Science & Tech

New extinguisher addresses unique challenges of fighting EV fires

Contrary to what many skeptics preach, there’s not enough data yet to confirm that EVs are more likely to catch fire than internal combustion engine cars.

But there’s un irrefutable fact: when electric vehicles do catch fire, they burn fiercely and require a new skillset for emergency respondents to fight the flames.

Austrian firefighting equipment manufacturer Rosenbauer has developed a special EV fire extinguisher, specifically designed to tackle the complexities of EV fires, Rideapart reports. 

But first, things first. What makes electric car fires unique?

Yes, lithium-ion batteries are flammable

The issue is the lithium-ion batteries that power EVs up. They store a huge amount of energy in a very small space.

As Professor Paul Christensen from the University of Newcastle explained to Air Quality News, “if the battery is exposed to excessive heat, or there is a penetration in the battery case, then you get an internal short circuit.”

Simply put, this short circuit causes excessive heat, which in turn causes a chemical reaction that generates more heat, making the chemical reaction to develop even faster, which results in more heat — a vicious circle.

This process is called “thermal runaway” and it’s basically what’s generating EV fires.

Four reasons why EV battery fires present a unique challenge

  • Due to their intensity, they require larger amounts of water to be put out. According to the Confederation of Fire Protection Associations of Europe, firefighters need more than 60,000 liters of water and a flow rate of 1100 liters per minute to even tackle an EV fire. 
  • Firefighters also need to prevent the water from flowing into drains because of the toxins the water picks up from the burning batteries.
  • During an EV fire, over 100 chemicals are generated from the battery, including toxic gases such as  carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, which are fatal to humans. 
  • Electric vehicle fires can reignite minutes, hours, or even days after the initial event.
Tesla crash Lake Forest California 2017.