and the battery, potentially putting oneself in a hazardous situation. Monitoring is of utmost importance. It serves as the primary tool for prevention, allowing us to contain any issues for as long as possible.
If containment becomes infeasible, our focus shifts to evacuating the boat. For instance, if a tender catches fire while on the deck, we simply push it off, similar to how ferries handle such situations.
We follow a similar principle with EV cars, parking them at the back of the ferry, as they can be easily pushed out in case of an emergency. Our approach revolves around monitoring, containment, and prioritising the safety of the larger vessel and its occupants.
Michal Sastinsky, BatteryCheck:
What is interesting to note is that batteries are progressively increasing in size. If we consider electric bicycles, we started with 100 Watt-hour batteries, then moved to 200-300 Watt-hour, and now we have 700-800 Watt-hour batteries. It won’t be long before we see electric bicycles equipped with 1 kWh batteries, given the decreasing prices and evolving sizes.
However, as the size of the battery increases, new challenges arise. The situation varies for electric bicycles, scooters, and electric vehicles, highlighting the complexity of the issue. It’s not a matter to be taken lightly. As battery installations continue to incorporate larger and larger batteries, safety becomes increasingly important.
I would like to reiterate an important point. This is my first time meeting my colleague Michal here, but I have previously emphasised that data analytics is not an optional feature or a luxury for hybrid or fully battery-electric systems. It is an essential tool that needs to be utilised.
It is common to hear people claim that a battery management system (BMS) will handle everything and resolve any issues. However, it’s crucial to understand that BMS is essentially software linked to switches. Lithium batteries also contain additives, which serve various safety functions, including overcharge protection. The presence of these additives explicitly acknowledges that BMS is not foolproof.
Moreover, I want to emphasise that even a quarter of a kilowatt-hour battery or larger, such as an E-scooter battery, can lead to significant explosions. Lithium-ion battery fires, in general, have a rapid development rate.
I collaborate with fire investigators Burgoynes, and we are currently investigating the Felicity Ace incident (a Ro-Ro cargo vessel carrying Porsches, Audis, Bentleys and Lamborghinis, with an estimated value of $405 million, that caught fire off the Azores in February 2022). Believe me, battery fires escalate swiftly. In fact, I have heard a senior official from the UK Coast Guard state that if a large battery or an electric vehicle catches fire on board a ship, it is advised to abandon the vessel rather than attempting to fight the fire.
I reside in an apartment block with approximately 99 other units, and our underground garage has seen an increase in battery chargers and electric vehicles (EVs) being used. However, I haven’t received any guidance or information from our management company regarding insurance, fire protection, or any specific regulations related to EV charging infrastructure. As different types of chargers are being installed, I’m unsure whether I should be concerned or not.
You should indeed be concerned unless the management company has sought proper consultation and expertise. I have personally worked with the Australian Building Codes Board on the matter of electric vehicle chargers in enclosed car parks.
I am also providing consulting services for the Australian Health Service in New South Wales, as well as the UK Government, who recently put out a tender for consultancy in the same area. I have come across a document from the UK Government, and to be honest, it was the most nonsensical piece of writing I have ever seen.
The bottom line is that there are currently no specific rules, regulations, codes, or standards pertaining to electric vehicle (EV) chargers. However, it is essential to conduct proper risk assessments because approximately 20% of all electric vehicle fires and vapour cloud explosions occur during charging or within an hour of charging. These incidents are directly linked to the charging process. It is worth noting that rapid charging can destabilise lithium-ion batteries, so caution must be exercised, especially when considering the placement of rapid chargers near utility infrastructure such as gas pipes in apartment blocks.
To ensure safety, it is crucial to consult with experts and conduct thorough assessments. One of the challenges is that planning officers in councils often have limited knowledge about lithium-ion batteries. Consequently, planning applications for EV charging infrastructure may be approved without a thorough understanding of the associated risks. However, if proper assessments and consultations are conducted, there should be no cause for significant concern.
