Every new technological advancement has flaws, and electric cars are no different. This doesn’t mean that electric cars are inherently dangerous. Consumers should educate themselves about the various risks of owning an EV.
Electric car manufacturers are equipping their cars with all kinds of safety features. But experts are raising valid concerns about the safety of electric cars. Let’s take a deep dive into what makes electric cars safe – or dangerous.
Can EV Batteries Explode After Accidents?
A major point of contention is the tendency of batteries to catch fire and explode. The likelihood of a battery explosion is higher after an accident. Electric vehicle batteries have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. According to experts, the batteries can be unsafe if certain conditions are met.
But isn’t the same true for just about any device that we use?
The problem with rumors about electric vehicles is the severity of the danger associated. Even a small vehicular accident can cause devastating injuries. It can take a lot of resources to deal with the aftermath of an injury.
For example, not all professionals are properly trained to handle chemical spills from batteries. Lithium-ion batteries can pose danger to people and agencies. For example, personnel from the fire department may not be equipped to handle chemical spills.
This was not a concern until a few years ago. As electric cars become more mainstream, accidents will increase with time.
Collisions can damage the batteries, which can get wet and explode. This can release harmful vapors into the atmosphere that can be extremely dangerous.
Conventional lead-acid batteries can be easily recycled. However, the same does not apply to lithium-ion batteries.
The latter tend to be larger and much heavier than regular batteries. The problem is confounded by the fact that the batteries have a complex structure. Each battery is composed of several hundred individual lithium-ion cells. These cells need to be dismantled properly by trained professionals.
Failure to deal with the batteries can lead to the emission of hazardous materials. In the worst-case scenarios, the batteries can explode and cause severe damage.
Most businesses, such as towing companies and salvage years, are not aware of this problem.
Even if the electric car has made it to a wrecker yard, it remains dangerous.
According to experts, putting out Tesla fires will require 30,000 gallons of water. Compare this with regular cars that take only 1000 gallons to extinguish the fire.
Electric vehicles are safe – until they’re not. Safety becomes a major concern once an EV gets involved in an incident.
The best remedy to this problem is to train government agencies to deal with EVs.
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Electric Vehicle Fire Test
Researchers studied the impact of electric vehicle fires in three controlled scenarios.
- The first scenario studied fire in an enclosed space
- The second scenario studied fire in a room with a sprinkler system
- The third scenario studied fire in a tunnel with ventilation
Researchers set fire to a fully charged battery with a capacity of 4kWh. The room had a capacity of 250 cubic meters of air volume.
The tests studied the behavior of soot on surfaces, tunnel walls, and protective suits. These suits are mostly worn by professionals from the fire department.
The tests also studied the best way to clean the test.
Scenario 2 is similar to Scenario 1 but studies the impact of chemical residues. The arrangement of the test was the same, with one major exception. A metal plate was used to channel the smoke from the battery. This setup resembled a typical sprinkler system.
Investigators took samples of the sooty waters that formed after the battery completely burned up.
The electrolytes of an EV battery produce flash fires that cannot be extinguished. The only way to cool these modules is by using massive volumes of water.
The 4kWh battery was set ablaze – just like scenario 1. But this time, a fan was used to blow the smoke into a ventilation tunnel. The smoke traveled at a constant speed into the ventilation tunnel.
The goal of the test was to study the fire’s impact on the ventilation system.
The research was made possible with the help of metal sheets. The soots would settle at distances of 50, 100, and 150 m from the fire. The chemical composition and corrosion effects of the soot was investigated.
What the Study Revealed
Researchers found that the heat generated after burning an EV was comparable to traditional cars. It was also found that fire brigades could use traditional methods to deal with EV fires.
The main point of contention is the release of toxic fumes. These corrosive fumes are very dangerous and can prove to be fatal. The chemical analysis of the toxic fumes reveals nickel oxide, manganese oxides, and cobalt oxides. These are heavy metals that can cause a severe reaction on unprotected skin.
This means professional clean-up crews should handle all fires in EVs. Personnel should wear protective gear to shield themselves from hazardous materials.
What Are Automakers Doing to Combat the Danger of EV Batteries
Electric car makers like Tesla are aware of the dangers associated with EV batteries. Their researchers are innovating a slew of precautionary measures to prevent chemical spillover. A major safety feature is the installation of circuit breakers and fuses.
These fuses disconnect the car from the battery upon impact. It is essential to keep the batteries cool. This is because hotter batteries are more likely to explode. The solution is the use of radiator-chilled coolant through the battery back. This coolant is designed to keep the battery pack at safer temperatures.,
Nissan’s electric vehicle is using the all-new LEAF model. It is an air cooling system to keep their batteries safe from toxicity. Another safety feature is how they divided their battery into an array.
Steel cases are used to separate the batteries from each other. This way, the fire from one battery won’t spread to others.
Volvo’s solution is especially commendable. Experts suggest that Volvo’s C30 DRIVe Electric puts them at a safe distance from collisions. Volvo’s approach to battery safety may be more advanced than Tesla and Ford.
