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    Explained: Why EVs are catching fire? Can such accidents be prevented?

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    Explained: Why EVs are catching fire? Can such accidents be prevented?

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    The spate of EV fires is a cause of concern for the industry as well as the government, as it might reinforce negative perceptions about EVs at a time when the segment is just starting to gain wider adoption. The cause for such fires can be hard to pinpoint, but with strict regulations and standards more fires can be prevented in future.

    An electric scooter from Pure EV caught fire in the middle of the day in Chennai. Plumes of white smoke were seen rising from the red two-wheeler in a now-viral 26-second clip. The incident was the fourth such case of an electric vehicle (EV) catching fire in the last four days.

    On Sunday, an Ola S1 Pro scooter caught fire in Pune, following which an Okinawa e-two-wheeler went up in flames. A man and his 13-year old daughter were killed in the accident. Another EV reportedly caught fire on Monday in Tamil Nadu’s Trichy.

    The Chennai incident marked the third time when a Pure EV’s offering caught fire after two similar incidents in September last year.

    "We have taken cognizance of the incident reported with one of our customer (sic) vehicle in Tamil Nadu and preliminary information has been obtained from the concerned client and our dealer. The accident vehicle has been brought to our concerned dealer service station for further analysis. We are investigating the incident and will do a thorough assessment,” the company said in its official statement.

    Following the incidents, the Centre has directed the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Centre for Fire Explosive and Environment Safety (CFEES) to investigate the matter.

    The police will also be calling on Okinawa Scooters to help in investigating the incident in Vellore.

    The spate of EV fires is a cause of concern for the industry as well as the government, as it might reinforce negative perceptions about EVs during a time when the segment is just starting to pick up speed for wider adoption.

    What causes fires in EVs?

    Most EVs run on lithium-ion or Li-ion batteries, the same batteries that are used in most consumer electronics. They are known to catch fire when exposed to air. Lithium-ion and lithium metal batteries undergo a process called thermal runaway when they fail.

    During the process, the pressure and temperature rapidly increase and if the interior of the battery is exposed to air, it can catch fire or even explode. The presence of organic liquid electrolytes in the battery unit only serves as a fuel to the fire.

    According to research from AutoinsuranceEZ.com, an online insurance platform, the chance of such occurrences and other factors causing EVs to catch fire is only 0.03 percent, a fraction compared to internal combustion engine vehicles' 1.5 percent. However, the EV incidents cause fires that can burn much hotter, longer and reignite even several hours or days after being put out.

    How to prevent these fires?

    EV fires are primarily thought to be caused by overheating, electrical short circuits and abuse of the battery units. Additionally, entry of water into the battery systems through damage can also be reasons behind the events that can set off a fire.

    Though to prevent such occurrences, OEMs use sophisticated battery management systems. These can prevent damage to the battery units and shut them down in cases of danger. The failures that cause fires can be due to manufacturing defects or even errors in the software that monitors the battery, or just an overall design flaw.

    Without thorough analysis, it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of failure in most battery units. Even with analysis, it is extremely difficult to reenact the exact conditions of the fire. Battery manufacturers and OEMs are constantly looking to make safe yet highly energy-dense battery units. In such conditions, even a small miscalculation can result in a higher-than-normal chance of failure leading to EV fires.

    Uniform standards, regulations and policies meant for the Indian subcontinent are needed so that further incidents are prevented and the adoption of EVs continues to speed up across the next decade. Additionally, alternative battery technology that moves away from the use of lithium-ion to less-flammable materials is also needed.

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