Imme, I’m curious about your proactive measures. Do you actively monitor the development of batteries, including lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) and sodium-ion batteries? Do you stay ahead of the curve or do you wait for accidents and insurance claims before considering necessary actions? How does your approach to this work?
Imme Schmidts, Pantaenius:
In terms of insurance, we do stay updated with developments, but it’s important to note that we don’t have the authority to impose regulations or control battery management protocols. For vessels up to 24 metres, it would be the responsibility of the EC (European Commission) or the flag state to set such requirements.
Currently, we are focused on creating awareness through articles on our websites and participating in seminars. We have not implemented any specific clauses or regulations at this time. However, we strongly encourage captains to conduct thorough risk assessments, consult the appropriate experts, invest in quality equipment, and embrace new technologies. While we do not enforce specific measures, we promote responsible decision-making.
It is true that yacht owners have varying preferences and budgets. As an agency, we do not provide advisory services in this area. However, we have come across cases where owners consider purchasing cheaper, unbranded alternatives to meet their requirements. It is important to note that such items may not have undergone the same quality assurance processes as branded products.
In light of today’s discussion, if confronted with such a situation, where do we refer the captain to? To empower them to push back against an owner who wants to bring such products on board?
Yes, it’s unfortunate that not all yacht owners prioritise safety on board. Some neglect crew training and fail to invest in appropriate toys, control systems, and monitoring systems. These are the situations where accidents are more likely to occur.
However, we currently cannot enforce specific requirements or deny coverage based on safety measures. Perhaps in the future, we may consider implementing such measures, but for now, we do not have that in place.
Michal Sastinsky, BatteryCheck:
As we all agree, this market is still in its early stages, and there will be new entrants. When entering the market, people often prioritise factors like cost, aesthetics, or performance.
Unfortunately, safety is not always a primary consideration when opting for cheaper options. Therefore, it is crucial to be cautious about what you purchase.
The products available on the market right now may not always meet the necessary safety standards. Additionally, data ownership is a significant concern. There is an ongoing debate about who owns the data generated by the vehicle, device, or battery. It is essential to ensure that legal documents address data ownership, allowing you to utilise the data for analytics, warranty services, and other purposes.
Without access to relevant data, you would be operating blindly. So, when making purchasing decisions, it is vital to inquire about data accessibility and whether it can be integrated into your systems or dashboards on the yacht. A reliable alarming system should also be in place. If a product lacks these features, it is advisable to avoid it.
Michal, just out of interest you told me before that you have a diesel car. So, just out of interest, let’s ask the audience for a show of hands. Who here drives an electric vehicle?
(no hands raised)
And among the panellists?
(no hands raised)
Well, there we are. However, there is no escaping the risk completely, because clearly we inhabit spaces with people who do.
Juan, what do you look for when it comes to marine claims? Do any of the insurers you work with have stipulations in their policies about the storage and maintenance of lithium-ion batteries?
Juan Roig, Marine Claims Service:
Our role as technical experts is not deeply involved in the policy aspect. Unfortunately, by the time we are appointed, the battery has often already experienced an explosion. One of the challenges we face is that much of the evidence related to these incidents is often lost at the bottom of the ocean.
Absolutely, one of the best approaches in such situations, if feasible, is to dispose of the battery by throwing it overboard. Although this poses environmental concerns, currently, there is no clear firefighting system specifically designed for lithium-ion batteries. I would appreciate your input on this matter, Paul.
Paul, earlier you mentioned fire blankets, various extinguishing methods, and containment measures. Could you please elaborate on these options?
Okay. Firstly, it’s important to note that there are currently no officially endorsed “lithium-ion battery fire extinguishers” recognised by organisations such as the National Fire Chiefs Council. Some companies claim that their systems work, but this is unsupported and unreliable. Water remains the best of the bad options for firefighting, although there is limited information on the subject.
