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    Explained: Why EV fires are rare but more dangerous

    Explained: Why EV fires are rare but more dangerous

    Explained: Why EV fires are rare but more dangerous
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    By CNBCTV18.com  IST (Published)

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    Electric vehicle manufacturers like Tesla and Ford are already trying out materials like lithium iron phosphate (LFP), cobalt and nickel compounds and sodium-ion, instead of the now-conventional lithium-ion, to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires.

    Electric vehicles are among the more convenient tools at our disposal to cut carbon emissions. While they have a huge climate advantage over fossil fuel-guzzling ICE vehicles, they do come with certain risks. Electric cars are much less likely to catch fire that traditional ones, but when they do catch fire it can be more dangerous.

    Vehicle fires are already one of the most common fire incidences across the world, but with EVs increasingly coming into the mix, authorities need to take into account their own idiosyncrasies.

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

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

    According to research from AutoinsuranceEZ.com, an online insurance platform, the chance of such incidences and other factors causing EVs to ignite is only 0.03 percent, a fraction compared to internal combustion engine vehicles’ 1.5 percent chance of igniting.

    However, those 0.03 percent of incidents cause fires that can burn much hotter, longer and reignite even several hours or days after being put out.

    A Tesla Model S fire in April had taken nearly 30,000 gallons of water to extinguish and had burned so hot that it had melted the tarmac underneath it. A typical fossil fuel burning vehicle only requires 300 gallons of water to extinguish on average.

    As a result of the catastrophic nature of such fires, the development of other battery units, especially those that use less flammable materials, is necessary. More research and development should be on the way from OEMs as they refine the design behind battery units and also explore alternative materials that cause less of a hazard.

    Companies like Tesla and Ford are already moving to materials like lithium iron phosphate (LFP), cobalt and nickel compounds and sodium-ion to reduce the risk of fires and thermal runaway.

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