Burning lithium Leaking from an EV. Source ABC.

How do you Extinguish a Lithium Battery Fire?

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

A few weeks ago I asked a fire fighter friend how they extinguish electric vehicle battery fires.

He said “Oh you mean like a Tesla or something? The answer is you can’t. You cordon off the area, and spray a fine mist of water on the fire to try to keep the temperature down until it finishes burning. Takes a few days until it is safe”.

The problem is, besides being highly flammable, lithium is literally the lightest metal. At atomic number 3, it is the first element in the periodic table which is a solid. The two previous elements, hydrogen and helium, are both gasses.

Lithium is so light, it floats on water (lithium density 0.543, half the density of water). Lithium is entirely happy to blaze away while sitting on the surface of a puddle of water.

So if you try to smother a lithium fire with sand, the sand sinks to the bottom, and the lithium floats on top.

Lithium melts at 180C / 356F, and burns at 2000C / 3632F – almost more than hot enough to melt steel, more than hot enough to destroy most composites and metals like aluminium.

The fumes from a burning lithium fire are highly toxic, capable of causing death or long term dementia like brain injuries – so you need to keep members of the public at a safe distance. Fire fighters need to wear respirators if they approach the flame.

There are chemical extinguishers, but my fire station friend didn’t seem to think much of them, at least not for large lithium fires.

I guess you might be able to smother a large lithium fire by dropping a Chernobyl style sarcophagus made of steel on top of it, or possibly made of some other material which could handle the heat. Then you could fill the sarcophagus with an inert gas like Argon, or just wait for the oxygen to run out. But equipping fire departments with a sarcophagus device large enough to smother an EV fire, and the equipment required to deploy it, would be an expensive exercise.

What does your fire department do when they have to extinguish a large lithium fire? I’d love to know, so I can tell Australian fire departments. Cordon off the area and spray a mist of water at the fire for a few days would be a serious inconvenience or worse, if the burning vehicle was say blocking an important road junction, on the high street, or in someone’s residential or workplace garage or workshop.

Correction (EW): h/t Gordon A. Dressler – steel melts around 1500C, so a lithium fire burning at 2000C is hot enough to melt steel.

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Rick Rink
March 4, 2021 6:08 am

In the Netherlands they will hoist the whole car in a large container with water if there is enough space to do so.

Reply to  Rick Rink
March 4, 2021 10:41 am

There is a large fireproof blanket that smothers fires….firefighters better order the blankets becuz the EVs are growing in numbahs.

john
Reply to  Anti-griff
March 4, 2021 1:33 pm

Bernie knows how! We made this image and feel free to use it…

john
Reply to  john
March 4, 2021 1:35 pm

Bernie

D8D1C0BC-4B13-43F9-8AB7-C06B76C039BB.png
john
Reply to  john
March 4, 2021 3:07 pm

Back in 2002, I was a fire chief and like many who had electrical backgrounds as well, inquired the major auto company of how to handle accident scenes involving their battery “fueled” vehicles. I still cringe with the responses. They offered nothing. The thing is, the chief and or scene commander was liable for injury or death of staff in the event unfortunate things happened. Training and such. Still seems the shockingly problem exists. The manufacturers have lawyers and paid off politicians who may have alleviated some of that liability for the fire service and even made donations 😉but the problem is now supersized. DC kills by flatlining the heart. Defibrillators work on the same concept with the hopes the heart starts again when the heart has an irregularity.

Stopping a normal beating heart is a big problem especially if you are not in the appropriate surgical ward.

That’s the way it is and my 2 cents worth. This wont get fixed as con- gress has too many “experts” in the subject and have no clue. Ask any power lineman who has to drain capacitors…

Last edited 1 month ago by john
ATheoK
Reply to  Anti-griff
March 4, 2021 5:09 pm

Fireproof?

Asbestos?
Burning at 2000C / 3632F, lithium casually rips oxygen from stable molecules. Asbestos will not contain it.

