What are the fire safety risks when buying an electric car?

Purchasing an electric car is becoming increasingly popular in today’s day and age. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks involved when making this investment. Electric vehicles come with a unique set of advantages but also have some associated downsides that should be taken into consideration before moving forward. This includes safety concerns, environmental impact and more. In this article, we’ll explore the safety risks of buying an electric car and how Lithium-Ion battery technology is having to evolve fire safety technology to keep up.

how does a lithium-ion battery work and why is it a safety risk?

Lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries are rechargeable, high-energy density cells. They work by transferring lithium ions between two electrodes (positive and negative) to generate electrical power. The key benefit of Li-Ion batteries is that they are lightweight, long lasting and offer high energy density compared to other battery chemistries. However, these benefits come with a trade-off – Li-Ion batteries can pose a significant safety risk if not properly designed, manufactured, or handled. This is because they contain chemicals that can self-ignite when exposed to certain conditions such as external heat or mechanical shock. Taking appropriate safety precautions is essential to ensure the safe operation of Li-Ion battery powered devices.

In the article a ‘Practitioners guide to dealing with electric vehicles’ by the Institute of Fire Engineers, it details that if a battery has gone into thermal runaway it may emit a cloud that is highly toxic. It goes on to explain that a vast amount of research is being undertaken in the best method to deal with such situations. This includes EV training at the Fire Service College for practice on road traffic incidents.

This showcases how there are multiple safety risks when managing Li-Ion batteries.

Firefighting technology for Li-Ion

When it comes to current fire safety of Lithium-Ion battery powered appliances including cars, Firefighting technology for Li-Ion batteries is available in a range of forms. Many of these technologies are designed to detect and prevent fire from occurring in the first place, and includes technologies such as temperature sensors, voltage monitors, overcharge protection, and external insulation systems. In the event of a fire, authorities have access to special extinguishing measures and tools designed to tackle Li-Ion fires, however these technologies are working to keep up with the LI-Ion revolution. Scutum Group UK supplies a good range dedicated for the sole purpose of managing your Lithium-Ion battery risks; from first aid firefighting with specialist extinguishers and blankets, to storing and transporting batteries including those that are damaged.

Safety whilst manufacturing and using Li-Ion

In the production and storage of lithium-ion batteries, fire protection technology is essential to ensure safety. This includes a range of measures such as temperature sensors, overcharge protection, current monitoring systems, external insulation and the latest is gas detection. This includes the Honeywell Li-Ion Tamer, which monitors the gas released naturally from batteries, and triggers an alarm if this begins to rise. It can operate standalone or be integrated with your existing fire and building management systems.

With all these measures in place, it is possible to exercise better control over the production and storage of Li-Ion cells, thereby minimizing the risk of fires and other accidents, but should that include the ownership and operation of all electric cars?

Current guidelines

There aren’t currently any specific legal requirements regarding fire safety related to the ownership of Electric vehicles.

However, any recharging station must be regularly inspected to ensure the equipment meets safety standards and that the cables used are in good condition. Following these recommendations helps to provide peace of mind for electric vehicle owners while they use their cars safely.

There are measures users can take to protect themselves, such as only ever charging the vehicle in line with the manufacturers guidelines and using their approved equipment only. Also maintaining the vehicle in accordance with the manufacturers guidance and have any faults and damage investigated immediately.

This seems like a personal choice, but what should businesses do when it comes to managing a large fleet of a company’s electric vehicles? Surely this comes under the health and safety for workers and could form part of a company’s employee safety obligations? Perhaps businesses and manufacturers can work together but clearer guidance and legislation is needed from industry and government bodies.

Future legislation on safety for electric vehicles

Future safety legislation for electric vehicles could include a requirement for manufacturers to ensure that the vehicle is outfitted with effective safety measures. This could include installing fire suppression systems or firefighting ports and other automatic measures that can help to contain any potential fires. In addition, legislation could also require regular specific inspections of recharging stations to check the equipment meets safety standards, as well as having charging cables regularly checked and replaced, if necessary, as part of the MOT process. Furthermore, manufacturers may be held responsible for providing owners with relevant training relating to fire safety, so they are aware of any risks associated with their electric vehicles.

One thing is certain: the evolution of batteries is continuing at a rapid pace, and safety as standard is fighting to keep up. But there does seem to be substantial gaps when it comes to understanding risk when operating this evolving technology – so there will likely be an interesting case in the next few years that will undoubtedly change the approach to battery safety.

If you would like to learn more about Lithium-Ion fire safety technology, speak to a member of the Scutum Group UK team who will be able to support your enquiry.

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