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[From the Scene] Samsung SDI demonstrates fire-safe ESS

ULSAN -- In a dark chamber with thick concrete walls at Samsung SDI’s battery manufacturing site in Ulsan on Wednesday, two officials confidently demonstrated the safety of its new energy storage system in the event of a fire.

They deliberately made a hole in two ESS modules -- an older version and a new model equipped with fire blockers and insulators -- by banging a nail into them to induce spontaneous combustion.

After about three minutes, there was a bang and a sizable flame in the older ESS model without the extinguishing system.

Meanwhile, the one containing two orange blockers consisting of special chemicals emitted sparks and smoke, but then fizzled out. 

Samsung SDI officials demonstrate how the extinguishing system works at a test room at its Ulsan plant on Wednesday. (Samsung SDI)
Samsung SDI officials demonstrate how the extinguishing system works at a test room at its Ulsan plant on Wednesday. (Samsung SDI)

The blockers were part of the special extinguishing system that was recently built by Samsung SDI as part its safety measures after a series of fire incidents -- 27 nationwide of which nine were at Samsung’s facilities -- reported since August 2017.

In addition to the blockers, Samsung inserted multiple insulators in between the cells, which help them withstand temperatures of up to 800 degrees Celsius.

Due to the blockers and insulators, the temperature of the cell that was ignited was kept below 300 degrees Celsius, while the other cells were around 50 degrees Celsius.

“You can see that the flames and heat are completely blocked by these special blockers and insulators, preventing an ignition in one cell from bursting and the fire spreading to nearby cells,” said Samsung SDI Senior Vice President Heo Eun-gi.

The company is applying the extinguishing system to all of its new ESS products and also existing ones. It highlighted that it meets the enhanced safety codes and standards of fire prevention in the United States.

Furthermore, the company is currently developing a software solution and needed apparatus to monitor and detect any erroneous operations of cells in ESS modules.

The company has come up with measures to strengthen the safety of its ESS products, which are estimated to cost about 200 billion won ($169 million), with the aim of creating a safe ecosystem for the industry that is in its nascent stage of growth.

“We are making a sincere commitment to establish a safe ESS ecosystem in Korea first, and then we will expand to the global market,” said Samsung SDI CEO Jun Young-hyun.

“The cause of the fires was not defective cells. We supply the same cells for BMW i3 vehicles,” he said. “But we are applying the extinguishing system in order to prepare against any unpredictable external conditions for the sake of safety.”

Samsung has been producing medium- and large-size lithium-ion battery modules and packs for use in electric vehicles at its Ulsan campus since 2009. It started manufacturing cells for ESS modules in 2011. 

By Song Su-hyun