June 14, 2021 — Southwest Research Institute has launched a new Joint Industry Program (JIP) to investigate energy storage systems for the grid. JIP efforts will include developing new test cycles for batteries employed in grid applications, estimating the life span of batteries and their potential for failure, and reducing likelihood of battery fires.
“I'm delighted that the Institute is taking this step to investigate energy storage systems, which are a growing sector as we rely more on renewable energy resources,” said SwRI Executive Vice President and COO Walter M. Downing. “This joint industry project is a great demonstration of SwRI's dedication to innovation for the betterment of humanity.”
“The energy industry has seen a tremendous increase in renewable resources, such as power generated by wind turbines and solar panels,” said Dr. Jayant Sarlashkar, an Institute engineer in SwRI’s Powertrain Engineering Division. “These renewable sources tend to be highly variable, so it becomes necessary to store excess energy in a battery so it can be used during periods of high demand. The increased role of renewable resources in the energy mix has led to a greater demand for batteries to store that energy to balance supply and demand.”
ENGIE, EnBW, the Central Research Institute of Power Industry (CRIEPI), Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and CEZ have joined SwRI’s Energy Storage for Electric Grid JIP, which will address questions about the risks and reliability of energy storage systems. One of the central questions is how long it takes for a battery to degrade.
“Once we deploy a battery for grid applications, we need to know how long we can rely upon it,” Sarlashkar said.
Over the course of its life, a grid-connected battery must respond slowly or suddenly, depending on the grid demands. On a normal evening, a battery might supply 1,000 houses with continuous power, which is slow and sustained behavior. But in an emergency, that same battery could be called upon to supply an immediate surge of electricity to prevent a blackout. The JIP will investigate how these two very different demands affect the degradation of a battery.
The Energy Storage for Electric Grid JIP will also investigate battery flammability, particularly the explosion and fire risks associated with large, grid-scale batteries.
“Aggressive load-shifting, such as deploying a battery to prevent a blackout, could increase fire risks,” Sarlashkar said. “The current monitoring standards are insufficient.”
One of the program’s goals is to discover more about how a battery degrades and the likelihood of its failure, which could shed light on what causes battery fires. SwRI plans to accomplish this by developing a method to estimate performance degradation in grid-connected batteries and establish a correlation with battery fires.
One of the biggest signs that a lithium ion battery is at risk for a fire is the presence of lithium dendrites. These occur when lithium ions are deposited during the charging process and can grow into spiky structures that cause short-circuits and fires.
“We want to know how fast these dendrites are growing, because that will tell us when it’s time to replace a battery,” Sarlashkar said. “The more we know about what causes these fires, the better we can develop maintenance protocols to prevent them by replacing batteries before they cause damage and injury.”
Joining the JIP requires signing a cooperative research agreement and providing operational field data from a grid battery the JIP participant has deployed. There is no fee to join the JIP. SwRI is funding of this JIP through internal research, with the other JIP members providing in-kind support.
“The main benefit to the participants is that they get to watch and guide the research to keep it true to the needs of the industry,” Sarlashkar said. “They also get to license the IP after it is demonstrated before SwRI offers it to JIP non-participants, which may provide a competitive advantage by reducing life-cycle costs.”
This new JIP will utilize SwRI’s grid-connected energy storage facilities at its San Antonio location. The program is expected to be completed in July 2022.