The recent unfortunate incident of 11 cars being torched outside one of the malls in Dubai got me thinking, what if these were electric cars? What would have happened then? How would cars that packed with lithium ion batteries react? I’ve never seen an electric car on fire and I was certainly curious to find out without wanting to watch one burn.
I did stumble upon an incident in the US that helped shed some light on this subject. On 23rd March, firefighters in the US responded to a scene of a fatal Tesla Model X crash. The car was gutted and firefighters doused the blazing Tesla Model X’ battery pack, and then company engineers removed most of its power cells before the car was deemed safe to tow.
That didn’t prevent the powerful and highly flammable lithium ion battery cells from reigniting. The car caught fire twice more within 24 hours and again six days later. The volatile chemistry of their batteries and the need for special training on how to extinguish them raises new safety questions. Techniques for putting out burning fossil fuel powered vehicles could don’t really work well on a battery powered one.
The growing popularity of lithium-based batteries in electric vehicles and the increasing number of them on the road will simply compound the problem. The components of lithium ion rechargeable batteries make them inherently fire-prone.
Lithium ion batteries have their own ignition source and that’s what makes it reignite even without a fire around. They have large stores of energy that are transformed into heat and sparks when they short circuit. They also contain solvents that are powerful fuel for fires as well as oxidized metals that can feed oxygen to a blaze.
How do government officials around the world gear up to this new and potentially serious problem, we are yet to see.