Hybrid & Electric Powered Ships Open New Safety Concerns

Walking down a cul de sac, it is not uncommon to see rows of solar panels sitting on top of rooves. Driving into parking lots, “battery-powered vehicles” are gaining more spots over time. The worlds of oil and electricity are colliding, and friction comes from having to create hybrid machines that utilize both resources. Following the trend, hybrid and electric ships are the next industry to face the collision of the “energy way.” However, the implementation of batteries in ships raises some safety concerns.

Batteries & Thermal Runaway

The cells in batteries are “powerhouses” of energy. While these houses can store hours of power that can run the engines of ships, the conditions on boats may cause thermal runaway. Thermal runaway is when the lithium-ion cells in marine batteries have an ailment that results in heat generation. This generated heat can cause a reaction between the cathode material and the electrolytes within a battery. This condition worsens until the battery vents toxic and flammable gases. If ignition were to occur, the gas could create a serious fire—one that is unpredictable and difficult to extinguish.

The problems that could cause thermal runaway include:

  • Mechanical abuse
  • Internal manufacturing defects
  • Operations under / over the correct voltage or temperatures

At this point, air-cooling solutions can only reduce the fire risk in thermal runaway and do not prevent fires from starting. Therefore, marine batteries are unstable for use when utilizing air-cooling prevention.

Venting Is Necessary for Battery Safety

As mentioned, marine batteries can leak toxic gas that is harmful to shipmates. Therefore, if batteries are utilized in ships, they need to have efficient vent systems that get rid of flammable gasses from damaged modules. If vent systems are enacted, the crew of a vessel can take care of a battery that goes bad much faster than if the system had no ventilation. Crew members need to fix rogue batteries as soon as possible; therefore, ventilation systems are a necessary part of an electrically powered ship. Between ventilation, battery explosion prevention, and other safety features it may be awhile until boats rely on electric technology.

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