Why Are So Many Electric Cars, Scooters and Bikes Burning?
Why Are So Many Electric Cars, Scooters and Bikes Burning?
9:08

Why Are So Many Electric Cars, Scooters and Bikes Burning?

Electric Vehicles
Speaker 1: Lithium ion batteries are found in everything from semi trucks to long range cars, eess scooters, electric bikes, phones, tablets, you name it. Wide variety of products, but the batteries in them have one thing in common they tend to like to burn. Here's why and what we can do about it. [00:00:30] When it comes to safety, the lithium ion battery is kind of a perverse little thing. It's almost a perfect complete little fire kit. Inside is kind of this damp, wet slurry of flammable chemicals. And then you've got the cathode, the positive side of the battery, which is largely composed of releasable oxygen and the whole thing just wants to get really hot. If it gets damaged or is poorly manufactured and gets to this runaway [00:01:00] level of thermal heating, that's not a good thing. But that's how these things are built. Is there any wonder that the FAA gets nervous about them on planes or the big shipping companies need special labeling on boxes that contain these batteries? Now, as you may recall, in most consumer's minds, the big bang for lithium ion battery fears was the Samsung Galaxy Note seven. [00:01:30] It had so many heating and fire problems, it was banned from commercial planes in 2016. Since then, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has documented at least 25,000 cases of consumer products that have had battery overheating issues. And these don't include cars cuz they don't really cover that area. Speaker 1: And of course, anytime a Tesla crashes and burns or just burns, it's a headline event because Tesla's [00:02:00] always a headline event. But don't forget all those Chevy bolts that require GM issue, a pretty uncanny announcement saying don't park the thing indoors and don't park it near another car until we figure out its battery issues, which they have. And partly by moving on to a new platform. And now it's electric scooters and e-bikes that are grabbing the headlines with some owners of multi-unit buildings saying, Nope, you can't [00:02:30] bring those indoors anymore. And the New York City Council is considering regulating any product that uses a secondhand or repurposed lithium ion battery, cuz they often end up being reused in Chevy ways that can start fires. Speaker 1: So what is going on with lithium ion batteries? Why do these batteries burn or overheat? Four major reasons. One is improper charging a charger that might be defective [00:03:00] or the wrong charger for that battery. It may look like it's working, but it's driving too much current into the battery and causing it to overheat. Another one is when a battery is overtaxed, that's going the other direction, if you will. It's drawing so much power out that it's causing it to overheat in the output direction, not the charging direction. Then you've gotta realize the third major reason is rupturing. This can come from bad manufacturer, bad design or some other defects where the battery, which is kind of a pouch, it looks hard, [00:03:30] but it's kind of a flexible pouch. Bubbles up, expands, and then ruptures and bursts and then the things inside of it are all connecting in the wrong way, causing fire or overheating. And the fourth way that these things can burn is because of physical damage. Really major stuff. Cracking uh, damage from being bent, being stabbed or hit with something that punctures the battery. A lot of those things happen in automobile crashes where some piece of metal will puncture the battery compartment. Speaker 1: [00:04:00] I talked to a couple of senior firefighters here in Northern California lately and said, what are the clever tricks you've got for putting out electric car fires? And they said, it's not always that clever using enough and often a lot of water to contain the fire, letting the battery burn out because it's very hard to get into the heart of the battery to put out the chemical reaction that is causing the fire. And thirdly, [00:04:30] hauling away the hulk of the old burned out car to somewhere it can sit by itself isolated for days because they have been known to reignite. Batteries are tricky to tell if they're really out fire blankets used on cars aren't entirely new, but some departments like them for EV fires because they robbed the entire event of oxygen, but that doesn't necessarily extinguish the battery. But all this fearmongering said, let's bring down the temperature [00:05:00] around lithium ion battery fear for just a minute. First of all, yes, cars burn all the time and they're almost never electric cars. The number of gasoline engine cars that catch fire that we know about is around 175,000 in the most recent year, 2021. You never hear about it unless it causes a huge traffic backup Speaker 1: And that 175,000 is way down from just in the nineties when it was more like 400,000 [00:05:30] gas engine cars catching on fire every year. But we don't hear about it. And when an electric car has a fire issue, of course the novel technology ends up getting painted with a very ugly brush. Speaker 1: Ford just recalled 600,000 plus gas-powered Bronco sports and escapes because of a fire hazard. The other reason to have a little bit of calm about battery fires is that they're new and getting better rapidly. [00:06:00] Thermal management systems built into car batteries that keep their temperature where it should be and better and better physical design. So they're less likely to have a physical puncture or rupture are in their early days and moving fast. Whereas combustion cars with their gas tanks and their high pressure fuel lines, they're about as safe as they're likely to get. They've been working at it for decades, so I would bet on EV car safety in the long run. Speaker 1: [00:06:30] Then there's the guts of these batteries. Not every battery called lithium ion is the same thing. Lithium ion batteries are a family of related chemistries and they use different metals and materials internally. You may find nickel, manganese, cobalt, aluminum, or iron. That last one's very interesting. Lithium ion batteries that have a lot of iron in them are called lithium iron phosphate batteries. They're well known for taking a lot of charges over their history [00:07:00] and not really losing any capacity due to that. That's a good thing. They also tend to be rather safe. The FAA did some studies recently and found that these lithium iron phosphate batteries tended to burn at much lower temperatures. In fact, the lowest of any battery they tested that same study also found that they have the lowest likelihood of catching cells next to them on fire when the one cell catches a lot of safety. Speaker 1: Good guys in this formulation, the good news [00:07:30] is automakers are waking up to lithium iron phosphate lately. Ford is one good example. They've stated they're about to use a lot more of these and have signed a major deal to do so. Now they're not necessarily doing it for safety reasons as much as they're doing it for sourcing and cost reasons. There is a downside to lithium iron phosphate. They tend to have lower energy density. That means if you wanna get the same amount of power in a car stored energy, you have to have a somewhat bigger battery. But being that they are so much focused on iron inside, [00:08:00] you get away from all kinds of issues of toxic, expensive and politically unstable minerals, you've got a source. Interesting. Speaker 1: The other battery breakthrough that could be a big one for safety is solid state batteries. Now I've talked about these before. In a nutshell, they tend to have solid materials inside and not so much of that toxic flammable chemical slurry baked into the battery. As a result, they're [00:08:30] more stable until they aren't a recent study by the sandy and national labs so that solid state batteries are very rugged and reliable. However, if you give them enough damage or enough force to cause damage, they can become as much of a risk as any other battery that is in the general lithium ion family. But it sounds like they've got a lot of safety benefits up to that point. It's important to watch the safety reputation of lithium ion batteries because with it shall go the [00:09:00] safety reputation of the nascent electric car market.

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