Are electrical automotive fires actually that frequent?

For those who’re spending any time on social media researching electrical autos, you’ve in all probability learn headlines and feedback about electrical automotive fires. However do EVs actually burn to the bottom on a regular basis as some individuals may have you imagine?

Many fears have accompanied the rise in recognition of the electrical automobile (EV) amongst automotive consumers. Initially, it was vary anxiousness – that dread of being stranded in the midst of nowhere with a flat battery and nowhere to plug it in. Higher and bigger batteries have primarily consigned vary anxiousness to historical past, solely to get replaced by cost anxiousness – will the plug-in level you want be working while you get to it?

The one EV concern that refuses to go away, nevertheless, is the declare that they’re more likely to catch hearth than are conventional combustion-engined autos. Footage of electrical automotive fires pop up repeatedly on social media, often exhibiting a flaming or burnt-out Tesla someplace in America, with the caption “Look how harmful electrical autos are!”

In actual fact, it’s an city fantasy – analysis into precise circumstances has proven that EVs are a lot much less prone to combust than their petrol or diesel equivalents. That’s to not say that every one these footage on social media by no means occurred; you simply don’t see an equal variety of images of petrol vehicles burning to the bottom…

Nevertheless it’s not all excellent news. When an EV does go up in flames, it presents a far trickier proposition for the emergency companies attempting to extinguish the blaze.

A lot of the noise surrounding electrical automotive fires comes from people who find themselves very vocal about their absolute opposition to EVs and the phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles. At finest, their considerations stem from a lack of expertise of electrically-powered gear as a complete.

We’ve all had electrical home equipment we’ve needed to chuck away after the batteries – probably left in far too lengthy – corroded throughout their contacts. And a good few of us have probably skilled an overloaded plug overheating and melting.

With electrical vehicles boasting enormous high-voltage battery packs, it’s maybe no shock that such fears switch to them and are ramped as much as life-threatening stage. However proof of the danger of electrical automotive fires suggests the precise reverse.

Lengthy odds

Maybe stung by the repeated hostile publicity, Tesla printed information within the US claiming that for each 205 million miles travelled, an EV was ten occasions much less prone to catch hearth than the common price of fires in petrol vehicles. And whereas figures from an EV producer is perhaps regarded with some suspicion, a US insurer studied information from the Nationwide Transportation Security Board and concluded that battery-powered EVs undergo solely 25 fires per 100,000 offered, in comparison with 1,530 for petrol or diesel autos, and notably 3,475 for hybrids. Nevertheless, that report has been debunked for poor methodology.

Within the UK, Air High quality Information made an in-depth research of the EV hearth menace, and found that in 2019 the London Hearth Brigade tackled 54 fires in EVs, in comparison with 1,898 in petrol and diesel vehicles. A newer research by Well being & Security specialist CE Security recommended there had been 735 call-outs to EV fires within the UK over the previous 5 years – however this included all forms of EV together with scooters and bikes, with vehicles representing simply 44% of the full – so round 323 when there are near 33 million vehicles on the UK’s roads…

In an interview with Forbes earlier this yr, Thatcham Analysis CTO, Richard Billyeald, mentioned that electrical autos usually have a decrease hearth danger than fossil-fuel autos, however that the info pool is at the moment small.

“Our newest analysis signifies that the danger of a hearth for every type of EV stays much less probably than for ICE (inside combustion engine) autos. It must be famous that the usable information solely goes again 5 years and even now the variety of EVs on the roads nonetheless represents a really small pattern measurement.

“That is additionally mirrored within the security testing we conduct within the UK on behalf of Euro NCAP, the place regardless of the strong impacts to the entrance and significantly the perimeters of the automobile the place the battery is most weak, there have been no resultant thermal occasions.”

There are excellent the reason why an EV is much less prone to catch hearth than a petroleum or diesel automotive. An EV has far fewer transferring components (friction between parts is usually a common reason for fires, resulting in overheating). There isn’t any flammable liquid akin to petrol being pumped by means of the automotive from the gasoline tank, often on the again, to the engine on the entrance, and there’s no sizzling exhaust to encourage combustion. With out the in depth cooling programs offered by a radiator, and plenty of litres of coolant continuously circulating by means of the engine, a petroleum automotive would overheat and doubtlessly catch hearth inside minutes.

One legitimate level that the anti-EV brigade often brings up is {that a} petrol automotive is unlikely to spontaneously catch hearth whereas parked in a storage in the midst of the night time – it’s solely prone to occur when the automotive is sizzling from operating. Some EV fires have been identified to occur whereas the automotive has been parked in a single day, due to a course of known as thermal runaway. What’s that, you ask?

Causes of electrical automotive fires

So when an EV does catch hearth, why does it occur? The centrepiece is the lithium-ion battery pack. Though this is similar expertise that goes right into a cellphone or laptop computer battery, EVs have subtle cooling programs for his or her battery packs to maintain them at optimum temperatures. This prevents them operating too sizzling throughout recharging or driving, so your automotive batteries don’t get extremely popular whereas working arduous, like your cellphone or laptop computer can do.