Lithium batteries are built low in cars. Often running under the driver and passenger.

Even if the fireproof blanket works, covering the car is insufficient and will not slow the lithium fire.

Again from NOAA:
Fire Hazard

Special Hazards of Combustion Products: Strong alkali fumes are formed in fire.

Behavior in Fire: Molten lithium is quite easily ignited and is then difficult to extinguish.

Hot or burning lithium will react with all gases except those of the helium-argon group. It also reacts violently with concrete, wood, asphalt, sand, asbestos; and in fact, nearly everything except metal. Do not apply water to adjacent fires. Hydrogen explosion may result. (USCG, 1999)

Health Hazard

Contact with eyes causes caustic irritation or burn. In contact with skin lithium reacts with body moisture to cause chemical burns: foil, ribbon, and wire react relatively slowly. (USCG, 1999)

Reactivity Profile

Burns in air, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. The reactions can become extremely violent at higher temperatures. The disposition to ignite of surfaces of molten lithium exposed to any of these gases is increased by the presence of lithium oxides and nitrides. “

Dennis
Reply to  Anti-griff
March 4, 2021 6:52 pm

Imagine peak traffic holiday period and recharging stations, one EV explodes into an inferno and then a chain reaction.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Dennis
March 5, 2021 9:38 am

Or imagine a 100-car pileup like happened twice, once in Texas and once in Oklahoma, during this last arctic cold front to move through.

Imagine if all those 100 cars were battery operated. One spark and they all go up in flames. That would be one heck of a fire.

Hivemind
Reply to  Tom Abbott
March 5, 2021 8:58 pm

But at least it would solve their freezing to death problem.

Dennis
Reply to  Anti-griff
March 4, 2021 7:01 pm

So far, despite some countries using taxpayer’s monies to subsidise EV and tax concessions reducing government revenue from EV, the global fleet number is tiny, less than one per cent from memory.

Dennis
Reply to  Rick Rink
March 4, 2021 6:58 pm

Do they attempt to remove the occupants first?

MarkW
Reply to  Dennis
March 5, 2021 8:19 am

Depends on how much of the occupants still remain.

Tom Halla
March 4, 2021 6:20 am

I can only imagine a Tesla in the middle of one of those California Central Valley Tule Fog chain reaction pileups.

John K. Sutherland
Reply to  Tom Halla
March 4, 2021 6:27 am

Or, in the garage, attached to your home?

MarkW
Reply to  Tom Halla
March 4, 2021 7:27 am

I’m imagining one of these so called grid scale batteries catching fire. If you have to wait a few days for a Tesla to go out, how long will you have to wait for a grid scale battery complex to go out? Plus, how far back will you have to evacuate the public to keep them safe from the fumes?

Reply to  MarkW
March 4, 2021 8:01 am

How far does each megapack need to be from each other to prevent a cascade failure from causing the entire array to be destroyed from a fault in a single cabinet? They look dangerously close together in the Australian megapack array.

To put this in perspective, a fully charged megapack is storing almost 10 Gigajoules which will be released upon failure. A ton of TNT is about 4 Gigajoules. (4000 sticks of dynamite).

MarkW
Reply to  co2isnotevil
March 4, 2021 11:36 am

The further apart they are, the greater the land need as well as the greater the cost.
Batteries need to be kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Spreading them out makes both harder.

MAL
Reply to  co2isnotevil
March 4, 2021 8:38 pm

I once had to maintain a line printer where the the designer came up with the idea that software was faster than a fuse. That true if the software is up and running. So what happen when the software is not up and running, you have a cascade of hammers going up in smoke(the printer had a hammer bank of sixty six hammers.) We refereed to as was the flamethrower.

Jeff Labute
Reply to  Tom Halla
March 4, 2021 9:39 am

I can imagine a future ice storm in Texas causing a 100 Tesla car pile-up. Do you evacuate the city? Hopefully we move away from lithium sooner than later.

