The electric car market is going from strength to strength in the developed world, particularly in the United States.
The US electric vehicle market is expected to grow from $28.24 billion in 2021 to $137.43 billion in 2028, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.4%.
With America being the third-largest electric vehicle manufacturer, it’s only fair to address the concerns of the consumer market.
However, recent years have seen cases of battery explosions, which, while not as frequent as explosions in combustion engine cars, have prompted people to ask many questions.
In this article, we will understand why an electric car battery explodes in the USA, the role of a separator inside the battery, and how to prevent car explosions.
Electric Car Battery vs. Regular Car Battery
Before delving into why an electric car battery explodes in the USA, we need to understand how the battery in an electric car differs from that used by a traditional internal combustion engine.
Electric cars utilize two types of batteries:
- Lithium-Ion Batteries
- Deep Cycle Battery
These are a series of batteries typically found under the interior carriage. Lithium-ion batteries generate the energy required to operate an electric vehicle’s induction motor.
Deep Cycle Battery
The deep cycle battery resembles a classic car’s lead-acid battery, albeit with certain differences. An electric vehicle’s deep cycle battery is a secondary power source used to operate car accessories like windshield wipers, radio, and navigation systems.
The lead-acid battery used to power an internal combustion engine is only required to produce a burst of energy to power the engine, helping it start the car.
Once ignition has been achieved, the vehicle’s alternator takes over the power supply.
On the other hand, the deep-cycle battery continually discharges energy while the vehicle runs since it’s required to operate the accessories.
Therefore, the plates used for the deep-cycle battery in electric cars are much thicker than those in their gasoline-fueled counterparts.
Reasons an Electric Car Battery Explodes in the USA
There have been several reports of electric vehicles catching fire recently. While AutoinsuranceEZ research indicates battery electric vehicles have a mere 0.3% chance of igniting.
This is an incredible number, especially compared to vehicles with internal combustion engines. These batteries have a 1.5% chance as they burn hotter.
Lithium-ion batteries also burn faster and require more water to douse the flames. If that isn’t scary enough, these high-voltage batteries can reignite several hours, even days, after the initial incident!
According to comments by Chas McGarvey, Chief Fire Office at Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion Fire Department, a Tesla car fire that his department handled last year was so intense that it melted the roadway underneath the vehicle.
While Lithium-ion batteries are an efficient energy source, powerful enough to move vehicles, they’re also vulnerable to igniting. This is especially true in the case of damaged and defective batteries.
An electric car battery explodes in the USA because the cell components, electrodes, are placed close together.
This increases the chance of a short circuit. Since they are filled with highly flammable liquid electrolytes, you can also have a thermal runaway situation where the electrolyte boils and catches fire.
The primary cause of the explosion in electric car batteries is the separator. As the name suggests, a separator keeps the electrodes, which are oppositely charged and called the anode (+)/ cathode (-), away from each other while allowing a steady transfer of ions.
However, market demands and technological innovation have led manufacturers to design thinner and thinner separators.
Given their delicate nature, they don’t last very long, and minute issues can lead to permanent damage.
Electric car batteries’ separators can also malfunction due to internal chemical imbalances and when subjected to external pressure.
When you charge your batteries, they will expand a little. Then, they will decompress when discharged. The constant expansion and compression cycle exerts pressure on the thin separator, causing it to lose efficiency and fail to function correctly.
Now, let’s return to the increased risk of short-circuiting because of the proximity of the electrodes. When a faulty or old separator fails when the electrodes make contact, a short circuit is caused, and this is what causes the explosion.
What this means is that you don’t need an exorbitant amount of energy for an explosion, just a specific time frame to release a small amount of energy stored inside the battery.
For instance, the average lithium-ion battery has a 1kWh storage capacity. It will become self-sufficient for combustion when all that energy is released in just a few seconds.
What Happens Before and During the Explosion?
As the short circuit happens, the battery becomes permanently damaged and slowly releases its electrical energy.
Consequently, this electrical energy gets converted to heat and chemical energy, which causes an explosion.
What Damages a Battery Separator?
We’ve established that an electric car battery can explode because of a damaged or faulty separator. However, this leads to the question: How does it get damaged in the first place?
Well, there are two reasons separators get damaged in electric car batteries: external shock and electrical instability.
All batteries have a rated capacity for charging and discharging. When the battery is charging, ions move from the cathode to the anode and concentrate there.
When the battery operates an electrical component, it is discharging, transferring ions from the anode to the cathode.
When the charge and discharge cycle becomes more frequent than the rated capacity, we say an electrical imbalance is induced in the battery.
Your electric vehicle manufacturer, like Tesla and Volkswagen, rate their batteries with labels for under and overvoltage. Your separator will undoubtedly suffer from damage if you exceed these ratings.
External shock is one of the biggest reasons for damaged separators. External shocks include car accidents, falling batteries, stretch and buries, and other physical damage.
The damage from some of these may not be immediately visible, threatening, or even that damaging.
However, the thin separator will stack up this damage, becoming worse for wear, and the battery will explode after the damage can no longer be tolerated.
How Does this Cause Batteries to Explode?
We’ve established that an electric car battery explodes in the USA due to a damaged or faulty separator, which is damaged due to external shocks and electrical imbalance or instability.