EV hearth knowledgeable Professor Paul Christensen from the College of Newcastle defined to Air High quality Information that every one battery packs retailer giant quantities of vitality in a really small house, which is why they will get sizzling.

If the pack is penetrated (akin to in an accident), or uncovered to extreme warmth, or incures another type of failure, an inside quick circuit can happen.

This quick circuit causes extreme warmth which can’t be eliminated as quick as it’s being generated, and this results in a chemical response which generates extra warmth, which accelerates the chemical response, which generates extra warmth… This escalating cycle is known as thermal runaway. It might probably, says Prof Christensen, trigger ignition and even an explosion.

Coping with EV fires

Though electrical automotive fires are very uncommon, they pose nice challenges to emergency companies – who’re nonetheless within the means of studying sort out such incidents.

The large problem with EV fires is definitely placing them out, as they’re very tough to extinguish after which to maintain extinguished. In a chunk reassuring residents in its county that EVs should not a larger hearth danger and residents shouldn’t have any qualms about shopping for one, Bedfordshire Hearth Service did reveal that a number of EV producers advise that an EV hearth must be allowed to burn out by itself in a managed method.

As soon as the fireplace is out, emergency companies have to stay vigilant as the character of EV battery packs has prior to now seen examples of fires reigniting after they had been apparently extinguished – typically weeks afterwards. This has raised considerations amongst such our bodies as automobile restoration companies, with growing situations of fireside engines truly following restoration vehicles to their vacation spot in case the fireplace begins once more.

In response to Bedfordshire Hearth Service, an EV hearth can generate greater than 100 chemical substances, a few of that are extremely poisonous akin to carbon monoxide. Hearth service protecting respiration gear ought to be capable to address such chemical substances, however even a lightweight wind can carry pollution a good distance. In fact, a burning petrol automotive may also launch a whole lot of pollution into the air as properly…

Among the many extra outstanding measures for tackling EV blazes, a hearth service in Denmark has developed a car-sized container which could be lowered off the again of a specifically transformed truck and a still-smouldering EV lowered into it. The container is then pumped filled with water and brought to a protected storage space, the place it’s left for typically a number of weeks till it’s deemed the automobile is protected.

Actually the problems of preventing EV fires has raised points about EV batteris in different areas. Putting in EV charging factors in such locations as underground automotive parks could have to be reconsidered, whereas one additional fear for these researching EV-related security is the re-use of lithium-ion battery packs.

Finish-of-life or written-off EVs will typically have their battery packs eliminated and re-used, typically ending up in basic vehicles transformed to run as EVs. With a lot nonetheless to find out about how battery packs react within the latter levels of their life, individuals must be very cautious earlier than happening this route – significantly as there are many respected basic automotive converters out there utilizing brand-new battery packs as an alternative.

Hearth retardants

Though there are comparatively few EV fires, automotive producers are taking them critically. The EV trade remains to be younger and there’s a lot nonetheless to be taught, however a lot work is occurring to enhance the security of battery packs. For instance, alternate options to conventional lithium-ion battery packs are being developed. Lithium iron phosphate batteries are mentioned to be considerably safer, whereas one other potential improvement, solid-state batteries, are claimed to be utterly protected from hearth.

The present expertise can be beneath fixed enchancment, growing measures to include a hearth contained in the battery pack for so long as potential, offering the occupants of the automotive with extra time to flee. That is achieved by means of a bunch of strategies, from ceramic blankets (the identical fundamental expertise as utilized in fireproof doc storage packing containers) to gels and foam encasing the battery pack.

The large problem for such expertise is to maintain tempo with the expertise development of the packs themselves, which is transferring at a really quick price.

China was the primary to undertake new laws centered on thermal runaway, which embrace a requirement for hearth and smoke to contained inside the battery pack for at the very least 5 minutes after first ignition. Whereas this regulation is but to be formally adopted in Europe, producers are constructing EVs to satisfy these necessities to pre-empt probably future regulation.


All these concerned insist that the reply is to not flip away from the EV however to be taught the easiest way to sort out the uncommon probability of a hearth. Consultants akin to Prof Christensen imagine the reply will lie in quite a few measures working collectively, each within the design of the batteries and the way a hearth is fought. “The very last thing I need to do is demonise lithium-ion batteries,” he says. “They’re superb, we’ve seen no battery like them earlier than and they’re important to the decarbonisation of the planet.”

So the conclusion? In case your EV catches hearth, will probably be a problem for the emergency companies to take care of, however one which they’re quickly attending to grips with.

There are many good causes you won’t need to purchase an electrical automotive – excessive prices, lack of charging infrastructure, your personal driving circumstances, and so forth. Nevertheless, fears of a life-threatening blaze shouldn’t be a type of causes, since you are a lot much less prone to undergo a hearth in an electrical automobile than in case you purchased a petroleum or diesel automotive as an alternative…