MAL
Reply to  Jeff Labute
March 4, 2021 8:39 pm

At least you have someplace you can keep warm!

Vuk
March 4, 2021 6:29 am

He said “Oh you mean like a Tesla or something? The answer is you can’t. You cordon off the area, and spray a fine mist of water on the fire to try to keep the temperature down until it finishes burning. Takes a few days until it is safe”.
After 2-3 years of use when lithium car batteries loose their high  efficiency will be taken out reconditioned packaged for 110/220V renewable electricity home storage.
Good luck if they catch fire in your home, I would not have them anywhere near my property.

Vuk
Reply to  Vuk
March 4, 2021 6:35 am

the lithium reacts with water in the air vigorously, generating high heat and often producing a fire
https://youtu.be/YuKF8XfCVKQ

Graemethecat
Reply to  Vuk
March 4, 2021 8:45 am

Lithium also burns in pure nitrogen.

Reply to  Graemethecat
March 4, 2021 8:39 pm

I gotta ask: “Burning” = oxidation. That would turn Lithium into Lithium oxide. How does nitrogen ‘burn’? I understand (let me insult my purdiotic table) it could bind to Nitrogen, but is that “burning”? I guess it can be exothermic…
At least it does not release CO2, right? Silver lining? That’s what GangGreen must mean when they call this Green Technology?

David Wolcott
Reply to  Vuk
March 4, 2021 11:47 am

My high school chemistry teacher would amuse the class by chopping off fragments of lithium into a beaker of water. It sure does burn.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  David Wolcott
March 4, 2021 4:35 pm

The good old days…

jtom
Reply to  David Wolcott
March 4, 2021 6:17 pm

My high school chem teacher tried that, and put too big of a piece into the water. It immediately stripped the oxygen away from the hydrogen in the water molecules, sending a torrent of hydrogen bubbles to the surface. The reaction was sufficiently exothermic to ignite the hydrogen gas when it mixed with the oxygen in the air. The resulting boom startled everyone, including her.

Bet everyone in the room remembers that lesson, and that was about fifty-five years ago!

Nick Graves
Reply to  jtom
March 5, 2021 12:20 am

Yes – we managed to persuade the teacher to drop the rest of the lump of sodium in the water – and that was a big enough bang!

Vuk
Reply to  Vuk
March 4, 2021 8:25 am

… talking about rare earths fires
Icelandic authorities warn that one or possibly two volcanic eruptions ‘could be imminent’ after more than 18,000 earthquakes hit Keilir and Fagradalsfjall mountains in the past week alone. There is a webcam keeping an eye on Keilir mountain.
https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2021/03/02/livestream_in_case_of_eruption/

Bruce
Reply to  Vuk
March 4, 2021 11:21 am

NFPA Journal article reviewing the Tesla crash and resulting fire in Mountain View, CA on March 23rd, 2018. Discusses the emergency response and what it took to put the fire out and make safe the battery by dissasembling it, cell-by-cell.
https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Publications-and-media/NFPA-Journal/2020/January-February-2020/Features/EV-Stranded-Energy
Definitely worth a read.

TonyG
Reply to  Bruce
March 4, 2021 11:56 am

Thank you for sharing that.

Stood out to me:
“Certainly, I would say from this experience that the fire service is not prepared to fully mitigate these fires. If Tesla had not come out we might have left it burning there on the freeway. We had no other choice.”

Vuk
Reply to  Bruce
March 4, 2021 1:07 pm

Thanks for that, long article will read. However, it said:
For reasons still unexplained, a Tesla Model X SUV, traveling at 70 mph down a flat, straight stretch of the 101 freeway, abruptly drifted left and slammed into a concrete median that divided the freeway from an offramp. Bystanders risked their lives to pull the 38-year-old driver from the wreck before it burst into flames. He later died at the hospital from his injuries.”
It is likely that one or more cells were on fire before crash, either causing power failure or the highly poisoning fumes entering the interior and incapacitating the driver in some way. 

