By Andy May
Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority has issued a domestic commercial vessel safety alert on the risks of ferrying battery powered cars (EVs), download it here. Each ferry operator must conduct a risk assessment for their vessel to ensure that they are capable of dealing with potential EV fires. They list the risks of carrying EVs as follows:
- High voltage shocks
- Direct jet flames
- Fires develop in intensity quickly and rapidly reach their maximum intensity (typically within 2-3 minutes)
- Toxic gases
- Gas explosion (if the released gas accumulates for a while before being ignited)
- Long lasting re-ignition risk (can ignite or re-ignite weeks, or maybe months after the provoking incident)
- Once established fires are difficult to stop/extinguish
- Thermal runaway
They go on to add that EVs are approximately 25% heavier than vehicles with internal combustion engines. This should be considered when placing the vehicles on the ferry or ship to minimize the potential impact on vessel stability.
Lithium-ion batteries have been known to suffer from spontaneous thermal runaway fires. The lower the charge retained by the vehicle’s battery the lower the likelihood of a thermal runaway fire, checking the charge on each vehicle can help in assessing the risk.
Some battery powered vehicles have a lower ground clearance than internal combustion engine vehicles. This means they are more susceptible to damage from ramps during boarding. Care should be taken in identifying these vehicles before boarding to ensure damage is not sustained to the battery. Any damage to any part of the battery increases the risk of fire. Physical damage to the battery can lead to thermal runaway. EVs which have been damaged should not be loaded. Charging the battery while onboard is very dangerous and can increase the likelihood of a thermal runaway fire, do not allow charging any EV on your vessel.
Fumes given off by lithium-ion batteries are toxic, gas masks are necessary when fighting the fire. When fighting a lithium-ion battery vehicle fire with water, substantially higher quantities of water are required in comparison to an internal combustion vehicle fire. The water must also be applied for a longer period. There is also a risk of re-ignition. Using other methods such as a car fire blanket designed to extinguish EV fires can help. A damaged high-voltage battery can create rapid heating of the battery cells. If you notice hissing, whistling, or popping, a possible sweet chemical smell, then black “smoke” (nanoparticles of heavy metals, not smoke) then white vapor coming from the high voltage battery assume that thermal runaway has occurred. Directly attacking the fire with water hoses and breaking open the battery requires specialist training and equipment. Do attempt this without extensive training and practice.
EVs are in real trouble. EV insurance rates are higher than for internal combustion engine (ICE) cars due to the risk of intense fires, higher cost of repairs, and the cost of replacement batteries. EVs are much more likely to be totaled after an accident and repairing them takes much longer than for an ICE. Be very careful about putting an EV in your garage, especially with a built-in charging station.
Ignacio Galán, the chief executive of Spanish utility Iberdrola, said in 2018, that the renewable industry was facing a possible “Enron” style collapse. The era of cheap money is gone, and the new higher interest rates will shake out any weak renewable companies, as well as weak EV manufacturers. From an investor point of view be very careful. EV bankruptcies have already occurred (also see here), and more are on the way. Solar startup bankruptcies are increasing (see also here and here). Wind power isn’t doing much better, Siemens is in real trouble. My state of Texas is also hurting. We all eventually have to pay the piper.