Existing reports on Ro-Ro marine fires and electric vehicles are based on tests conducted on land with easily accessible vehicles, which may not accurately reflect real-world scenarios.
However, there is hope for future developments, as the UK Chamber of Shipping is considering funding a significant project in this area. In the meantime, the best approach is to prevent battery runaway incidents from occurring in the first place.
On superyachts, pushing the affected item off the deck may be a viable option, albeit with potential environmental consequences. However, for other marine vessels, the current situation appears challenging. Overall, the lithium-ion battery industry lacks clear standards, rules, and regulations, and there is a strong need for governance and guidance in this field.
I have come across information suggesting that sodium-ion batteries are being considered as the next generation technology, which seems promising for storage purposes but may not be as suitable for instant power needs. Additionally, there is mention of LFP as a potential future option. However, I would appreciate it if you could provide a more detailed explanation or clarification on this topic?
Alright, let’s clarify the different battery chemistries currently in use. There are several chemistries, each with their own characteristics and history.
One of these is LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate), which is gaining popularity and may be considered the future choice for many users. Another widely used chemistry is NMC (Nickel Manganese Cobalt), known for its stability and longevity. Graphite is commonly used as the anode material in most batteries.
In the past, lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) batteries were prevalent, but they were found to be less stable and have been largely replaced. LCO batteries are still utilised in certain applications, such as Dreamliner aircraft, but they have been modified to enhance safety by enclosing them in steel casings to prevent visible vapour trails in the passenger cabin.
It’s worth noting that the aviation industry has taken significant measures to mitigate the risks associated with battery fires.
There are several battery chemistries in use, each with different stability levels. LFP (Lithium Ferrous Phosphate) is considered more stable due to its lower likelihood of igniting in thermal runaway. However, incidents have occurred where LFP systems vented a vapour cloud that eventually exploded, causing fatalities.
Another chemistry, NMC (Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide), is perceived as more stable than LCO (Lithium Cobalt Oxide) but still carries risks. As energy density decreases, the hazard shifts from fire to explosion.
Future batteries, such as lithium metal and sodium-ion batteries, are expected to have higher energy levels. The cell-to-pack configuration is also evolving, with manufacturers aiming for higher energy densities. However, safety remains a significant concern, and standards are being reevaluated.
Manufacturers are exploring plastic cases for battery cells. It is crucial for captains and users to understand the risks and hazards associated with lithium-ion batteries. Fire blankets may temporarily cut off oxygen to extinguish flames, but the vapour cloud can persist and reignite once the blanket is removed, posing explosion hazards. Thermal imaging cameras may not accurately detect heat sources within a vapour cloud.
Awareness of these risks and hazards is essential, and it’s important for insurance companies to take note of them.
While we may not have specific insights into this specific vessel, let’s consider the example of Luminosity, which has 36 tonnes of installed hybrid power packs. If reports are accurate and the crew abandons the boat, what are the potential dangers and hazards associated with the battery system on board?
Robert Smith, Shadowcat:
Our focus has mainly been on toys and portable devices. However, when it comes to a fixed installation like Luminosity, emphasis should be placed on prevention and monitoring. If the system starts releasing gas, it should be safely disposed of overboard. Although I’m not familiar with the specific system on that vessel, it’s crucial to ensure continuous monitoring or proper shutdown procedures if needed. Prevention is always the preferred approach.
Agreed. However, the problem with lithium-ion batteries, particularly LFP batteries, is that their discharge curve, which shows the relationship between voltage and charge, is nearly flat as it approaches zero charge.
This means that simply measuring the voltage is not sufficient to determine the remaining charge. For example, a certain voltage reading could correspond to either 20% or 80% state of charge. This poses several challenges.
