Grid Battery Amenities May Explode with Larger Drive than the Beirut Harbour Blast – Watts Up With That?

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t JoNova, GWPF; Brace for impact – as Beirut learned the hard way in 2020, thousands of tons of unstable chemicals piled up in one place can abruptly release their stored energy a lot faster than intended.

UK’s giant battery ‘farms’ spark fears of explosions that can reach temperatures of 660C – even worse than the Beirut port blast – with one expert calling them ‘potential bombs’

  • Facilities contain huge batteries storing electricity for the National Grid – a new form of crop for farmers scrambling to cash in on the ‘green’ energy revolution
  • New report from leading physicists says vast batteries amount to electrical bombs with force of many hundreds of tons of TNT
  • Wade Allison, emeritus professor of physics at Oxford University: ‘It’s like a potential bomb. When batteries catch fire, you can’t just squirt water on them’
  • MoS has identified nearly 400 battery sites – from Newquay to the Scottish Highlands – which are either operational or in development


PUBLISHED: 07:23 AEST, 11 July 2021 | UPDATED: 07:28 AEST, 11 July 2021 

The first thing you notice is the noise – a strange, low-octave hum growing louder as you approach across the fields.

It’s coming from a group of bland metal cabins sitting on land that was once used to grow wheat and barley.

Yet these new agricultural buildings are nothing to do with food production. Instead, they contain huge batteries storing electricity for the National Grid – a new form of crop for farmers scrambling to cash in on the ‘green’ energy revolution.

And, according to a troubling new report from leading physicists, these vast batteries amount to electrical bombs with the force of many hundreds of tons of TNT.

With the potential for huge explosions, fires and clouds of toxic gas, they could devastate towns and villages nearby, says Wade Allison, emeritus professor of physics at Oxford University and co-author of the report.

Last year in Merseyside, one of three battery cabins on a site caught fire and exploded. A report seen by The Mail on Sunday said nearby residents, who were ordered to stay indoors, had their homes rocked by the explosion.

Read more:

The abstract of the study;

Safety of Grid Scale Lithium-ion Battery Energy Storage Systems

June 2021

Project: Energy. the basic science of its availability, storage and safety

EurIng Dr Edmund Fordham MA PhD CPhys CEng FInstP Fellow of the Institute of Physics
Dr Wade Allison MA DPhil Professor of Physics, Fellow of Keble College, Oxford University
Professor Sir David Melville CBE FInstP Professor of Physics, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Kent

Executive Summary

1. Li-ion batteries are dominant in large, grid-scale, Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) of several MWh and upwards in capacity. Several proposals for large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) “energy farms” are current, incorporating very large capacity BESS. These “mega-scale” BESS have capacities many times the Hornsdale Power Reserve in S. Australia (193 MWh), which was the largest BESS in the world at its installation in 2017.

2. Despite storing electrochemical energy of many hundreds of tons of TNT equivalent, and several times the energy released in the August 2020 Beirut explosion, these BESS are regarded as “articles” by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in defiance of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH) 2015, intended to safeguard public health, property and the environment. The HSE currently makes no representations on BESS to Planning Examinations.

3. Li-ion batteries can fail by “thermal runaway” where overheating in a single faulty cell can propagate to neighbours with energy releases popularly known as “battery fires”. These are not strictly “fires” at all, requiring no oxygen to propagate. They are uncontrollable except by extravagant water cooling. They evolve toxic gases such as Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) and highly inflammable gases including Hydrogen (H2), Methane (CH4), Ethylene (C2H4) and Carbon Monoxide (CO). These in turn may cause further explosions or fires upon ignition. The chemical energy then released can be up to 20 times the stored electrochemical energy. Acute Toxic gases and Inflammable Gases are “dangerous substances” controlled by COMAH 2015. Quantities present “if control of the process is lost” determine the applicability of COMAH.

4. We believe that the approach of the HSE is scientifically mistaken and legally incorrect.

5. “Battery fires” in grid scale BESS have occurred in South Korea, Belgium (2017), Arizona (2019) and in urban Liverpool (Sept 2020). The reports into the Arizona explosion [8, 9] are revelatory, and essential reading for accident planning. A report into the Liverpool “fire” though promised for New Year 2021, has not yet been released by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service or the operator Ørsted; it is vital for public safety that it be published very soon.

6. No existing engineering standards address thermal runaway adequately, or require measures (such as those already used in EV batteries) to pre-empt propagation of runaway events.

7. Lacking oversight by the HSE, the entire responsibility for major accident planning currently lies with local Fire and Rescue Services. Current plans may be inadequate in respect of water supplies, or for protection of the local public against toxic plumes.

8. The scale of Li-ion BESS energy storage envisioned at “mega scale” energy farms is unprecedented and requires urgent review. The explosion potential and the lack of engineering standards to prevent thermal runaway may put control of “battery fires” beyond the knowledge, experience and capabilities of local Fire and Rescue Services. BESS present special hazards to fire-fighters; four sustained life-limiting injuries in the Arizona incident.

9. We identify the well-established hazards of large-scale Li-ion BESS and review authoritative accounts and analyses of BESS incidents. An internet video [10] is essential initial instruction.

10. We review engineering standards relating to Li-ion BESS and concur with other authorities that these are inadequate to prevent the known hazard of “thermal runaway”. We conclude that large-scale BESS should be COMAH establishments and regulated appropriately. We respectfully request evidence from the HSE that “mega-scale” BESS are not within the scope of COMAH.

11. We seek the considered response of relevant Government Departments as well as senior fire safety professionals to these concerns.

Read more:

The professors also published an explanatory article on Linked In.

Even if you are not injured or killed by the blast, the chemicals released by a battery fire or explosion are impressively toxic, so much so if you see say an EV catch fire the best thing for your health is to run the opposite direction, obviously after rendering assistance to any occupants if you can do so safely. Lithium poisoning can cause permanent dementia like brain injuries, along with a host of other horrible symptoms. The smoke from a major grid scale battery fire could potentially force the rapid evacuation of an entire city.

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