MarkW
Reply to  Vuk
March 5, 2021 8:22 am

Or the driver was relying on the self-drive feature.

Marcus
March 4, 2021 6:31 am

Eric

“So if you try to smother a lithium fire with sand, the sand sinks to the bottom, and the lithium floats on top.: …..Did you mean “water” ?

Rudi
March 4, 2021 6:35 am

A town in Germany just forbid hybrids or eV´s to enter the underground garage, due to that reason.

tonyb
Editor
Reply to  Rudi
March 4, 2021 7:02 am

You can’t take them through the channel tunnel from Britain to France. Presumably any tunnel with a train/car service would be the same.

tonyb

Spetzer86
Reply to  tonyb
March 4, 2021 9:17 am

What are they going to do when the EU bans ICEs? Seems like traffic in the chunnel will get a little sparce.

ross
Reply to  Spetzer86
March 4, 2021 12:15 pm

bicycle

Tom Abbott
Reply to  ross
March 5, 2021 9:50 am

One you pedal. Not electric. 🙂

FiftycalTX
Reply to  Spetzer86
March 6, 2021 8:08 pm

Then there will be room for bicycles and horse drawn carts.

keith frank holland
Reply to  tonyb
March 4, 2021 11:05 am

This can’t be right. Eurotunnel Folkston has Tesla chargers in the car park and I’ve seen them loaded onto Eurotunnel trains.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  tonyb
March 4, 2021 4:39 pm

You can’t have them in airline checked luggage…though every passenger in the cabin is loaded with them.

I worked at FAA Headquarters when the 787 was grounded due to one plane’s APU lithium battery catching fire. I was in Commercial Space Transportation, but got all of the current, insider, aviation news. This is actually pretty good. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-lithium-ion-batteries-grounded-the-dreamliner/

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
March 5, 2021 3:21 am

Thanks, that article link about the 2013 Boeing 787 fire (lithium battery was in a cabin Auxiliary Power Unit) is a pretty useful account. The specific thing that I find interesting about this is that while this battery pack would presumably be relatively small compared to what’s on a Tesla, say, it still couldn’t be extinguished for two hours after first being observed. I’m sure most of us have no first hand personal experience with how long even a ‘small’ lithium battery fire would tend to last, so that’s a useful reference.

When it comes to a burning regular ICE vehicle on the other hand, I’ve definitely seen what happens with *that* on a couple of occasions. There’s basically none of this ‘exploding’ stuff that you see in movies! What you do have is a very fast burn, once the engine and/or fuel system catches on fire — you do *not* want to be trapped in the hot zone on this! As long as you can walk away, with no spreading fire as such, your whole vehicle is more or less completely disposed of, no problem at all, in just a few minutes. It’s no big deal really, just ‘minus’ one set of wheels. In contrast, what’s being said here, I see, is that a Lithium vehicle would end up being a hot battery ‘lump’, posing a danger for many hours, days even? Harsh ‘basic’ chemical output as well?

So, next question, what the rate of this happening, is it just an extreme caution, or should ‘all electric’ vehicles actually be banned?

Shanghai Dan
Reply to  David Blenkinsop
March 5, 2021 2:59 pm

Li batteries also burn hot enough to destroy asphalt, concrete, and rebar – resulting in a complete sectional rebuild of the roadway.

Lost in CA
Reply to  Shanghai Dan
March 8, 2021 9:52 am

And if it’s on a bridge?

Dave Andrews
Reply to  tonyb
March 5, 2021 8:48 am

tonyb,

Funny, I don’t remember seeing that mentioned in any of the now numerous ads forEVs!

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Dave Andrews
March 5, 2021 9:53 am

Yes, those ads need a disclaimer at the bottom making people aware of the danger of a fire in an electric vehicle.

DMacKenzie
Reply to  Rudi
March 4, 2021 7:32 am

Do they have a limit on how much gasoline cars can have in their gas tanks too ? After all, mixed with air, gasoline, pound for pound, contains as much energy as dynamite.

