‘Fast paced industry’: Johnson Controls Lithium-Ion risk prevention solution

By Michael Rogers

The Johnson Controls Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention System: By detecting off-gases, the system offers advanced early failure monitoring of Lithium-Ion batteries
The Johnson Controls Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention System: By detecting off-gases, the system offers advanced early failure monitoring of Lithium-Ion batteries (illustration: Johnson Controls)

As the need for battery storage has grown to ensure uninterrupted power from, for example, wind and solar farms in the renewables sector, the demand for Lithium-Ion battery technology has advanced at an incredible rate – often outpacing safety regulations for battery facilities.

To address this safety gap, Johnson Controls specialists worked to help protect Lithium-Ion battery facilities, developing the Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention System for energy storage systems (ESS).

Derek Sandahl, Johnson Controls’ Global Product Manager, Engineered Fire Suppression Products
Derek Sandahl, Johnson Controls’ Global Product Manager, Engineered Fire Suppression Products

Thermal runaway
In the event that a Lithium-Ion battery cell begins to operate abnormally, the resulting temperature increase can lead to a catastrophic thermal runaway event that propagates through adjacent cells. A warning sign of abnormal operation is the production of toxic off-gases, and the Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention System detects the presence of these off-gases before thermal runaway occurs.

The Johnson Controls system then communicates with the battery management system – which shuts down the malfunctioning batteries – and with the fire detection system, which may sound alarms to inform personal and emergency response teams, and may activate the suppression system to mitigate off-gas ignition.

Prevention means planning
To find out more about the Johnson Controls Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention System, Energy Northern Perspective queried Derek Sandahl, the company’s Global Product Manager, Engineered Fire Suppression Products via email.

Sandahl has spent 17 years working in the fire protection industry for Johnson Controls, starting as an R&D engineer and working his way up to global product manager.

To start, Sandahl endorses a measured approach to ensuring ESS safety, writing, “It’s our recommendation that end users and installers take a step back, review and analyse the systems to ensure safety protocols and safety equipment are planned into these battery systems. This should include levels of redundancy to ensure a component failure does not lead to catastrophic Lithium-Ion battery system failure.”

ENP: How do the Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention System sensors differ from conventional fire/smoke detection sensors?

DS: “The Lithium-Ion gas monitoring system sensors are quite different than conventional smoke/fire detection sensors. These sensors are designed to respond to the presence of Lithium-Ion off-gases, which do not set off a conventional fire or smoke detector. These sensors provide early notification of a battery beginning to fail, allowing for early response to the problem.”

Lithium-Ion battery failure stages
Lithium-Ion battery failure stages (illustration: Johnson Controls)

How scalable is the system? What factors come into play when determining the number and arrangement of the sensors?

“The Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention System is highly scalable. It can be scaled from a single battery monitoring, up to a networked system with multiple controllers with hundreds of sensors. The number of sensors is directly related to the configuration and number of battery racks. Depending on application, the system may need one sensor per battery rack or even less if system configurations allow for good movement of battery off gases.”

How easily is the system integrated into a client’s battery management system? Does Johnson Controls offer a stand-alone version, non-integrated option?

“The Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention System has output options for digital signal communications that can be integrated into Battery Management Systems or to any other type of monitoring system. Johnson Controls believes the best installation practice is to integrate the Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention System controller with fire detection panels, suppression equipment and the battery management systems. While stand-alone systems can offer some protection, it really limits the capability if you don’t integrate it with a traditional fire detection, suppression and BMS system.”

Is integration possible with fire detection and suppression systems not affiliated with Johnson Controls?

“The integration to a fire panel is done via digital outputs on the controller. Johnson Controls cannot confirm the capability of competitor panels but has confirmed the integration and has available the wiring diagrams with Johnson Controls panels.”

Lithium-Ion safety system operation
Lithium-Ion safety system operation (illustration: Johnson Controls)

As EVs become more common, do you foresee adapting the Lithium-Ion Risk Prevention Solution to carparks, charging stations or other locations?

“There are many applications where Lithium-Ion batteries pose a risk, EV charging in car parks is definitely one of those risky applications. This technology was specifically designed for ESS systems, where the batteries are enclosed in a room. There are some unique challenges with charging vehicles and the outdoor environment that would pose a challenge for this product to protect in its current design.”

How do you see these types of risk prevention systems for Lithium-Ion batteries evolving in the future?

“As with any new technology, when it is introduced to the market there is always a learning curve as application design and future product enhancements are identified. This technology is no different. The product will be monitored for application fit and if needs arise to adapt to market trends, changes will be made. The Lithium-Ion technology is a very fast paced industry so the safety technology will also need to adapt quickly to fill the safety needs of the end users.”