A New Safety Issue for Ships?

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There has been a rise in recent years in the number of hybrid and full-electric vessels in the maritime industry. Estimates suggest that almost all commercial vessels will soon house some form of electric storage system as part of their power systems, and lithium-ion batteries are becoming one of the most popular choices for ship operators.

However, fears still linger around the potential dangers posed by lithium-ion battery systems in the logistics and transport industries.

Addressing Li-ion risks

DNV GL in March announced the launch of a joint development project (JDP) to explore the use of lithium-ion batteries in the shipping industry.

Explaining the rationale behind the new endeavour, DNV GL senior engineer Benjamin Gully said: “Rules have been put in place that cover a lot of the dangers of lithium-ion batteries, but there’s a real opportunity for the industry to benefit both in terms of the total level of safety as well as the efficiency of the approval process, by increasing the level of knowledge in the industry through technical data and answering hard to answer questions.”

Excessive heat fails battery

Thermal runaway remains the most substantial risk related to the use of lithium-ion batteries. If a battery cell is damaged or subjected to intense heat, it suffers an exothermic reaction, causing more and more heat to be generated.

If there are multiple battery cells housed together, this reaction can propagate to other cells, causing yet more heat. The end result is a reaction that’s near impossible to stop, and one that keeps getting worse.

Explosive gases from batteries

The risk is especially prevalent in maritime settings because of the sheer size of the batteries needed to run ships, compared to those used in cars or aircraft.

Lithium-ion battery failure also has the potential to release explosive gases, especially when water is involved. The water can react with the lithium to produce highly flammable hydrogen gas, and because ship-based battery systems are often in enclosed spaces, the risk of explosion is significantly heightened.

According to Chabilan, “The close vicinity of water and ambient humidity are some of the challenges that are unique to the management of lithium-ion batteries on ships, together with the saline environment and occurring vibrations… Just like planes, ships travel through barren, desolate environments, hostile to human life, meaning that any issue on board can develop very quickly into catastrophic proportion, even when all possible precautions are taken.”

Standardize battery systems

DNV GL helps to ensure systems are brought up to scratch and held to a higher standard. After all, it is within lithium-ion battery system manufacturers’ best interests to create a product that can be sold as broadly as possible.

And, of course, the risks have to be weighed up against the actual benefits that lithium-ion systems bring to the maritime sector. Batteries allow a much more economical and ecological approach to powering vessels; removing the need to constantly generate power means less strain is placed on the ship’s systems.

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Source: Ship Technology

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