Last edited 1 month ago by DMacKenzie
TonyL
Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 4, 2021 7:56 am

Gasoline fires are put out easily with foam extinguishers. Also, conventional car fires are fairly rare, especially considering the vast numbers of them out there. So the issue of conventional car fires very rarely comes up, and is easily answered when it does.
But I think you know all of this.

On the other hand, the topic of EV fires keeps coming up over and over again. Why do you think that might be? More, this issue keeps coming up on multiple continents, so it is not just one country or area which has discovered this feature of EVs.

JP Kalishek
Reply to  TonyL
March 4, 2021 8:27 am

Also, most car fires are started by electrics going bad. not the gas, so often, even if the car was running when the fire started, the electrical system eventually stops adding gas to the fire, and one often sees a burned car or truck that is not fully consumed, and still has gas in the tank. LiFePo or other ion lithium batteries are hard to stop burning until they consume all the lithium. I know of Dry Chem extinguishers for them, and it is basically graphite powder and even a 20lb/9 kilo extinguisher is aimed at a laptop, motorcycle or car battery sized fire, not a EV sized one, and are of the “It’s better than nothing” level of ability.

MarkW
Reply to  JP Kalishek
March 5, 2021 8:24 am

Most cars are designed to disable the fuel pump when an accident occurs.

MAL
Reply to  TonyL
March 4, 2021 8:52 pm

I once watch a small boat fire my dad (who was the chief of a small rural fire department) had to put up with(they had a volunteer who video taped their fires at the time). At first it was only a gasoline fire but it quickly became a manganese fire(out board motor). They fill the small boat with foam which ended the gasoline fire and than hit the motor with enough water so after it lost enough mass the fire could not sustain the heat to maintain the fire. The cause of the fire a side terminal battery, contacting the side of the metal of the outboard fuel tank. Brand new boat total loss. It was in a rural farmers driveway where this happen so no disruption to anyone else.

Correct me if I am wrong but metal lithium does not need high heat to maintain a fire, just plain old oxidation.

Tom Halla
Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 4, 2021 8:01 am

When you have the fuel and oxidizer combined, you have a potential explosive. Fuel-air bombs are very effective as the bomb does not have to carry the oxidizer. If you somehow dispersed all the gasoline into the air, one would have a bomb, but not until mixed.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 4, 2021 8:28 am

That might be an issue if you somehow managed to vaporize the entire contents of the gas tank all at once, but that doesn’t happen, Hollywood special effects to the contrary not withstanding. You could make the same argument about establishing a bolted fault condition between every single anode and cathode plate in the battery, but that’s not going to happen either.

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
March 4, 2021 4:06 pm

It took some ingenuity for the guys on Mythbusters to get a vehicle gas tank to explode. I don’t remember exactly what they did but it would be very unlikely to happen in the real world.

TonyG
Reply to  Trying to Play Nice
March 4, 2021 4:32 pm

I remember that episode. It wasn’t ingenuity, it was explosives, that finally got it to explode. The myth under examination was exploding cars. The myth was solidly busted.

Redge
Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 4, 2021 8:39 am

Yes, they do – it’s called a full petrol tank.

Please provide a link to show parked ICE vehicles spontaneously combusting

DMacKenzie
Reply to  Redge
March 4, 2021 12:33 pm

search “car catches fire” on UTub urself….

Redge
Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 4, 2021 12:46 pm

There are no examples of parked ICE vehicles spontaneously catching fire.

EV’s do spontaneously catch fire.

Don’t talk bullshit

DMacKenzie
Reply to  Redge
March 4, 2021 1:00 pm

You assume Li batteries spontaneously combust when actually a short circuit causes the fire…same as most of the burning cars on UTub.

Gregg Eshelman
Reply to  Redge
March 4, 2021 5:03 pm

I’ve seen trucks catch fire from debris accumulated around their exhaust manifolds or catalytic converters. Tends to happen to farm trucks and ones used off road in tall grass.

