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This is going to be a problem, yes

A warehouse in France storing lithium batteries caught fire on Saturday, amid growing fears over their safety.

The fire on Saturday afternoon occurred at a storehouse in the southern town of Viviez, in Aveyron, where 900 tons of lithium batteries were waiting to be recycled.

Authorities ordered residents to stay indoors and keep their windows closed as thick smoke billowed over the town. No injuries or deaths were reported and the cause of the fire has yet to be established.

Lithium batteries, found in electric scooters and vacuum cleaners, are known to spontaneously combust if they overheat or become damaged. Their dangers have raised concerns in countries where e-bikes have been promoted as a climate-friendly mode of transportation.

Not really much to be done about it either – other than to note that it’s going to be a problem.

28 thoughts on “This is going to be a problem, yes”

  1. I of course believe that everything should be powered by nukes.

    Things like bikes and cars should use hydrocarbon fuels. We can use the nukes to produce the H2 and CO2, and use dear old Adolf’s Fischer-Tropsch synthesis to make all the synfuel we need.

  2. But is it going to be a big enough problem that TPTB start to step back from all this idiocy? I’m not holding my breath.

  3. If solid-state batteries work out as promised, the fire problem should go away. In theory.

    Re vacuum cleaners, the battery ones just don’t have the power. My plugged-in Miele pulls 1,600W whereas a cordless Dyson clocks in around 500W.

  4. Not really much to be done about it either
    There really isn’t, is there? The batteries are, by definition, faulty. Or they wouldn’t be at a recycling depot. It will be a statistical probability that one of them will fault to ignition. At which point it’ll set fire to the rest. So with any particular depot, it’s just a matter of time.
    Hard to see what can done about it. Isolating each individual battery until disassembly would be a hell of a handling problem. (Are they likely to ignite during disassembly?) It’s a large number problem, isn’t it? The likelihood of a battery fire might be 0.001%. But if you’re running large numbers of batteries through the system the probability of a fire eventually heads towards 100%. Hasn’t been a problem so far because so few batteries have reached end of life so you’re still in the low numbers range. May be insoluble at least with the current generations of batteries. What glorious fun!

  5. Ironically in energy terms us humans are vacuum cleaners. Our current power requirements average close to 1600W every sucking second of our lives.

  6. @Andrew M
    It’ll be the voltages. If you actually open up most domestic rechargeable batteries – cordless drills, laptops, whatever – they’re usually a lot of individual cells wired up in series & parallel. Most of the ones I’ve seen are 3.7V.* They’re individually encapsulated.
    A friend’s got an electric motor bike with a pull out battery pack. That’s 80V. Never looked inside of one of those but I doubt the power/size ratio would allow for individual encapsulation of low voltage cells. And it’s these & the scooters are getting a rep for spontaneously catching light. There’s a lot of voltage there to get a short very hot. Car will be the same but bigger & even higher voltage.

    *You can buy the cells for a couple of quid. If you’re any good with a soldering iron you can rebuild battery packs. And if you run a voltmeter over the cells you may only need to replace one or two. New battery complete can be £50?

  7. OT but related: there was a very interesting article over on the Daily Sceptic the other day (https://dailysceptic.org/2024/02/17/the-conceptual-conditions-of-ruin/) that covered how we have gotten into the situation that we have (generally, but the energy supply situation is a good example of what has occurred).

    The basic premise being that the idea that our brains are split into a left side that is rational and reliable and deals with numbers etc, and a right side that is creative and spiritual is wrong. Instead one should view the right brain as being the broad picture side and the left brain as the detail side. The right brain looks at the overall environment we find ourselves in, is it a dangerous one, a safe one, should we be on the look out for predators or food? while the left brain deals with the specifics – don’t stand on that twig it’ll break and alert animals, balance on this log crossing the river, there’s a berry, pick it off the tree and eat it.

    Reading the article it occurred to me that we have entirely outsourced our public life to people who are right brain people, the broad brush ones, who see the great sweep of things, the details not so much. Which probably correlates with the people who took PPE at Oxford about 100%. So the idea ‘We’ll all use rechargeable batteries!’ is a typical right brain idea, completely unthinking as to any left brain questions as to how exactly it might work, or not.

    Which plays into my idea that the people we allow to rule us should be selected to include those with what I have termed practical skills, but now realise are more accurately described as left brain tendencies – the ability to focus on a particular skill set and manipulate the environment using them.

    If we continue to allow right brain people to dominate public life we are doomed.

  8. You forgot the lizard brain at the back, Jim. Basic instinctive. Eat drink sex. That’s the one politicians run on.

  9. I guess you can’t do lithium battery recycling on a small scale so you need a central facility: this means that any value of the recycling is diminished by cost / environmental cost of transportation.

    I don’t know why the facility is in the Aveyron; it may be because it is a cheap location, a means of creating employment or because of sparse population density; Aveyron has a population density half that of Northumberland.

    I do like how the French classify possibly dangerous sites; low threshold Seveso and high threshold Seveso. There are four such sites in the Aveyron. The site is operated by an Italian, majority state owned, company called Snam whose principal activity is in gas distribution.

