- In uncommon circumstances, flooded electrical car batteries can catch hearth and burn
- Eleven EV fires have been confirmed in Florida after Hurricane Ian brought about in depth flooding.
- An EV that has been flooded shouldn’t be pushed till it has been checked out by an authorized technician.
A small variety of electrical automobiles in Florida burst into flame throughout flooding attributable to Hurricane Ian, and the fires are elevating consciousness a couple of beforehand little-known security concern for the hundreds of thousands of People who’ve purchased or are considering of shopping for an EV.
They’re additionally producing political warmth, with some Florida Republican lawmakers calling for extra regulatory oversight for electrical automobiles.
Florida’s State Fireplace Marshal Jimmy Patronis tweeted, “there is a science experiment going down in Florida with EVs and salty storm surge waters.”
However consultants be aware all automobiles use concentrated energy sources — whether or not gasoline, diesel or electrical energy — making all of them susceptible to ignition.
Statistics compiled by AutoInsuranceEZ discovered that for each 100,000 EVs there are about 25 fires, in contrast with 1,530 automotive fires in the identical variety of gas-powered automobiles. Gasoline-powered automobiles usually catch hearth because of gas leaks or crashes.
Here is what to know in regards to the fires in Florida:
What occurred to flooded EVs in Florida?
Hurricane Ian struck Florida‘s Gulf Coast on Sept. 28, killing at the least 136 folks, inflicting catastrophic harm value greater than $50 billion and flooding massive areas.
The storm’s floodwaters additionally brought about at the least 11 electrical automobiles to catch hearth.
As of Oct. 26, USA TODAY has been in a position to verify 11 circumstances wherein EVs caught hearth in Florida after flooding from Ian, all believed to be as a result of automobiles’ battery packs shorting out after being submerged in saltwater or bodily harm to the batteries in the course of the flooding.
Six of the fires had been reported by the North Collier Fireplace Rescue District primarily based in Naples, Florida, and one other 4 by different Collier County hearth departments, mentioned Heather Mazurkiewicz, public info officer with the North Collier Fireplace Management Rescue District. One further hearth was reported in Sanibel Island by the Sanibel Island Fireplace and Rescue District.
No deaths have been linked to the fires. The Sanibel Island incident brought about a fireplace that gutted the home the automotive was parked in and the home subsequent door. There have been no reviews of electrocutions linked to flooded electrical automobiles.
Whereas the hazard of fireplace because of flooding in EVs has been identified to consultants since at the least Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Hurricane Ian has put the concern entrance and middle for the general public.
“That is actually the primary time we had flooding in an space with loads of electrical automobiles,” mentioned John Linkov, deputy auto editor for Client Experiences. Florida has the second-highest variety of EVs within the nation after California.
People have had greater than 100 years to get used to the protection points gas-powered automobiles can pose. Now there’s a studying curve for automobiles powered by batteries, mentioned Thomas Barth, chief of the particular investigations department of freeway security on the Nationwide Transportation Security Board.
“I do not wish to give the impression the sky is falling,” he mentioned. “However they’ve their very own set of risks.”
Why do flooded EVs catch hearth?
If an electrical car’s battery is broken by a collision or water intrusion from a flood, a brief circuit can happen, which causes the cell to discharge vitality and warmth up. This may result in an occasion known as “thermal runaway,” wherein the warmth propagates from one cell to the subsequent, inflicting them to burn.
In a small variety of circumstances when an EV is submerged in water, contaminants or salt within the water may cause short-circuiting, particularly after the water drains from the battery.
Automobiles or batteries which were broken even have the potential for short-circuiting to happen because of motion of the car or battery, for instance when it is being loaded or unloaded from a tow truck.
Warmth generated from a fireplace, thermal runaway of an adjoining cell, or shorting of the battery can soften the porous membrane between the battery’s cathode and anode, inflicting this cell to enter thermal runaway. The warmth causes the cell to vent flammable gasoline, which may ignite and catch hearth.
“That warmth can get transferred to the subsequent cell and it will probably grow to be a sequence response,” mentioned Barth.
“When you have a broken lithium-ion battery and it has vitality which stays within the battery pack, we name that stranded vitality,” he mentioned. “When you provoke a thermal runaway or venting of the flammable gasoline, the battery can ignite.”
Did a excessive proportion of the EVs in Florida burn?
Social media posts claiming EVs catch hearth “often” overstate the issue, say consultants.
Collier county, which incorporates the town of Naples, had 2,490 electrical automobiles registered as of July 2021, mentioned Stan Cross, electrical transportation coverage director for the Southern Alliance for Clear Vitality.
That will imply a fraction of a % of the EVs within the county caught hearth after the flooding.
In Lee county, the place Sanibel Island is situated, there have been 2,683 EVs registered final yr. The one EV that burned there would imply lower than 0.04% of the electrical automobiles within the county caught hearth.
There was additionally a report by the native paper, the Island Reporter, that a number of flooded electrical golf carts at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Membership additionally caught hearth, on Oct. 16.
What ought to I do with a flooded EV?
Electrical corrosion is probably not seen, and an EV can expertise thermal runaway hours and even days after flood waters recede.
This implies flooded EVs parked in garages or carports subsequent to properties needs to be moved away from buildings. These automobiles shouldn’t be pushed however should be towed. Consultants cautioned that no automotive, whether or not electrical of gas-powered, needs to be pushed after flooding till it has been checked out by an expert.