RM25483
Reply to  Redge
March 4, 2021 6:29 pm

Instead of resorting to unpleasantries, how about performing the suggested search?
I remember BMW recalling 1 million vehicles due to concerns regarding their vehicles, parked, spontaneously catching fire.

Redge
Reply to  RM25483
March 4, 2021 11:22 pm

I did not know that.

I stand corrected.

MarkW
Reply to  RM25483
March 5, 2021 8:27 am

In that case, the fault was in the electrical system, not the gas tank.
Had the same fault existed in electric cars, the resulting fire would still have ignited the battery.

MarkW
Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 5, 2021 8:26 am

What happens is that the car catches fire, and eventually the fire reaches the gas tank and starts boiling the gas inside. The vapors come out and add to the already existing fires.

MarkW
Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 4, 2021 11:39 am

Gasoline only ignites when it’s VAPORS are in a narrow range in the atmosphere.
Getting gasoline to explode is very, very difficult.
Even Hollywood stunt experts have to prepare their “explosions” carefully to make sure they go off as planned. (What you see in Hollywood explosions, is not explosions, but rather gas that has been vaporized and a small fraction of it burns.

Crispin Pemberton-Pigott
Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 4, 2021 1:48 pm

Per kg, gasoline can release about 7 times as much energy as a kg of dynamite. The big difference is the burning speed. Gasoline is deliberately slow burning to avoid detonation.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Rudi
March 4, 2021 10:05 am

Love that. Now imagine the “intersection” of that smart policy with the EU mandate that all cars be electric in the near future. Guess you can have your EV, you just won’t have any place to park it when you get where you’re going. LMAO.

Dennis
Reply to  Rudi
March 4, 2021 6:54 pm

Germany also has a restriction on recharging periods each day because the electricity grid cannot cope, so called renewables and destabilisation considerations.

Pauleta
March 4, 2021 6:35 am

My neighbour has a Tesla that he parks inside. Don’t give me nightmare fuel!

Sparko
March 4, 2021 6:37 am

And what happens when a fire starts as it undoubtedly will in these battery banks that are going to blight the landscape ?. Evacuate a town, maybe a city.

jtom
Reply to  Sparko
March 4, 2021 6:23 pm

What a good target for terrorists!

Prjindigo
March 4, 2021 6:40 am

You actually can extinguish them but then you have to hospitalize anybody nearby and dig up a 20 foot radius three feet deep around the fire and scrape 3 feet deep all the way downhill where the chemicals you used flowed away.

gringojay
Reply to  Prjindigo
March 4, 2021 7:40 am

Dig for Gaia’s sake is the new imperative.

AAB899C0-5103-4D4E-9213-CE2D5E4945F0.jpeg
2hotel9
Reply to  gringojay
March 4, 2021 8:06 am

Nice image, yoink!

rah
Reply to  Prjindigo
March 4, 2021 7:40 am

That foam is a proven carcinogen.

rah
Reply to  rah
March 4, 2021 8:03 am

Correction. Fire fighting foam is suspected carcinogen.

Don Thompson
Reply to  rah
March 4, 2021 8:17 am

Sort of correct. AFFF contained PFOAs as surfactants, but the foams are being reformulated to eliminate fluorinated compounds. The environments around air force bases and other places where training to fight fuel fires has been conducted are often quite contaminated. The effort to find substitutes for fluorinated repellency treatments and other applications of fluorinated compounds is a very active research area at the present.

rah
Reply to  Don Thompson
March 4, 2021 8:33 am

Then how is my correction “sort of correct”? If they haven’t changed the formulation to get rid of the PFOA’s then it is still suspected carcinogen. Saying it’s just the surfactant is hair splitting. When Roundup got nailed it wasn’t the Glyphosate that was targeted it was Roundup period!

