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EV batteries rarely burn, but are on the Australian Government agenda

The Australian Government has just announced National electric vehicle strategy focuses on critical issues such as increasing electric vehicle supply and fleet utilization, while addressing gaps in charging infrastructure.

But other issues are also mentioned, based on hundreds of submissions from companies and research institutions: the fire risk associated with EVs associated with lithium-ion batteries, for example.

The government then launched a plan to fund “world-leading instruction, tramway rescue demonstrations and fire safety training to address knowledge gaps.” on safety and risks around electric vehicles, chargers and battery technology”.

Though rare, breathtaking footage of electric vehicle battery fires and recalls of popular electric vehicles due to fire risk such as this And this have attracted public attention and led to misconceptions about their popularity.

The problem of EV fires (heat runaway events) has also been cause concern for United Firefighters Union of Australia, and leadership Melbourne-based charging service provider JET Charge to call for national standards addressing fire safety requirements in the built environment,

One Australian company deeply involved in this sector is EV FireSafewhich keeps a verifiable database of passenger EV battery fires around the world and tracks effective emergency response methods.

The company receives funding from the Australian Department of Defense and has been recommended by the Australian Fire Authority Council, the Fire Protection Research Foundation (USA) and the National Fire Command Council (UK).

We spoke with project manager Emma Sutcliffe, who recently returned from a research trip to several European conferences focused on issues surrounding the EV fires.

“Electric vehicle battery fires are rare, but present new challenges and risks to the global emergency response community, and we are still figuring out how to manage these incidents,” Ms. Sutcliffe said. .

Her organization publishes updated frequently describes a database of tram fires around the world in detail, with a few interesting findings as of April 30, 2023 including:

  • EV FireSafe has verified 375 electric vehicle battery fires and is investigating 87 more. To illustrate this context, more than 10 million electric cars have been sold worldwide by 2022 according to the International Energy Agency.
  • The majority of these fires occurred after 2019.
  • The main causes of heat loss and ignition or explosion in sequence are impact and debris, OEM battery failure, water immersion, factory failure, arson, external fire, and overheating.
  • One incident depicts a towing ball falling from a truck and hitting the underside of the tram, resulting in a battery fire.
  • 95 percent of EV battery fires are ignition events with a spark-like directional flame, the remaining 5 percent are gas-cloud explosions typically in enclosed spaces.
  • Of these incidents, 31% were cars parked outside, 29% were cars driving outside, 24% were in enclosed spaces, and 16% were unknown.
  • Only 18% of all electric vehicle battery fires occurred when the car was connected to the charger, another 5% were disconnected from the charger within 10 minutes of the fire.

“…EVs are less likely to catch fire than ICEs [vehicles]however they are obviously newer vehicles so we are watching to see if that changes over time,” she warned.

“We work with a global network of fire and battery experts, and I especially like that so many are willing and enthusiastic to openly share knowledge.”

Specifically for Australia, Ms. Sutcliffe claimed there were “only four passenger electric vehicle battery fires that we know of in Australia”, three of which were parked in burned-out structures and carrying electric vehicles, and one incident involving arson.

“Our real risk is that light electric vehicles – e-bikes, scooters and skateboards – are destroying property, killing and injuring people around the world,” Ms. Sutcliffe added.

In its submission to the National Electric Vehicle Strategy, EV FireSafe took aim at what it calls “anti-electric vehicle sentiment that is being pushed into emergency circles by mainstream and social media, causing people to Responders believe that electric vehicle battery fires are frequent, unmanageable, and that electric vehicles connected to a charger or involved in a collision pose a high risk of electric shock.”

“This media bias is seriously affecting emergency responders’ confidence in electric vehicles and the safety of first responders when managing electric vehicle incidents. The Nascent EV research and testing programs cannot yet provide all the answers and urgently need support,” it added.

The company has called for actions such as EV emergency response guidelines written in accordance with ISO 17840, rollout of blue ‘EV’ badges nationwide, road rescue demonstrations, navigation database emergency response guides, online sessions for emergency agencies, and funding EV training props

Then there’s the question of the most appropriate answers, Ms. Sutcliffe adds.

“Consider problem management: do we do water cooling that takes a long time, soaking the battery in a water bath is expensive, difficult, and not recommended by any electric vehicle manufacturer, or can we let the battery burn out and eliminate the risk of trapped energy?” she speaks.

There is also the issue of what OEMs can do, with examples in this space being Renault fitting a water hose into the battery pack. New chemistries could also help, such as the popularity of more stable lithium iron phosphate packs in BYDs and Teslas.

According to Ms. Sutcliffe, EV drivers can help keep emergency responders safer by not driving or charging their EV if:

  • They were involved in a collision (call the manufacturer and get advice, she said)
  • It was submerged in water, such as flood water
  • It has been recalled by the manufacturer

When installing an EV charger at home, make sure the wall box has an electrically Compliant RCM Mark, it is installed in accordance with the ASNZ3000 wiring rules by a qualified electrician, and has the box checked for wear and tear regularly. .

MORE ABOUT THIS: Firefighters still struggle to effectively put out EV fires

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