2021: The Year the Electric Vehicle Batteries Burned

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Are electric vehicles inherently unsafe? This is a question more people may be asking, as realisation grows that 2021 was a horror year for battery fire vehicle recalls.

GM heralded this plant as a model for its electric car future. Then its batteries started exploding.

The company had to recall 141,000 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles, a microcosm of the challenge GM faces as it aims to shift its production to all-electric

By Faiz SiddiquiDecember 30, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EST

ORION TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Before General Motors recalled the entire fleet of its most popular electric car because of fire dangers, before her factory was stilled, assembly line worker Carol McConkey stood in the middle of a teeming factory floor and marveled at how seamlessly the Chevrolet Bolt is manufactured.

The crisis involving the Chevrolet Bolt was a painful reminder for the auto industry that despite treating the electric vehicle era as essentially inevitable — a technical fait accompli — significant obstacles to manufacturing the cars, and especially their batteries, continue to threaten that future.

“It’s a terrible thing that has happened,” Tim Grewe, GM’s general director for electrification strategy and cell engineering, said in an interview in September.

It’s the kind of disruption GM can ill afford as it aims to scale up its production of electric vehicles to 1 million units per year by 2025. The company wants to have a global lineup of 30 EVs by that year. And it plans to shift production away from gasoline-powered cars entirely in the next decade and a half.

Carmakers including Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Ford also have announced plans to go all or mostly electric — chasing ambitions similar to GM’s deadline of 2035.

But first, automakers have to show they can manufacture safe and reliablecars — at scale.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/12/30/chevy-bolt-gm/

GM is far from alone from having battery fire problems. Hyundai recalled thousands of EVs in March 2021.

Don’t park your Hyundai Kona EV inside because it could catch fire

Hyundai is recalling more than 80,000 EVs over battery fire concerns

By Andrew J. Hawkins@andyjayhawk  Mar 29, 2021, 4:33pm EDT

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a recall for 2019–2020 Hyundai Kona and 2020 Hyundai Ioniq electric vehicles after over a dozen battery fires were reported. The agency is also warning owners against parking their vehicles near their homes or any flammable structure. 

An electrical short in the Kona’s lithium-ion battery cells increases the risk of fire while parked, charging, and driving, NHTSA said, adding, “The safest place to park them is outside and away from homes and other structures.”

Last month, Hyundai announced that it would recall some 76,000 Kona EVs built between 2018 and 2020 over battery fire concerns. It was the second recall for the Kona but the first one that was global in nature. The automaker also said it would recall some Ioniqs and electric buses that it manufactures. In total, Hyundai said it would recall 82,000 vehicles, which it estimates will cost $900 million.

Read more: https://www.theverge.com/2021/3/29/22357068/hyundai-kona-ev-recall-battery-fire-nhtsa

Germany withdrew electric busses from service, because they kept catching fire. (h/t No Tricks Zone)

Fire hazard: electric buses withdrawn from service

Updated: 04/11/2021 17:26

Because electric buses caught fire, the expensive purchases were withdrawn from use in many cities. 

Hanover – Lower Saxony is actually right at the forefront when it comes to electrical energy in bus transport In June, however, a major fire broke out in a bus depot in Hanover in the Mittelfeld district, in which the fire destroyed nine vehicles belonging to the Üstra transport company. As a result, the bus company Üstra took the electric fleet out of service for the time being. Not only the case in Hanover, it is more and more common that electric vehicles are removed from the timetable in cities, the reasons are often due to one thing in common: fire protection.

In Hanover, however, the 17 electric buses are to be gradually put back into regular service from November 1st. Accordingly, there was no evidence that the electric buses pose an increased risk in operation, for which the transport company had previously spent more than 20 million euros. The approval for the use of the fleet is still given, all vehicles would be checked again in the workshop before being put back into operation. The operation could thus be granted.

Electric buses are being taken out of service in several cities due to the risk of fire

However, not all cities and transport companies come to this point of view. After an electric bus was allegedly responsible for a major fire in a Stuttgart bus depot, the transport company shut down the buses for the time being. 25 vehicles were destroyed in the fire. Other transport companies also took action: The Munich transport company also took eight electric buses out of service. The measure should apply until the cause of the fire has been finally clarified.

