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Old 09-08-2022, 20:19   #1
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Balmar alternator fire

Today, roughly 20 minutes after we fired up the engine and right after we pulled up the anchor, our Balmar alternator (Balmar-AT-DF-165-K6) got on fire with flames coming out of the grills. We noticed a smell and checked the engine compartment to see the flames coming out of the alternator. We stopped the engine immediately, dropped the hook back and then I pulled the alternator fuse. After testing the temperature a bit after firing up the engine, we continued and dropped the hook in our destination. Needless to say, this was very worrisome.

We have 7x100Ah 12V LiFePO4 batteries that are connected in parallel. I also have a Balmar MC-614 controller and I have configured it with the following settings: Field reduction is 70%. High voltage/bulk limit is 14V. Absorption voltage is 13.9V and float voltage is 13.8V. There is a temperature sensor and max alternator temp is set to 100 degrees celsius. I also have a Starlink alternator protector device. I think these were relatively conservative settings.

Alternator charges the lithium batteries. Starter battery (AGM) is charged by a DC-DC charger from the lithium batteries.

We fired the engine at 16:30 and incident happened in less than 20 minutes after that. At that point battery bank was about 80% charged and solar panels were pumping in ~40A. Net current draw from the batteries was between +30A and -10A during this window. Attaching screenshots from Victron MPPT and Shunt. Looking at the output of the shunt, doesn't look like alternator ever produced anything, all power was coming from the solar panels.

So all in all, I struggle to explain this. I don't think there was a surge from the alternator. Also there was really no possibility of a BMS shutdown of any of the batteries.

This was an alternator that was installed brand new when we purchased the boat 1.5 years ago, as the original one burned during the survey and was replaced as part of the purchase. Since then, we changed the batteries, added solar etc etc and it has been running without any issues close to a year with this new setup.

Is this common? Alternator failing is one thing but it going into flames is another thing, presenting a fire hazard. Any relevant experiences?
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Old 09-08-2022, 22:37   #2
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

From reading the data sheet on that MC614 regulator, the temperature sensors look optional? Does your system use them? Lithium batteries present a much higher load than FLA. At low RPMs, the problem is worse because the fans on the alternator provide much less cooling but the battery charging load is unchanged. A temperature sensor should be utilized to limit the current output when temperatures get too high.
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Old 10-08-2022, 05:51   #3
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

Wait…. A year and a half ago the previous alternator “burned during the survey”? This boat has had TWO alternator fires? The would be so unlikely as to be totally weird.

I can’t think what might be going on but this can’t be a coincidence. Something is not installed correctly.
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Old 10-08-2022, 11:23   #4
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

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Originally Posted by ItDepends View Post
WaitÖ. A year and a half ago the previous alternator ďburned during the surveyĒ? This boat has had TWO alternator fires? The would be so unlikely as to be totally weird.

I canít think what might be going on but this canít be a coincidence. Something is not installed correctly.
It was a faulty battery. So all batteries had been replaced as well as the altenator.
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Old 10-08-2022, 11:25   #5
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

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Originally Posted by NPCampbell View Post
From reading the data sheet on that MC614 regulator, the temperature sensors look optional? Does your system use them? Lithium batteries present a much higher load than FLA. At low RPMs, the problem is worse because the fans on the alternator provide much less cooling but the battery charging load is unchanged. A temperature sensor should be utilized to limit the current output when temperatures get too high.
Yes, though I have a temperature sensor and it is installed. I could see the temperature readings on MC-614. I had also configured the controller with a lower maximum temperature of 100 degrees.
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Old 10-08-2022, 11:31   #6
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

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It was a faulty battery. So all batteries had been replaced as well as the altenator.
Well, you *thought* it was a faulty battery. Seems fishy to have another alternator cook, don't you think?

Intermittent short in your high current cabling?
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Old 10-08-2022, 11:34   #7
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

Probably a shorted stator winding. It happens. Pulling the fuse deenergizes the field, so no more heat from the stator.


There's usually not enough heat generated for the alternator to destroy anything but itself.
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Old 10-08-2022, 11:35   #8
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

Have you on alternator temp sensing and is it working , secondly is the field current under control. n type field coils can put out max output of the field gets shorted to ground. A shorted rotor coil can also cause issues

I’d be suspicious of the regulator.
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Old 10-08-2022, 11:43   #9
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

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Originally Posted by chris95040 View Post
Well, you *thought* it was a faulty battery. Seems fishy to have another alternator cook, don't you think?

Intermittent short in your high current cabling?
You bring a good point. I thought about it but couldn’t reason. It worked for 1.5 years (1+ with Lithiums) without any issues so part of me thinks it would have surfaced by then.

I will think more. A short in the cabling would I think short the batteries too and blow up the fuse no? That certainly hasn’t happened.
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Old 10-08-2022, 11:49   #10
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

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Originally Posted by goboatingnow View Post
Have you on alternator temp sensing and is it working , secondly is the field current under control. n type field coils can put out max output of the field gets shorted to ground. A shorted rotor coil can also cause issues

Iíd be suspicious of the regulator.
Yes, I have a temp sensor and it was working until at least a couple of days ago (i didntít explicitly check before it burned). I programmed the controller to limit the field output to 70% to prevent lithiums drawing the alternator to 100%.

But if you look at the graphs I posted above, it doesnít look like alternator put out any amps at all before frying.
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Old 10-08-2022, 11:55   #11
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

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Originally Posted by Tenedos View Post
You bring a good point. I thought about it but couldnít reason. It worked for 1.5 years (1+ with Lithiums) without any issues so part of me thinks it would have surfaced by then.

I will think more. A short in the cabling would I think short the batteries too and blow up the fuse no? That certainly hasnít happened.
Oops, misread and didn't realize it was successfully in use for over a year, makes that coincidence less suspicious..

But to your question, I guess not all shorts are created equal, maybe it was dumping enough current to zap your alternator but not enough to blow the bank fuse? Although that seems unlikely too.
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Old 10-08-2022, 12:01   #12
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

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Originally Posted by goboatingnow View Post
Have you on alternator temp sensing and is it working , secondly is the field current under control. n type field coils can put out max output of the field gets shorted to ground. A shorted rotor coil can also cause issues

Iíd be suspicious of the regulator.

Doesn't fit the facts because his battery shunt didn't show much output
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Old 10-08-2022, 12:08   #13
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

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Doesn't fit the facts because his battery shunt didn't show much output
Unless you had a serious mechanical malfunction , you are left with an internal short as the likely cause. Current must flow somewhere , so if not in the external circuitry , it has to flow internally.
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Old 10-08-2022, 12:29   #14
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

I would start by figuring out what's wrong with the alternator. The exact failure will likely be your best clue as to the cause. And don't just take it apart. Start by checking the windings and field for shorts to each other and to ground
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Old 10-08-2022, 17:06   #15
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Re: Balmar alternator fire

I don't even know what inside an alt could even burn. it's just a metal case with metal windings...

are you sure oil /gas / engine fluids or other stuff did not get into the alt? which then lit from the hot alt.
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