Why do electric vehicles catch fire and why are they so hard to put out?

 Recently, there has been a sharp increase in interest in electric vehicles. Therefore, it is not surprising that as more and more electric cars are introduced to the road globally, users are beginning to experience a variety of issues. Hard to put out fires is one of them.

Electric Car fires
Photo by David Henry: Pexels.com


 

As with the introduction of any new technology, there are often more questions than there are answers when it comes to electric cars.

 The fire risk posed by lithium-ion batteries is one of the most challenging issues, and it has a very negative impact on the rate of adoption of electric cars because it raises concerns among buyers.

 Everyone is aware that gasoline and fire are dangerous when combined, but the situation is less clear when it comes to electric batteries.

 Nearly everything uses lithium-ion batteries, including remote-controlled cars, drones, smartphones, cordless shavers, and even home solar energy storage systems. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that the technology is secure. Yes, it is, but only up until a mishap occurs.

 Lithium-ion batteries have the potential to catch fire if they are damaged, most frequently from an internal short circuit, or become overheated as a result of flaws in the manufacturing process or deterioration. An internal or external short circuit, overcharging, or overcharging the battery can all result in overheating.

 

When a battery is overheated, a series of events take place that raise the temperature of the battery quickly, which causes the battery's cells to degrade almost instantly and produce gases. This is due to the quick conversion of the stored energy into heat. The battery's temperature may then increase to 2,000 degrees. It follows that the fire appears quickly, which is not surprising. But for the owner of an electric car, the issues don't end with the fire.

 

Battery fire requires special extinguishing agents

The larger lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles cannot be put out the same way that smaller lithium-ion batteries can, such as by pouring copious amounts of water on them. Lithium oxidizes violently when it comes into contact with water, so special chemicals are needed to combat lithium fires. Also keep in mind that numerous extinguishing agents are required to put out a battery fire.


It is advised to use fire extinguishers made of sodium carbonate, graphite powder, copper powder, CO2, extinguishing foam, or ABC dry chemistry. Batteries frequently self-ignite again even after being extinguished, as if that weren't bad enough.

 

For larger fires that prove difficult to extinguish, even a controlled battery burn may be the best method , provided the fire does not spread to nearby vehicles, brush, buildings or people.

 

We are aware that what we have written thus far may be unsettling. Therefore, it's important to check the statistics to see how many fires have recently started. Thankfully, Tesla makes a tonne of information about electric vehicle fires available.

 

According to the company, there was one fire for every 338 million kilometres driven by its vehicles between the years of 2012 and 2021. This means that Teslas are 10 times less likely to catch fire than internal combustion engines when compared to combustion-powered vehicles. There is one "but," though. There are other electric car manufacturers besides Tesla, and they do not release the same information. Because of this, the statistics are unreliable and incomplete.

 

Another intriguing report has been released, and despite coming from the United States, it appears to apply to the rest of the world as well. According to a 2020 report by the US National Fire Protection Association, mechanical and electrical problems brought on by wear and age account for the majority of combustion engine vehicle fires. The majority of electric vehicles currently on the road, according to the report, are not old enough to have the same problems. This reasoning leads to the conclusion that there will be an increase in electric fires in the future.

 

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