Firstly, it increases the risk of overcharging the battery cells and makes cell balancing more complicated. Secondly, it becomes nearly impossible to estimate the battery’s state of health and safety. I have personally encountered situations where battery systems were mothballed, and when they were later reactivated, there was no way to assess their safety level. This is why data analytics and careful monitoring of the battery system are crucial. You cannot rely solely on the voltage charge curve as you would with other types of batteries.
I was going to ask Anders, a former captain in the audience, whether you have any questions, queries or comments about what you do with battery installed vessels in your shipyard here in Palma de Mallorca?
Anders Pehrsson, Astilleros de Mallorca:
Yes, I agree with the panel’s assessment that fixed installations tend to be less dangerous due to classification regulations and other safety measures. However, my concern lies more with the toys on board, as that’s where the potential risks are higher.
One aspect we haven’t discussed yet is the response to a fire involving lithium batteries. I had a conversation with the former chief of the Swedish rescue services who emphasised the need for caution. He mentioned that in an enclosed space, if a lithium battery catches fire, he wouldn’t send his own personnel without hazmat suits and proper equipment due to the toxic gases and the rapid explosion rate.
Indeed, how do you address this concern in your yard during refits? Do you remove all the toys? How do you manage these risks?
We are currently conducting a review with our facility department, and we are considering the option of using a container to store the vessel’s toys while it is in the yard.
Audience member (AkuPalma):
We have a long-standing relationship and have extensively discussed this topic among ourselves, so he understands the source of my perspective. As a battery supplier on the island, we are acutely aware of the challenges in the installed battery space.
In terms of safety, we are exploring different battery chemistries. We have already touched upon the differences between NMC and LFP. However, in the toy space, the choice of battery chemistries has an even more pronounced impact.
We still see toys equipped with poly lithium polymer batteries, which are highly power-dense and suitable for applications like E-foils. However, these batteries are more prone to thermal runaway and are inherently unstable. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of knowledge among project managers and operators, such as skippers, regarding the significance of toy selection for safety.
The difference between purchasing a toy with an LFP battery versus a lithium polymer battery has significant operational implications. Lithium polymer batteries can be likened to hand grenades, while LFP batteries are more comparable to diesel in terms of safety.
It is crucial to spread awareness and knowledge about battery chemistry when selecting toys for boats, as some manufacturers prioritise high energy and flashy designs without considering stability.
On the other hand, there are manufacturers who prioritise safety. The understanding of chemistry’s role in purchasing decisions for safety seems to be lacking at present. I would be interested to hear the panel’s perspective on this matter, as well as any other individuals who may have insights to share.
Michal Sastinsky, BatteryCheck:
When we engage with manufacturers of surfboards or other expensive toys with large battery packs, we inquire about their monitoring systems.
Surprisingly, many of them do not have any monitoring in place. Their rationale is that these toys are luxury items and are expected to simply work without any need for monitoring.
Consequently, there is a lack of insight into what is happening with the battery during usage, including potential risks arising from charging on the boat or exposure to physical impacts and vibrations.
Despite the significance of monitoring for safety, manufacturers often dismiss the idea, claiming space constraints or lack of customer demand. This means that they incorporate the battery into the toy or vehicle without providing any means for users to monitor its performance.
This situation is particularly concerning considering the high price tags of these toys, which can exceed €10,000, and the size of the battery packs they contain. It leaves users essentially relying on their luck, unknowingly carrying a potential hazard, a bomb. There is a clear issue on the manufacturer side, as they should prioritise understanding and addressing these risks.
So, ‘lipo’ is a potential hand grenade?
Lipo stands for lithium-ion polymer, referring to a battery type with a polymeric separator between the two electrodes. It is widely used in applications like radio-controlled aircraft, which has unfortunately led to house fires in some cases, particularly in Thailand. So, the point raised about considering battery chemistry is indeed valid.
In terms of relative stability, LFP batteries require a higher threshold to go into thermal runaway compared to other chemistries. However, it is worth noting that even LFP batteries can experience incidents, as evidenced by a recent incident at a battery manufacturing facility where a large LFP battery caught fire despite the use of a supposed lithium-ion battery-specific suppression system, which proved ineffective.