  10. @bloke in spain – February 19, 2024 at 11:44 am

    You forgot the lizard brain at the back, Jim. Basic instinctive. Eat drink sex. That’s the one politicians run on.

    … and the “homing pigeon brain” right down in the very depths of the brain stem – that’s the one that ensures that, however pissed-up you might be, you eventually find your way home.

  11. It would seem that holds of end-of-life lithium batteries will need something akin to munitions storage. Don’t put them all in a big pile; keep them in smaller discrete allocations with fire separation. Plus little-and-often processing rather than retaining for bulk handling.

    This will prove way too expensive to pass on to consumers so they’ll probably end up discarded in various bodies of water.

  12. right brain/left brain: I used to have a boss who was a bit dim, or “right brained” if you like. One day he produced an argument so fatuous that I could not resist jumping in and demolishing it.

    “Aren’t you being a bit pedantic?” he enquired.

    “I’m paid to be pedantic” I snarled.

  13. Once upon a time it was chimney fires. Then it was deep fat fryers. Now it’s Li-on batteries.
    Got to find something for the Fire Brigade to do.

  14. “Yes, many (maybe most) vacuums are cordless these days.”

    They are? That’s *MADNESS*. Mains power is *ALWAYS* more efficient than portable power, because it’s there immediately on tap, high voltage, high current, high power, no intermediary storage with power losses on storage and power losses on release, and storage never gives you the voltage/amperage/power of mains power (have you ever seen a 240v battery?)

    If “most” or “many” vacuum cleaners are cordless, that’s a insane unnessessary increase in energy consumption at the same time the High Priests are insisting people use less energy. Imagine the energy needs of 20 million cordless vacuum cleaners compares to 20 million mains powered ones.

    Plus, if they are 500W as mentioned above, instead of the 1500W mains one I’ve got, that’s at least three times as much time needed to do the same job – people are paying in *more* energy *AND* in *more* time. Do people really cost their personal time at zero? Convenience appliances are normally defined as *reducing* personal time cost.

  15. Bongo: you sure? Something I vaguely remember is that we do about 200W resting, much of that in the brain. Was it Michael Faraday that came up with the figure of 746W for one horsepower. Since then they reckon that a horse would get pretty shagged out if it had to keep that rate up for any length of time.

    The average hard-working manual labourer needs about 4000 calories per day – 16.8 Megajoules. Divide that by 86400 and you get ~194 Watts.

  16. John @ 1.32 “ because it’s there immediately on tap”. Not at some point in the not too distant future it won’t

  17. @Addolff – Speak for yourself.

    As well as the UPS for 20 minutes of temporary power that I fitted a few weeks back, I’m also looking at a kick in generator and alternate renewables supply.

    Buggered if I’ll be caught short when UK decides that load shedding is the way to go.

  18. @Tractor Gent – agree with you on power from food. I have it at around 130W per UK person, could easily have been over 190W when people needed substantially more calories and had shorter lives.

    To get to the vacuum cleaner comparison, I’m going off gridwatch which says UK averages 35GW from electricity, and a 70 million population. So 500 Watts per head just from electricity. All the time on average. And then sites like this (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-63976805) which suggest you need to multiply the electric number by 3 to get total energy usage per person.
    So in energy terms: food, transport, heating, light, cooling, making stuff etc we’re each around 1500 Watts.

  19. Was it Michael Faraday that came up with the figure of 746W for one horsepower. Since then they reckon that a horse would get pretty shagged out if it had to keep that rate up for any length of time.

    A pro cyclist (on the TdF, say) can average 300W over a 5-6 hour ride, with probably 400W in the last hour.

  20. One Horse Power being 746Watts corresponds to a daily kCalorie consumption of 15,400, which funnily enough is what a mid-level active horse eats each day according to (https://equinenutritionnerd.com/2014/02/20/calories/).
    Coincidence or just physics? Bit of both I suppose, as 1 HP is what we *get* from the horse, which is over and above what it needs for basic mammal functioning, but we got that 1 HP during the working day only as they need a rest and sleep when metabolism should drop.

  21. further to jgh, old sparky – on the charging losses from mains to batteries.
    Someone with a battery car may know this.
    When you “fill” your battery car with kWh’s, the quantity that ends up in the “tank” must be somewhat less than what went through the “bowser”
    Are you in any way aware how much “spillage” there is ? Does the car or the “bowser” tell you ?

  22. @PCar – Thanks for the Daily Sceptic link.

    That was sufficient “Genuine Concern” to kick me into action and I’ve just ordered a compact / lightweight generator. Not perfects, since my space is limited to what I can shove outside on the window sill, but only in emergencies it should do the job.

    The UPS gives me about 20 minutes of power, so should be enough to get the thing loaded and running. Not going to worry about mains supply wiring (since it’s only temporary).

    If we start getting into regular rolling blackouts then anything larger is just going to be impractical for my current place, anyway. Just need enough to keep the 2 UPS boxes charged and the fridge.

    £399 2200w Portable Petrol inverter / Generator

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