China urges maritime safety review for lithium battery carriers

China urges maritime safety review for lithium battery carriers

China urges maritime safety review for lithium battery carriers 1024 576 Energy Storage Journal

March 3, 2022: China has called on the International Maritime Organization to consider a shake-up of maritime safety rules for EVs being shipped by sea, amid a rising tide of fires involving lithium ion batteries, Energy Storage Journal can reveal.

China has submitted proposals aimed at improving fire safety technical requirements under International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations following “frequent” accidents involving EV battery fires, an International Maritime IMO told the bulletin on February 22.

China’s proposals include “enhanced protection” from onboard automated fire-extinguishing systems, more video monitoring of cargo, new rules governing ro-ro spaces separating vehicles on vessels and a review of protective clothing requirements for firefighters.

The proposals are to be discussed by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in April 2022.

Review

According to a paper submitted by China to the MSC: “The ever-increasing demand for ships carrying large quantities of various types of new energy vehicles including lithium ion battery vehicles — and reports of several major fire accidents occurring on ships carrying lithium ion battery vehicles — serve as a reminder that the international maritime community needs to pay attention to the special safety risks of ships carrying new energy vehicles.”

The paper urges the safety committee to comprehensively review existing regulations — claiming that existing fire extinguisher systems are not sufficient to cope with shipments of mixed vehicles, such as EVs being carried alongside alternative fuel vehicles.

China said it had conducted its own tests into the efficacy of gas fire-extinguishing systems in enclosed spaces involving various EV models using lithium ion batteries.

“During repeated tests, the flame on the battery surface was quickly extinguished after the CO2 fire-extinguishing medium was released, but re-ignition occurred afterwards, accompanied by a gas explosion.

‘Thermal runaway’

“This is because it is difficult to stop the thermal runaway propagation between battery cells or modules and the CO2 cooling effect is not enough to inhibit the thermal runaway reaction inside the lithium ion battery.

“At the same time, combustible gas released by the thermal runaway accumulates… creating an explosive gas environment. Due to the loss of air tightness in the space, the entry of fresh air from outside is also one of the reasons for the re-ignition.”

Experience showed it can take longer to put out fires involving new energy vehicles than fuel vehicles, the paper said. Without “effective measures to isolate new energy vehicles… fire could spread more quickly to other decks”.

Water spray systems are effective in suppressing individual EV fires, but have limited impact in putting out fires that spread to other vehicles stowed in close proximity, which then “can only be left to burn” or tackled by “manual firefighting”, the paper said.

‘Identify gaps’

The paper said work is needed to “identify the gaps” in existing SOLAS fire safety requirements and that costs involved in increasing fire prevention were “a price that the maritime industry should bear”.

However, the paper proposes a staged approach — focusing initially on developing fire safety improvements for ships carrying lithium ion battery vehicles followed by alternative fuel vehicles, “mainly hydrogen fuel cell vehicles”.

The upcoming discussions on transport safety come after EV batteries were suspected to have been involved in a car transport vessel, the ‘Felicity Ace’, that caught fire in the Atlantic.

The blaze broke out on February 16 and lasted more than a week. However, investigations into the cause will take some time yet, because the vessel (pictured above) sank as she was being towed to safety off the Azores on March 1.