“No street car needs to be thought of roadworthy after saltwater flooding, whether or not it is an EV or anything,” mentioned Haresh Kamath, director of distributed vitality assets on the Electrical Energy Analysis Institute in Palo Alto, Calif. “When you’ve skilled saltwater flooding, you shouldn’t be driving or attempting to drive and even begin that car. You should not be moving into the car.”
On Sanibel Island, which was closely broken by Ian, Sanibel Fireplace Rescue District crews have towed between 20 and 25 electrical automobiles from garages or underneath residences to forestall potential construction fires, the company mentioned in a Fb publish.
The automobiles are being moved at the least 15 toes away from buildings.
Are EV fires arduous to place out?
EV fires are tougher to place out than ones in gasoline-powered automobiles and require completely different firefighting methods, say consultants.
Firefighters are already coaching on how you can take care of EV battery fires, mentioned Andrew Klock, senior supervisor of product and improvement for the National Fire Protection Association.
The largest distinction is that an EV hearth can’t be put out with the kind of firefighting foam used to smother different fires. As an alternative, the battery should be cooled to cease the fireplace and finish thermal runaway, he mentioned.
“Lithium-ion batteries generate their very own warmth and oxygen,” mentioned Klock. To cease the fireplace requires placing water on the battery case to chill it.
Most EV batteries are beneath the car, so pouring water on prime of the automotive or within the engine compartment will not be useful, he mentioned.
“You want to get the water beneath,” mentioned Klock, whose group supplies coaching supplies for hearth departments on how you can take care of all kinds of fires.
All automotive and truck producers are already required to create emergency response guides for first responders on how you can take care of all the things from safely extricating somebody from a crashed automotive to high-voltage disconnect directions.
A 2020 report by the Nationwide Transportation Security Board discovered that extra details about coping with battery fires was wanted.
“We’ve had wonderful response from that steerage, loads of the car producers have rewritten their emergency response guides or are within the technique of doing that,” Barth mentioned.
As well as, a bunch of federal, state and personal firm consultants has come collectively to deal with the problem of EVs and hurricanes and are engaged on it now, he mentioned.
Aren’t there protections constructed into the batteries?
EV batteries are particularly engineered to make thermal runaway “very, very uncommon,” mentioned Kamath.
“The protection techniques inside a lithium-ion battery usually stop that kind of factor taking place until there’s some vital bodily harm to that battery,” mentioned Kamath, who has labored on battery points for greater than 20 years.
Within the case of a crash, fashionable electrical automobiles are designed with fuses which are triggered if the airbags deploy, mentioned Barth.
“Basically, they’re reducing the excessive voltage strains to the motor that turns the wheel,” he mentioned. “When you crash, you do not need the excessive voltage strains powered up that might energize the chassis and shock somebody.”
EV batteries are designed with seals to guard towards water intrusion, mentioned Stu Fowle, a communications director with Basic Motors.
“Our assessments embody extraordinarily dry circumstances and water submersions to simulate flooding, validating the protection and isolation of techniques,” he mentioned in a press release to USA TODAY.
The truth that solely eleven EV fires have been related to Hurricane Ian is telling, mentioned Marc Geller, with the Electrical Automobile Affiliation.
“If a ton of flooded EVs had been catching hearth, we would actually hear about it,” he mentioned.
Is it protected to cost an EV in a flooded space?
If the automotive itself wasn’t flooded, then sure, it’s protected to cost.
If the charging station flooded, it should not be used – and won’t work, mentioned consultants. The protection mechanisms constructed into any system that flooded ought to have robotically shut it off, mentioned Kamath.
“They’ve carried out loads of engineering to ensure that within the occasion of flooding or one thing that will intrude with the operation, the system shuts down,” he mentioned.
Are flooded standard automobiles okay?
No car, whether or not powered by gasoline or a battery, is protected to drive after being flooded, a number of consultants warned.
“Similar to flooding is the top of the street for a gasoline-powered automotive, it’s the top for electrical automobiles too,” mentioned Brian Moody, government editor for Autotrader.
“Lots of the similar issues that plague a gasoline-powered automotive are a difficulty regardless of how the automotive is powered. The sprint, gauges, heating system, brakes, wiring, seats, radio, touchscreen, all these parts might be ruined by water, particularly salt water,” he mentioned.
Higher driver schooling for EV homeowners
Electrical automobiles are more and more standard in america, reaching a file 5.6% of all new automobiles bought in america within the third quarter of 2022, in keeping with Kelley Blue Ebook. In 2021, there have been 321,546 EVs bought within the U.S. To this point this yr the quantity stands at 546,664, in keeping with Kelley Blue Ebook.
Estimates put the variety of electrical automobiles on U.S. roads at someplace between one and two million. That is a far cry from the 286 million complete automobiles registered, however does imply an rising variety of People are driving battery-powered automobiles. There is a studying curve, say consultants.
Florida has the second-highest focus of electrical automobiles after California, mentioned Cross. Because the state, and the nation, face the opportunity of extra floods, getting new EV homeowners in control might be vital.
Most People grew up with gas-powered automobiles and have at the least some understanding of their risks — even when it is solely having seen motion pictures the place a gasoline leak from the tank of a broken automotive precedes a billowing cloud of flame.
With so many new EVs on the street, and drivers new to electrical automobiles, studying about their variations is essential.
“With all new applied sciences, there might be issues to work out. With EVs, although the issues are few, they’re headline-catching and life and property-threatening,” mentioned Cross. “You’ll be able to’t conceal from that. It is an issue, it must be addressed.”
Elizabeth Weise covers local weather and environmental points for USA TODAY. She could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.