Now, let’s understand these conditions and how they can cause a battery to explode.
We learned that the risk of battery explosions increases in an electric car undergoing deep discharging and overcharging cycles.
To elaborate, when you overcharge your electric vehicle, the constant influx of ions to the anode heats the battery.
The thin separator is highly susceptible to high heat, which directly damages it and causes an explosion. Discharging also distinctly damages the separator.
The reactions at the anode and cathode deposit salt crystals at the separator. Consequently, the build-up of these crystals reduces battery efficiency and damages the separator.
This causes further overheating problems, which can set fire to the electrolyte and cause an explosion.
Since the separator is highly volatile to external shocks, electric car accidents pose a serious risk. The separator is extremely thin and cannot tolerate shocks, so an accident will likely cause an explosion upon impact.
The explosion can be due to severe damage to the separator, short-circuiting, or thermal runaway from battery damage. All these conditions can cause explosions.
Taking Care of the Battery
So far, we’ve established how and why an electric car battery explodes in the USA. But what about battery management and care?
You can do several things to keep your electric vehicle safe and increase the longevity of its battery.
Thermal management is a crucial factor in increasing battery longevity. We’ve already established the role overheating plays when an electric car explodes in the USA. Now, we need to understand how to manage it.
Ensuring you don’t leave the car under extreme external temperatures for extended periods is vital when it comes to protecting battery health.
As such, you should park your car in the shade or while plugged in, so the vehicle’s native thermal management system continues operating using grid power.
Using grid power will ensure a stable temperature range during operation.
Pay Attention to Battery Material
Paying attention to the battery type and material is extremely important. Some battery types catch fire faster than others, so it’s advisable to charge batteries away from flammable sources and items.
Companies are already focusing on manufacturing high-voltage batteries using safer and heat-resistant materials. Thermal management systems are also being improved yearly to efficiently control the charge and discharge cycles, making electric vehicles safer.
Tesla also recently announced a switch from lithium-ion battery cells to LFP (lithium-iron-phosphate) batteries, which are considered much safer.
Major electric cars manufacturers like Ford and Volkswagen are also substituting lithium-ion batteries, using nickel and cobalt formulations to replace LFP batteries in some models.
Regular inspection goes a long way in protecting batteries.
Always check for battery levels to ensure they remain between 20%-80%. Unlike traditional fuel cars, electric cars can lose charge even when parked or after long inoperative periods.
An excellent way to check battery health is by taking your car for regular short drives. This multi-pronged approach will also help you avoid keeping your electric vehicle idle for long times.
The routine inspection also results in healthy charge and discharge cycles since repeatedly charging it to full capacity degrades batteries, reducing their longevity.
Moreover, careful inspection will help you spot wear and tear on the battery’s components. For instance, if you observe damage to the battery casing or water intrusion, you can isolate the battery.
In such a situation, driving without inspecting your battery could result in potential safety hazards and life-threatening accidents.
Avoid Fast Charging
It would help if you always used original and authentic chargers for your electric vehicle’s specific battery type. Using the wrong charger will cause electrical imbalance and heating issues, damaging the separator.
Similarly, avoid fast charging if you can because even though it’s a great convenience, fast charging puts unnecessary strain on the battery by juicing it up in a short period.
An article by The Economic Times suggests that pressing so much current into your battery results in a massive reduction in battery life compared to standard charging, giving you 10% more battery life.
Furthermore, you can store the battery and charger in a dry and well-ventilated space to keep them safe. Ensure they are protected from corrosive materials, flammable sources, and substances. Also, let the battery cool down before you plug in the charger.
Letting the battery cool down is crucial in the case of lithium-ion batteries. If you notice them overheating during a charging cycle, cut off the supply and move them away from any fire and heat source.
If you’re driving, immediately curb your car and observe the situation. In case of a fire, contact emergency services and move safely away from the vehicle.
Batteries are the most expensive and vital components in electric cars. Think of them as the heart of your vehicle, providing power to all of its parts.
As such, just like you take care of your heart, you need to take care of your car’s battery and ensure it lasts as long as possible.
While there are plenty of ways to protect and increase the longevity of your electric vehicle’s battery, the US government and EV manufacturers are sparing no effort in devising new control measures and utilizing the safest materials for batteries respectively.
Electric car safety rankings are integral to this and help people understand the extent of damage a particular electric car can handle.
To conclude, an electric car battery explodes in the USA due to a damaged or faulty separator. Separators are thin sheets that keep the electrodes away from each other, and these get damaged from external shocks and electrical instability inside the battery.
Driving safely, regularly inspecting the battery, and facilitating its native thermal management system can help protect and increase battery life!
- How Long Can an Electric Car Idle With AC On?
- Why Can’t Electric Cars Have Alternators?
- What Happens if an Electric Car Gets Wet?
- Does Mileage Matter on an Electric Car?
- Electric Car Air Pump [Everything you should know]
- Electric Car Charger Stock In USA [12 Best Picks]
- Starting a Charging Business for EV – Complete guide
- Leasing Electric Cars in Australia
- Electric Car Names in the USA
- Electric Car Resale Value
- Electric Car with Manual Transmission
- Electric Cars for Long Distance Driving: The 10 Best Options
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.