Understanding battery chemistry is crucial, but it’s not the only factor to consider. The shapes and sizes of individual cells, such as cylindrical, prismatic, or pouch cells, also play a role in safety.
Additionally, it’s important to recognise that there are multiple manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries, and some have gained notoriety due to safety issues associated with their cells.
For example, one manufacturer’s cells were responsible for numerous fires and explosions in South Korea, as well as recalls of domestic battery energy storage systems in the United States, the UK, and Australasia. Major vehicle recalls, such as the Chevrolet Bolt and Hyundai Kona, have also occurred, leading to legal action from automakers seeking compensation.
In summary, considering battery chemistry, cell configuration, and the reputation of manufacturers is crucial for assessing the risks and hazards associated with lithium-ion batteries.
OK, thank you. Any other comments, questions?
I wanted to ask a technical question regarding product identification and warranty information.
When acquiring a battery product, is there a specific method to identify the origin of the battery and ascertain the warranty details? Are there any identifiable markers such as serial numbers that crew members can use to determine the battery’s specifications and available options for handling it in the future?
It is important to ask about the chemistry of the battery when purchasing a product, although it may not be immediately evident from the packaging. This can help you determine the specific characteristics and risks associated with the battery. Additionally, it is crucial to protect yourself against counterfeit or outdated batteries that have been relabelled and imported. Such batteries may have telltale signs on the packaging, such as misspellings or misleading information. Fraudulent batteries are becoming a significant concern in the industry.
I just wanted to ask about safety because even with LFP batteries, there is still a risk of thermal runaway. You mentioned earlier about how on a ferry they can simply toss EV vehicles overboard in case of a fire, but in a yacht yard, that’s not an option.
If there’s a thermal runaway situation, crew members might be in danger while trying to handle it. So, in terms of fighting the fire, housing and having suitable fire extinguishers are crucial.
Using foam or high-pressure extinguishers from a safe distance is recommended. However, what about ventilation? In traditional fire training, we learn to shut off the air supply to control the fire, but with a battery fire, would it be better to ventilate and remove the vapour cloud?
Robert, I guess your solution would be just to get all those things off the yacht and put them on a support vessel?
Robert Smith, Shadowcat:
One of my concerns is the lazarette, which is typically where various items, including toys, are stored and charged. It can contain petrol, jet skis, and batteries, creating a potentially hazardous environment. It is recommended not to send anyone in to fight the fire in the lazarette.
The vapours produced in such fires can be mistaken for smoke, and it is important to realise that it is not smoke but a dangerous vapour. If a fire is detected and the door is opened, it should be closed immediately.
High fog or foam, which the expert here can provide more information about, should be used to cool and contain the fire. The door should not be opened again, and even if ventilation is necessary, caution must be taken to avoid introducing an ignition source.
Unlike a traditional fire where you can assess the situation from the outside and ventilate once the fire is out, in the case of a battery fire, it is important to focus on containing the fire, ventilating and head to port for expert assistance.
I completely agree. Firefighters worldwide generally adopt a similar approach when dealing with electric vehicle fires or grid-scale battery energy storage system fires. They establish a boundary, cool surrounding areas, and let the fire burn.
There are no perfect suppression systems, but water is still considered the best option. Water mist is gaining popularity due to its excellent cooling capabilities. Ventilation can be attempted cautiously, considering the potential risks involved. However, deciding when and how to ventilate requires careful consideration.
An incident in Arizona involving a battery energy storage system demonstrated the dangers of thermal runaway without fire. It resulted in a three-hour period of thermal propagation with each cell boiling off a vapour cloud. When the door was opened three minutes later, an explosion occurred due to residual vapour.
Different types of vapours, both buoyant and heavier than air, can pose significant risks.It’s crucial to understand these risks and exercise caution in such situations.