Read more (German): https://www.kreiszeitung.de/lokales/niedersachsen/brandgefaehrlich-staedte-ziehen-elektro-busse-aus-dem-verkehr-91066578.html

Tesla managed to avoid bad publicity in 2021 for spontaneous combustion electric vehicles fires, but a large grid scale battery fire in Australia attracted global attention.

Fire at Tesla giant battery project near Geelong was likely caused by coolant leak, investigation finds

By Leanne Wong
Posted Tue 28 Sep 2021 at 11:29amTuesday 28 Sep 2021 at 11:29am, updated Tue 28 Sep 2021 at 4:59pm

Authorities have granted approval for testing to resume at Australia’s largest Tesla battery project this week, after investigations into a July blaze found the likely cause to be a coolant leak.

Key points:

The Energy Safe Victoria investigation says the fire was “most likely” caused by a leak in the Megapack cooling system

It is believed that caused a short circuit in the battery, which led to a fire

Extra safety measures are being taken so testing can resume at the site

Two Tesla Megapacks were engulfed in flames when a fire broke out during initial testing at the Victorian Big Battery site in Moorabool, near Geelong, on July 30. 

The blaze triggered a warning for toxic smoke and it took four days for the site to be deemed under control by firefighters. 

An investigation conducted by Energy Safe Victoria found the “most likely” cause of the fire to be a coolant leak in the Megapack cooling system, which caused a short circuit that led to a fire in an electronic component.

The resulting heating then led to a thermal runaway and fire which spread to a second battery.

Read more: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-28/fire-at-tesla-giant-battery-project-near-geelong-investigation/100496688

The problem got so embarrassing, the industry organised a global EV battery fire summit in 2021.

Some industry players have claimed they have solved the problem. Chinese companies are pushing hard to convince the world they have a solution.

China’s battery makers burnish their safety image as they grab the lion’s share of the world’s market for powering electric cars

CATL is now the world’s largest EV battery maker, with about 30 per cent of the global market, ahead of LG Energy’s 25 per cent, SNE Research saidChinese brands are fighting an uphill reputational battle against South Korean and Japanese brands, which have the image of being safer

Daniel Ren in Shanghaiand Jodi Xu Klein

Published: 10:00am, 30 Oct, 2021

The biggest drawback of Li-ion batteries is the liquid electrolyte used, which is volatile and flammable when operating at high temperatures. External forces such as a crash can also cause the chemical to leak, and catch fire. Flammable electrolytes are used in all NCM, LFP and NCA batteries, which means they can all catch fire.

CATL, which unveiled the world’s first sodium-ion battery in July, is poised for a game-changing technological breakthrough in using the abundant material to replace its mainstay lithium-ion batteries.

CATL, which also counts Tesla as a customer, is now the world’s largest EV battery maker, with about 30 per cent of the global market, ahead of LG Energy’s 25 per cent, according to SNE Research.

Still, Chinese brands are fighting an uphill reputational battle against South Korean and Japanese brands, which have the image of being safer because they have been in the industry longer.

Read more: https://www.scmp.com/business/companies/article/3154227/chinas-battery-makers-burnish-their-safety-image-they-grab-lions

Regardless of whether you believe Chinese claims, EV fires are a big reputational risk for the entire industry. The fires burn hot, are far more difficult to extinguish than gasoline fires, and emit hideously toxic fumes.

Last year I asked a firefighter how they extinguish EV fires. He said “We can’t. We cordon off the area, play a thin mist of water on the area to try to keep the temperature down, and wait for it to burn itself out”.

I have a friend who owns an EV, and he loves it. He mostly uses it for short trips, and has enough solar panels on his house roof so he can mostly keep it topped up with his own electricity. But his EV is parked outside, away from the house, and he rarely uses a fast charger.

Until the EV industry can shed its hideous reputation for dangerous fires, get the cost down, and solve range issues, in my opinion early adopters like my friend are going to be the exception rather than the norm. In my opinion, it is going to remain an uphill struggle for manufacturers to convince the majority of motorists to switch to EVs.

via Watts Up With That?


January 2, 2022 at 04:49PM

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