Tesla has also announced its decision to switch from Li-Ion to lithium iron phosphate. Other manufacturers like Volkswagen and Ford are also switching to safer alternatives for their EVs. These battery cells are believed to be much safer.
After everything is said and done, EVs can be much safer than gasoline cars. However, we still have a long way to go before this happens.
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How Can You Stay Safe in Electric Vehicles
That said, there are plenty of things consumers can do to stay safe. Let’s take a look at some safety practices that can mitigate risks.
Keep the Battery Safe
The most obvious strategy is to keep the battery safe. Know your lithium-ion battery – and the things that could set it off. Consumers can take a few steps that are easy to follow.
Heat is a major concern for electric vehicle batteries. Users should not keep batteries in vehicles that are very hot. It is extremely important to not overcharge electric vehicle batteries. Moreover, users should avoid fast charging as much as possible
This is because overcharging a battery can cause destabilization.
Install a Shutdown Separator
Simply put, a shutdown separator is used to separate the volatile parts of a battery. This should be done without compromising the battery’s ability to recharge.
Many electric vehicle makers are rolling out baseline separators. These separators feature built-in shutdown mechanisms as an added precaution. However, they are not perfect because fires can still take place.
Thanks to the increased demand for shutdown separators, many car makers are installing them.
In the coming years, the production capacity of plants will increase to service electric vehicles.
Switch to Non-Flammable Electric Car Batteries
Electric car manufacturers are funding research into non-flammable batteries. These batteries are designed to keep electric vehicles and consumers safe. The concept of non-flammable batteries is still in its infancy. However, they should be ready for use in EV cars in the coming years.
The batteries use a custom electrolyte in combination with graphene-based electrodes. The result is a non-flammable system that can be used in electric vehicle cars. Graphene, in particular, is useful for electric vehicle batteries.
It is several times stronger than steel – making it perfect for use with EVs.
Another promising research is led by Standard University. Their team is developing a solid-state electrolyte system for lithium-ion batteries. It is worth noting that the system is several years
away from practical use.
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Volkswagen – A Case Study of their Electric Vehicles
Volkswagen’s new ENYAQ iV is said to be as safe as conventional drivetrains. It is equipped with various safety features that prevent the risk of electrocution to drivers. This applies even if the car is in motion or driving.
This means that the risk of fire in VW electric cars is low. This is especially true because of a lack of flammable fuel.
All their electronic components feature advanced safety components. This reduces the risk of shock even if the car is in contact with water. VW claims their car has no risk of electrocution during floods, rains, and car wash.
In case of fault, the battery is instantly disabled. This is done by cutting off the flow of electricity to the battery.
With that said, the process of extinguishing a fire in an EV requires training. Personnel should be given further training to learn how to deal with damaged EVs.
The Risk of Electric Shock
A study reported by CNN raised concerns that EVs can lead to electrocutions. The risk is higher for personnel who are dispatched to EV incidents. Crews such as towing operators, paramedics, and police can be at risk of electrocution.
A study led by the Society of Automotive Engineers proposed a few solutions. Their recommendation included the installation of a kill switch. This safety switch should be located at an accessible location to stop electrocution.
EVs can be Dangerous to Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Electric vehicles are quiet – and that’s a good quality to have. But critics argue they are ‘too’ quiet and cannot be heard by pedestrians and bicyclists. The risk is especially higher for individuals who are visually impaired.
A solution is to equip EVs with a warning alarm system. This system, required by the NHTSA, will alert pedestrians if the car exceeds 20mph. The rule was put in place because data shows that collisions are lowered by 200%.
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What to do if you are in an Accident
Electric vehicles represent a risk of danger to drivers and pedestrians alike. You can take a few steps if you find yourself in an EV accident.
- Contact 911 and inform them that the vehicle is electric
- Always assume that the EV is dangerous and fully powered (even if it appears disabled)
- Lower the windows before powering down the car
- Make sure to remove the key from the car
- Keep the key at a distance of 15 feet or more from the car
- Do not touch the battery, engine, wiring, or components under the hood
Wait for a tow truck to arrive on the scene. These professionals will deal with the vehicle. You should focus on dealing with your injuries. You may need medical help.
It is also important to establish who was at fault. You should hold the EV maker accountable if the accident was not your fault. Determining fault in collisions is an area of expertise that requires the help of lawyers.
The following groups may be held liable:
- The driver if the accident was caused due to their negligence
- A manufacturing defect in the car led to an accident
- The car repair shop failed to safely conduct repairs and that led to an accident
To wrap up, electric cars should be used responsibly. New innovations in battery technology will further improve EV safety features. Let us know if you found this article to be useful.
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My name is Matthew, staying in Seattle, Washington. Electric Vehicles (Electric Cars & Electric bikes) caught my attention for the last few years and my love for electric cars and bikes is everlasting. I spend many of my weekends traveling to various places all over various cities with my electric vehicle (e-bike and electric car). Here I am sharing my expertise, experience, and invaluable information about electric cars and electric bikes. Check out more.