In the UK, ‘battery farms’ are a cause for concern

At a time of energy transition, electric farms are all the rage in some countries, including the UK. Across the Channel, lithium-ion batteries are piling up in rural areas. And yet a report by two physicists raises concerns about these facilities.

The fear of disaster

In British rural areas, and especially in the fields, there are many fairly nondescript buildings. Nothing extravagant at first glance, these only emit a light electric hum. As explained by Daily mail in an article of 10 July 2021 it is about battery farms. The UK installs them by the shovel to form an easy-to-operate electricity reserve, ideal for dealing with minor hazards related to renewable energy necessary for the current energy transition. In addition, these farms have another importance for the individuals and communities they house: they generate money.

In June 2021, however, two British physicists published a damning report. They are Edmund Fordham of Energetics Research and Consulting and Wade Allison of Oxford University. In their paper, the duo explains that lithium-ion accumulations can: pose a risk of disaster similar to – or worse – the explosions that devastated the port and city of Beirut (Lebanon) in August 2020.

The physicists specify that their study is not a way to freely oppose a project that clearly involves a public interest. However, they indicate that people are in danger of death and refer to a disaster that happened in London in 2017. A tower in the capital – the Grenfell Tower – had hit by a dramatic fire (see below), which killed 79 people (+74 injured) and caused a stir in the country.

Grenfell Tower Londres incendie
Credit: Natalie Oxford / Wikipedia

A special kind of fire

The researchers’ concern is quite logical, as lithium-ion batteries have an undeniable limit : They can overheat and catch fire. The fact is, the farms in question contain thousands of these batteries. A domino effect can occur in the event of an incident. Also, let’s not forget that we’re talking about a certain type of fire that doesn’t require oxygen to burn. Moreover, he can reach a temperature of 600°Cie enough to melt aluminum. In addition, the only way to deal with it is to use special extinguishing techniques. This type of fire, which is difficult for firefighters to extinguish, already affects many electric cars.

The physicists still appear to be a bit catastrophic, but explain that the surrounding villages could be devastated by possible explosions and toxic fumes. Moreover, it seems that the farms are not not taken seriously enough by UK law because they store a significant amount of electrochemical energy.