Samsung SDI and LG Chem have unveiled safety measures to prevent their energy storage systems (ESS) from being ravaged by fires due to the explosion of components.
The two companies announced on Oct. 14 plans to apply fire-prevention technologies to their products. Their move is designed to address safety concerns about their systems that have been plaguing the entire domestic ESS industry in recent years.
Since August 2017, there have been 23 ESS-related fires. The government launched an investigation late last year and announced the results of its probe in June this year. The investigation team has found four causes -- defective battery protection systems, improper operation of energy storage systems, faulty installation of the systems and a lack of an overall control unit.
The two companies have come up with the safety measures due to a sense of crisis that they might lose the emerging global ESS market if the domestic ESS ecosystem collapses.
Samsung SDI said it would invest up to 200 billion won (US$168.71 million) to strengthen the safety of its ESS products. LG Chem has not revealed a specific amount but industry watchers expect that the firm will spend 100 billion won (US$84.35 million) to enhance the safety of its products.
Samsung SDI said it has developed a special fire extinguishing system for ESS. Its new system is made of special chemicals and fire blocking materials that can extinguish flames quickly and prevent fires from spreading even if one battery cell is caught on fire, it claimed. The company will introduce the special fire extinguishing system in new products and apply it to some 1,000 existing ESS operation sites in South Korea on its own expense.
Samsung SDI has been installing impact-detecting sensors in the ESS products that have already been deployed for the past year on its own expense.
LG Chem has also unveiled its measures, including conditional recall plans. The company has developed a product that prevents fires from spreading and will launch it in the near future. As part of its measures, the company said it will limit the operation rate of ESS systems that include batteries produced in its Nanjing plant in China in 2017 to 70 percent and cover the losses to the ESS operators.
In addition, LG Chem will identify the cause of previous fires by the end of this year through a precise analysis and come up with active alternative plans, such as the replacement of products, even if it fails to find the exact cause for fires. During a recent parliamentary inspection, Kim Joon-ho, vice president of LG Chem, said, “We will issue a recall if our batteries that were manufactured in the Nanjing plant in China in 2017 become a problem overseas.”
Of the 23 fires that have broken out since August 2017, 14 involved ESS made by LG Chem, while nine took place at business sites that used Samsung SDI’s energy systems. Three additional ESS fires occurred after the government announced the results of joint investigation in June. Out of the three, two involved ESS produced by LG Chem and one a Samsung SDI product.
Until now, it has not yet been confirmed that batteries manufactured by the two firms were defective. The government’s investigation team cited complex causes, including defective battery protection systems.
Samsung SDI and LG Chem are held accountable for the fires, even though their batteries have not been found defective. In particular, the two companies shipped the same batteries to other countries but not a single ESS fire case has been reported in other countries. Therefore, they note that it is hard to say the cause of the fires was defects in batteries.
After a controversy arose over ESS fires, the two companies suffered a sharp drop in their receipts of ESS orders. Market experts express concerns that the industry has shrunken due to the controversy over fires before the new ESS market has grown to a certain level and battery producers are suffering damage.
In this regard, SNE Research said the global ESS lithium-ion battery market will grow 38 percent compared to the previous year. The size of the market will increase from 11.6 GWh in 2018 to 16 GWh in 2019. It also expects that the figure will rise to 86.9 GWh in 2025. South Korean battery manufacturers are fettered by the controversy over fires, though the global market is rapidly growing.