Mazen Habash

President and Consulting Forensic Engineer at Origin and Cause
On the record

Mazen is the president of Origin and Cause and specializes in fire investigation, electrical and electronic failures, product liability and alarm system analysis. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, he has performed over 3,400 fire, product liability and alarm system investigations. Mazen is a licensed professional engineer and designated consulting engineer, and is qualified as an expert witness in civil and criminal courts in three provinces. He is also certified at two levels by the Canadian Alarm and Security Association as an alarm technician.

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  • Origin and Cause is Canada’s largest consulting forensic engineer and fire investigation firm. Our national presence – with 16 offices across the country – allows us to serve clients from coast to coast and field highly qualified, trusted experts in every major engineering disciple: Fire and explosion investigation, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, materials and metallurgical engineering, structural engineering, chemical engineering and drone services. We are also leaders in forensic litigation, with involvement in over 1,500 legal cases across Canada, throughout the United States and around the world.

    Our engineers, investigators and technical experts possess a wealth of practical experience and a depth of knowledge within their respective fields. Our multidisciplinary approach works to the benefit of our clients to ensure complete investigations, from fieldwork to analysis, reporting and litigation support. Our team has cumulatively completed over 30,000 forensic investigations, and our experts have an average of 25 years of experience.
    Q: What could be potential cause of lithium-ion battery facility fires?
    A: There are several possible causes for lithium-ion battery facility fires. Some are related to the battery assemblies themselves, but others are unrelated to the battery assemblies. Just as with any fire incident, even one of an unrelated cause, when left unchecked and not quickly extinguished, could result in heat or direct flame impingement impacting near-by battery assemblies resulting in subsequent or secondary fires incidents at these assemblies. This could initiate a cascading set of failures and fires at adjacent batteries, akin to a domino effect. Of course, we have all heard of reports in the press, of batteries themselves failing and causing fires or explosions. Several reasons exist for such failures in Lithium-Ion batteries, ranging from thermal abuse, mechanical abuse to operational conditions and finally, manufacturing defects or design deficiencies. Any of these possibilities could initiate an internal thermal runaway situation within a battery, that would then cause internal failures or malfunctions that may result in an explosion or fire incident.

    Q. What is thermal runway and why could that have contributed to the fires in Australia and Beijing?
    A: Think of a thermal runaway condition as an uncontrolled internal failure condition within the battery caused by several scenarios that could result in a fire or explosion. All too often, this could result in the contents of the battery being violently and catastrophically ejected from the battery enclosure. The ignited material could then land up in areas where other combustible materials could also ignite, allowing the fire to propagate further, possibly involving other batteries.
    The motivation behind the development of lithium-ion batteries and its mass production and distribution is to save the planet, but what are the risks and dangers associated with them? There are many factors that need to be addressed in society as the proliferation of battery chemistries of all sorts, including Li-Ion, are becoming mainstream from use in consumer products, vehicles, to complete power generation facilities. Areas that will need to be addressed include the storage of batteries, transportation concerns, and of course, as we look at the future, how we, as a society deal with disposal. We need to better understand the challenges and implications and impact on our environment, of disposing of batteries. What the risks are and how to be safe guard our environment as the volume of expected spent batteries will only increase. Can these developing technologies be recycled? That will be a question that researchers and developers will need to answer as these emerging technologies evolve.

    Q: How do we mitigate the risks of fires with these big batteries? Are there considerations in the construction of the facilities in terms of fire suppression?
    A: This question comes from this statement in an article: Results of the investigation will be closely watched, and could influence the way such systems are designed and built, according to Paul Christensen, a professor of electrochemistry at Newcastle University whose research focuses on lithium ion battery fires and safety. His recommendations include monitors within the systems, and enough space for fire crews to maneuver and aim a hose. Do you have any other thoughts on how things are designed and built? As battery systems grow in size, and with new uses for batteries found daily, special care must be taken by scientists and engineers to ensure safety is a vital and critical aspect of designs. We need to ensure that safety circuits are built into designs to prevent batteries from failing and undergoing thermal runaway. We need to make sure batteries don’t cause fires or explosions. Beyond the over design of the batteries themselves, we need to consider the concept of energy density. How much electrical and chemical energy is available within a region of space or volume. How this will impact placement of batteries especially in power generation facilities. The placement of battery assemblies will impact the fire or explosion hazard and how such a hazard can be minimized and how such a hazard can be addressed when it does happen. The techniques used and to be used for suppression activities and the environmental impact of an incident is still something we need to address better.

    Q: How much separation do we need between adjacent assemblies or cells in a facility to prevent cross fire or explosions progression. How much space is needed for suppression to be facilitated successfully. How do we train our fire fighters to recognize hazards and exist or could develop when they are responding to an incident. This is not typical or normal event, and standard methods cannot be used. Training will be essential. The fact that these new power generation facilities are a workplace adds a new dimension to ensuring work place safety.

    9 August 2021
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