Anders Pehrsson, Astilleros de Mallorca:
There seems to be a sense of hesitation and a “wait and see” approach from insurers, classification bodies, flag states, and management companies regarding lithium-ion battery fire safety.
However, it is crucial that action is taken promptly. While insurers cannot dictate actions, they can set exclusions for certain items.
Management companies should actively provide sound procedures to crew members. Flag states and classification bodies should establish rules and regulations to address these concerns.
It is concerning that there doesn’t appear to be a well-defined plan of action currently in motion.
I agree with the sentiment. In the United Kingdom, it appears that significant action is often only taken after a major tragedy, even though there have been incidents resulting in fatalities involving electric bikes. Insurers have the potential to drive change in this area.
However, within the marine industry, there is a tendency to refer to specific reports, such as those from the Danish Research Institute and Lash Fire, which conclude that dealing with electric vehicle and onboard ship fires is relatively easy using methods like fire blankets and water sprays.
It is important to note that these tests were conducted on dry land with open-air conditions and easy access, which may not accurately represent real-world scenarios. This complacency seems more prevalent in the rural vessel sector rather than superyachts.
As the chair of the ‘CINS’ technical and scientific committee and a member of various working groups related to electric vehicles and lithium battery transportation, I am actively involved in addressing these issues. Additionally, I will be undertaking work with the Channel Tunnel to further enhance safety measures. However, it is crucial to address the existing complacency within the marine industry compared to other sectors.
Robert Smith, Shadowcat:
We, as operators, need to take more responsibility and take action. This includes engaging with management companies and inquiring about their battery policies and training programmes.
We should raise awareness and emphasise the importance of educating our crews. By fostering a culture of awareness and education, we can collectively improve our knowledge and practices in lithium-ion battery fire safety.
It is essential for everyone in this room to actively advocate for these measures and ask the necessary questions to drive positive change.
Jennifer Smith, Shadowcat:
We have extensively discussed the risks and dangers associated with lithium-ion batteries, but it is crucial to focus on actionable steps that can be taken immediately.
As Robert mentioned, designating a dedicated crew member responsible for battery safety is a practical measure. This individual can ensure the dissemination of information and keep track of the various components onboard.
It is essential to note the type of technology used in each component and ensure they are equipped with appropriate charging boards.
On our vessels, at Shadowcat, we are implementing a fire suppression system similar to the one used on helipads. This fresh water deluge system provides 360-degree coverage, utilising both below and above approaches to maximise response time. The goal is to buy time in case of an event and prioritise the safety of everyone onboard.
It would be beneficial for each of us to consider what immediate actions we can take when we return to our vessels.
The question raised is about how to identify good batteries and whether building one’s own batteries is a better solution. It is important to note that determining the quality of a battery goes beyond its price. While many batteries are manufactured in China, it does not guarantee their quality. Buying from a reputable manufacturer is advisable, but it may not provide a clear understanding of the battery’s internal components.
Building one’s own battery packs, such as lipo 4 packs, can offer visibility into the state of the battery as you have direct access to its components.
Don’t solder them! It is crucial to emphasise that building batteries without proper expertise and knowledge is highly discouraged. Lithium-ion batteries require expertise in handling and assembling to ensure safety and optimal performance. Inadequate construction can lead to serious risks such as thermal runaway or other hazards.
Therefore, it is recommended to seek batteries from reputable manufacturers and suppliers who adhere to stringent quality standards. Additionally, proper monitoring and maintenance of the battery’s performance are essential regardless of whether it is purchased or built.
Michal Sastinsky, BatteryCheck:
Building your own batteries is not advisable as it requires extensive expertise in various areas, making it a complex task. It is important to recognize that each battery can be considered good if you have a clear understanding of its specifications and performance. Monitoring the battery’s behaviour and performance is crucial regardless of its origin or type.
