With the popularity of Electric Vehicles (EVs) on the rise, a few electric bikes have caught fire recently in the county. Even electric cars from big giants like Tesla, Porsche, Mitsubishi, as well as others, have seen the charring incidents around the world. This has ignited the debate as to whether the electric vehicles are safe. So, why do electric vehicles (EVs) catch fire at all? Do we have to forget about eco-friendly factor and go back to traditional vehicles run on fuel? Here is a comprehensive perspective on all this.
The high-power battery pack of electric vehicles almost invariably is to blame for these fire hazards, unlike the conventional vehicles where blaze could be due to other reasons involving machinery or electrical faults.
Reasons Why Electric Vehicles(EVs) Catch Fire
With a simple powertrain, the battery in an EV is the focus of manufacturers to give the vehicle the necessary speed and acceleration. As a result, from manufacturing to fitting the battery becomes essential and at the same time complicated.
The battery’s chemical reaction, a mistake in wiring, or even faulty design and components could make an EV vulnerable to catching fire.
The electric vehicles are packed with lithium-ion or Ii-ion battery that generates extreme heat while in use. Therefore, thermal management of these batteries is crucial for preventing them from catching fire.
In case these batteries fail, a phenomenon called thermal runaway occurs, increasing the pressure and temperature of these batteries. If exposed to air, things can go awry, leading to batteries catching fire or even exploding.
Even a quality-built battery’s performance hinges on how its ends are stitched up or fastened. A wrong attachment or fault in it can lead to battery malfunctioning and prone to ignition.
Faulty battery design and components
Batteries come in different designs and shapes, such as cylindrical, prismatic and pouch-shaped, but generally, they have three key elements: electrodes, electrolyte, and separator. If any of the components are damaged, it might burn the battery.
Customers’ demand for electric vehicles capable of going a long distance without requiring a recharge has also led manufacturers to build batteries that can store more charge, however, still keeping it small and compact. It means ensuring more energy density within a given space, but more energy can sometimes spill out to inflame.
External factors such as electric vehicles operating in hot and humid conditions can also cause voltage and temperature that control batteries chemistry to go up, potentially damaging the battery to heat up.
Is EVs catching fire blown out of proportion?
Manufacturers of EVs have consistently held that conventional vehicles catch fire more than EV vehicles. But since EVs are relatively new, and their setting in flames captures dramatic footage for news, there is more buzz and hype around electric vehicles’ potential fire hazards.
Despite electric vehicles’ fire incidents are not that frequent, and irrespective of what OEMs say, fire involving an EV is much more severe and difficult to put out than conventional vehicles. Moreover, in some cases, EV batteries have been seen to reignite the fire even after being extinguished.
So it is essential to focus on ways that help decrease the chances of EV batteries going up in flames in the first place.
What battery makers and government can do?
First and foremost, there is a pressing need for uniform regulation and standards for batteries maker. EV batteries should come marked with risk thresholds. Only those batteries should be allowed that meet or exceed those thresholds.
Government must make its regulation stringent enough for the OEMs to use batteries with the lowest fire hazards.
A new approach to making batteries for electric vehicles should also be explored to use less-flammable materials without compromising those batteries’ quality and effectiveness.
What to do if your EV catches fire?
A fire emanating from an electric vehicle could be more toxic, containing hazardous organic chemicals, particularly carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, lethal for humans.
Firefighters must be aware of this and shouldn’t put out the fire without a PPE kit and other respiratory equipment.
EV fire could be most obstinate to extinguish than the fire caused on conventional vehicles. So firefighters must be trained on the new ways to tackle EV fires.
Awareness about the EV brands, the battery used, and the latter’s location and accessibility need to be prioritized so that firefighters straightaway get to the heart of the fire.
Once the battery location is identified, water, a vast amount of it, must be continuously applied to cool it down.
The most effective way to cool a battery is to pour water directly inside it; however, no attempts should be made to open up the battery to apply water during the incident.
It should only be done if there is a vent or the battery’s interior to a certain extent is exposed due to the damage caused by accident.
Precautions measures to save your EV from catching fire
You can’t do much if your EV catches fire from your end. You should get out of it as quickly as possible and wait for the firefighters to take over.
However, to prevent a fire incident, due care should be given, such as monitoring your battery health through software installed in your vehicle. If there are any functioning anomalies, the software will alarm you before the battery abnormally heats up or goes up in flames.
Several incidents of batteries’ ignition have come to light while they were plugged in for charging. It happened when either the batteries were overcharged or put in for charging after being completely drained out.
Therefore, an ideal way to charge batteries is to charge them before they reach zero level and remove them as soon as they are fully charged. A few EVs come with software diagnostics that stop charging, detecting a fault in the battery until the issue is addressed and resolved.
Above all, we can hope that as technology emerges, engineers will take care of these issues. By the passage of time we may hope for a generations of safer EVs that don’t catch fire.