THMG303 – Lithium Car Battery Fires – Part 2

A recent email from a listener sparked a conversation that turned into this double episode. Take a listen and get some intel.

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  1. There are quite a few reasons why these batteries go south on us.
    1. over charge
      1. These batteries have so much energy density, which is the amount of energy per unit of space, that they really have to be controlled via circuits when  they are being charged. A small malfunction in the charging circuitry and the battery will start to fail.
      2. Once it starts to fail it is all downhill for that one cell that went bad.
      3. Now you may think ok, one cell that is not too bad. Because each cell is about the size of a double A battery. So no biggie right. Well that leads us to the next factor that can produce failure of the battery.
    2. Heat
      1. An overheated battery is bad….. Like really bad. And think about why for a moment. Heat is really just another form of energy. These batteries already have so much potential energy stored up in them that the heat or the energy of molecules in motion is too much for the battery to hold and it starts to react to get to a lower energy state.
      2. The way these larger batteries like a tesla battery are formed is by taking all these little cells and packing them together and then connecting them with electricity. So when one of these cells fails, they release the energy in the form of heat. Which in turn heats up all the cells surrounding it. If those cells get heated up as well then will produce the same result leading to an exponential growth of cell failure. This is bad. And is known as thermal runaway
    3. Physical damage
      1. Another way to cause these bad boys to lose their temper is to damage the cells. The right amount of damage destroys the balance of energy in the cell and if chemicals both in the cell and outside the cell start to react with each other well that will lead to almost instant fire call. Don’t believe us. Youtube lithium battery fire and watch people damage all types of these batteries and the kick ass fireball that it produces.
      2. In these batteries that are in cars and other vehicles, an accident is enough physical energy  to destroy the cell. And lead to a thermal run away and the condition where firefighters are putting thousands of gallons of water to “put the fire out”
  2. News article from nbc news written by Cyrus Farivar
    1. It’s the kind of blaze that veteran Chief Palmer Buck of The Woodlands Township Fire Department in suburban Houston compared to “a trick birthday candle.”
    2. On April 17, when firefighters responded to a 911 call at around 9:30 p.m., they came upon a Tesla Model S that had crashed, killing two people, and was now on fire.
    3. They extinguished it, but then a small flare shot out of the bottom of the charred hulk. Firefighters quickly put out those flames. Not long after, the car reignited for a third time.
    4. “What the heck? How do we make this stop?’” Buck asked his team. They quickly consulted Tesla’s first responder guide and realized that it would take far more personnel and water than they could have imagined. Eight firefighters ultimately spent seven hours putting out the fire. They also used up 28,000 gallons of water — an amount the department normally uses in a month. That same volume of water serves an average American home for nearly two years.
    5. By comparison, a typical fire involving an internal combustion car can often be quickly put out with approximately 300 gallons of water, well within the capacity of a single fire engine.
    6. That’s because the way that electric vehicles are powered triggers longer-burning fires when they crash and get into serious accidents. Electric cars rely on a bank of lithium-ion batteries, similar to batteries found in a cell phone or computer. But unlike a small phone battery, the large batteries found in the Tesla Model X, for instance, contain enough energy to power an average American home for more than two days.
    7. But training to put out these fires can’t come fast enough as more electric vehicles arrive on U.S. roads every day. According to IHS Insight, an industry analysis firm, the number of registered electric vehicles reached a record market share in the United States of 1.8 percent and is forecast to double to 3.5 percent by the end of this year. But IHS notes that 1 in 10 cars are expected to be electric by 2025.
    8. Still, most firefighters across America have not been adequately trained in the key differences between putting fires out in gas and electric cars. Some counterparts in Europe have developed a different approach, sometimes even putting a burning electric vehicle into a converted shipping container or dumpster — essentially giving it a bath — so that it cannot do further harm. Tesla says in its publicly available first responders guide that this method is not advisable and that departments should just use lots of water to put fires out.
    9. The problem has become widespread enough that late last year the National Transportation Safety Board published a report noting the “inadequacy” of all car manufacturers’ first responder guides. The agency further noted that while there are electric disconnection mechanisms, known as “cut loops,” they are often damaged in serious crashes. Finally, the NTSB also said that first responders generally lack an understanding of how to put out fires that can result from such crashes.
    10. “The instructions in most manufacturers’ emergency response guides for fighting high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires lack necessary, vehicle-specific details on suppressing the fires,” the NTSB said
    11. While the first Tesla vehicles hit American streets in 2008, the National Transportation Safety Board did not investigate its first electric-vehicle battery fires until after an Aug. 25, 2017, crash of a Tesla Model X. That car was driving an estimated 70 mph or more down a residential street in Lake Forest, California, about an hour’s drive southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
    12. According to the NTSB, the driver lost control of the car, crossed a sidewalk, traveled down a drainage ditch, hit a culvert and a property wall, and finally zoomed into an open garage and collided with a parked BMW, narrowly missing a man inside.
    13. The Tesla caught fire, which spread to the BMW, then the garage and the house itself.
    14. While Orange County Fire Authority’s firefighters put out most of the fire within 20 minutes, they found that a fire continued to burn in the attic above the fire, fueled by the burning Tesla. It took another 30 minutes for them to get the Tesla out of the garage, after which it reignited.
    15. But 45 minutes after the flames on the Tesla were extinguished, it reignited again. Firefighters began hosing it down with copious amounts of water, up to 200 gallons per minute, but “that did not extinguish the flames,” according to the NTSB. At approximately 9:13 p.m., nearly three hours after the first alarm was received, firefighters had to pour out more than 600 gallons of water per minute. In the end, two firefighters sustained minor smoke inhalation-related injuries, and the agency used 20,000 gallons of water.
    16. Capt. Sean Doran, the spokesperson for the Orange County Fire Authority, said that electric vehicle-related fires are a “game changer,” given that they require such huge amounts of water, and incidents can last hours longer than what most departments may be used to.
    17. “One of the concepts in firefighting is don’t start what you can’t finish,” he said. “We don’t want to start applying water before we have a water source.”
    18. The instructions for this model also includes the warning: “use large amounts of water to cool the battery. DO NOT extinguish fire with a small amount of water,” according to Tesla.
    19. But Gollan said that not only does Tesla’s manual lack a definition of “large amounts” of water, it also provides little detail about what firefighters should do with the remaining damaged batteries that may still contain dangerous stranded energy. In the end, Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue used a combination of water and firefighting foam, even though Tesla does not recommend using foam.
    20. “The Tesla manuals only say to use copious amounts of water,” he said. “They don’t provide any direction as to how to remove that energy.”
    21. In the end, the Tesla was loaded onto a tow truck for removal from the crash site. But the battery reignited twice during that process.
    22. Like Buck in The Woodlands case, Gollan found himself quickly fielding calls from numerous agencies trying to learn more about how to put out electrical vehicle fires from someone who had done it firsthand.
    23. “Following the incident we did substantial debriefings with NTSB and other municipal fire departments,” he said. “And since that time I’ve had multiple calls with other agencies from across the U.S.”
  3. Today after the show we are going to be going through the tesla manual and talking a bit more about my (mikes) current favorite method of dealing with this.
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