Considering the passenger car industry as a reference, it may be helpful to explore batteries produced in countries like India, where higher standards are often implemented in certain areas. It is essential to find a balance in sourcing batteries and consider factors such as quality and reliability.
Having access to relevant data about the battery is highly recommended. This enables you to make informed decisions, even if you opt for a more affordable option.
With proper monitoring, you can ensure the longevity and safety of the battery, allowing you to obtain the best possible performance. Neglecting monitoring can lead to unforeseen issues or potential risks.
When it comes to taking immediate action during a battery incident, there’s an important guideline for first responders. I emphasise the use of common sense and rely on your senses.
When a battery enters thermal runaway and begins venting, you will hear blasts or popping sounds in the case of cylindrical and prismatic cells, while pouch cells may burst. These noises are distinct and noticeable. Additionally, as the blast caps release, there will be a very loud noise.
The initial visual cue you will observe is often mistaken for black smoke, but it is actually heavy metal nanoparticles from NMC or lithium-ion phosphate particles from LFP being expelled. Following this, you will witness the formation of a vapour cloud. So, it’s crucial to utilise both your sense of hearing and sight.
You may even detect a certain smell. Educate your crew members on what signs to look for and what sounds to listen for. Equipping them with this knowledge will enable them to identify the indications and respond accordingly.
Captain Marlies Sanders:
From a more practical point of view, you mentioned earlier that rapid charging is destabilising the batteries. Now our Seabobs come with a normal charger and they come with a rapid charger. Are you suggesting that it would be better not to use the rapid charger?
PC and MS in unison:
Michal Sastinsky, BatteryCheck:
There are certain battery chemistries, such as C1C, that can support faster charging rates. For instance, you can charge at a normal rate (1C), or you can opt for faster charging speeds like C2C or even C4C.
These higher charging rates are sometimes utilised in AGVs (automated guided vehicles) found in warehouses or electric forklifts commonly seen in marinas. However, I strongly advise against attempting such charging speeds, particularly in the context of being on a boat where there is exposure to direct sunlight.
Leaving a phone or any other device under the sun in such circumstances can lead to unwanted consequences, and it is better to exercise caution and avoid such practices.
Absolutely agree, heat is bad news. Heat is a significant concern when it comes to lithium-ion batteries. The “C” rating refers to the charging or discharging rate, and it determines how quickly you can charge or discharge the battery. A 1C rate means that charging or discharging the battery in one hour is considered safe, regardless of the battery size. So, if you charge your battery from empty to full in one hour, you’re operating within the safe 1C charging rate.
One more question. Should these toy manufacturers deliver these rapid charging charges?
Michal Sastinsky, BatteryCheck:
When it comes to lithium-ion batteries, one of the most unpredictable elements is us, the users. We often demand faster charging and larger capacity. However, we need to be cautious as these demands can pose safety risks.
A well-known example is the Samsung Note incident where the batteries were too large and charged too quickly, resulting in explosions. Customers may prioritise fast charging and extended usage, but safety should be a primary concern.
Manufacturers tend to cater to customer demands, sometimes prioritising convenience over safety. However, it is crucial to prioritise safety and not compromise it for the sake of faster charging or longer battery life.
Each device we use, whether it’s a computer, headphones, or mobile phones, may have different battery chemistries, making it challenging to adopt a uniform charging method.
Navigating these complexities is not easy. It requires us to be aware of the specific requirements and limitations of each device and to make informed decisions regarding charging practices.
So, basically don’t trust the manufacturer. Trust your own safety protocols.
Michal Sastinsky, BatteryCheck:
Yes, it’s quite common for people to replace chargers with cheaper alternatives without considering the potential risks involved. However, this approach can lead to bigger problems.
Okay, I’m going to wrap it up for this morning. Thank you very much indeed to all our panellists and thank you all for coming. We hope to see you here again next year.
If you have any suggestions for topics you would like us to cover, please let us know. Now is your chance to get hold of the experts if you want to speak to them afterwards.
Thank you and good morning.