JP Kalishek
Reply to  rah
March 4, 2021 8:29 am

depends greatly on the foam

Ian W
Reply to  Prjindigo
March 4, 2021 12:17 pm

Foam will not extinguish a Lithium battery fire. All the energy is in the battery attempting to smother the fire will not work and indeed can make things worse as it may allow the burning battery cells to heat the neighboring cells and cause them to explode earlier. The advice is to flush the burning battery with cold water (not ice cubes) to cool the burning parts. Flight attendants on aircraft now have large containment bags that can be filled with water and a burning laptop or cell phone. Immersion in water works well but is difficult to achieve with a car on a road.

rah
Reply to  Ian W
March 5, 2021 5:29 am

Hmmm. One of the big
reasons for the innovation of the foam for fighting aircraft fires was the fact that since WWII the use of magnesium in their construction has been common.

Even as far back as mid 50s when “Tex” Johnson was test flying the -80 prototype of what would become the 707 they were using foam for to fight or prevent aircraft fires.

Barnes Moore
March 4, 2021 6:44 am

How many Tesla’s or other EV’s with lithium batteries have caught fire? I am not a fan of EV’s, but am curious on how much of a danger this really is. Is it one in a million, or one one in a thousand?

Barnes Moore
Reply to  John Tillman
March 4, 2021 8:19 am

Thanks John!

Bill Parsons
Reply to  John Tillman
March 4, 2021 12:11 pm

Link says: “There were 189,500 highway vehicle fires in the United States in 2019, according to the National Fire Protection Association, encompassing passenger and other types of road-going vehicles. Experts say electric cars catch fire at a similar rate to gas cars, if not less often.”

…Must mean around 90,000 EV fires in 2019. Funny there’s not more coverage if they’re that hard to put out. No, I haven’t Googled. 

MarkW
Reply to  Bill Parsons
March 5, 2021 8:32 am

If you examine each of those vehicle fires, you will find that none of them started in the gas tank. They were all either electrical fires, or from leaking gasoline after an accident.

In the case of the electrical fire, that fire would eventually cook off the battery.
In the case of the accident, the damage caused by the collision would be enough to cause the battery to self ignite.

I would love to know how you calculated that there would be 90K EV fires in 2019. Given that there are well over 100 times as many gas powered cars as there are EVs.

Redge
Reply to  Barnes Moore
March 4, 2021 8:41 am

Cars will catch fire.

Modern cars are less likely to catch fire without a reason.

Shouldn’t the argument be about ICE v EV spontaneous combustion?

nickc
Reply to  Redge
March 4, 2021 10:43 am

You can put out an ICE fire but not a EV fire.

drednicolson
Reply to  nickc
March 4, 2021 3:53 pm

And you can separate the fuel from the ignition source in an ICE.

Racing fuel ignites and burns much faster than ordinary gasoline, so race cars have, as a required safety feature, a kill-switch within easy access of the driver and/or first responders, to cut off all electrical connections from the battery and alternator. To minimize the chance of fire in the event of a wreck.

Steven F
Reply to  Barnes Moore
March 4, 2021 10:30 pm

This is agood article:
https://money.cnn.com/2018/05/17/news/companies/electric-car-fire-risk/index.html
in 2018 300,000 Tesla EVs had been driven 7.5 billion mies and there were 40 fires. For conventional cars for ever billion miles driven there are on average 55 fire.

Basically EVs are new and as a result every time a EV catches fire there is a news story. However for conventional cars there is a rfire about once every 3 minutes. There are so many gasoline car fires that no one writes a news story unless something very unusual happens.

2hotel9
Reply to  Steven F
March 6, 2021 12:02 pm

Mainly because they are usually electrical fires, not gasoline fires. Electrical fire in an EV is going to require different firefighting techniques and equipment, that is kinda the point here. Eloon Gantry should be paying for this training and equipment since he wants to be the one putting EVs all over the country and world, he has the money.

dodgy geezer
March 4, 2021 6:49 am

Storing large amounts of energy is ALWAYS a dangerous business – no matter what form it’s in. You don’t want to be living close to a large flywheel, or downstream of a dam.

This is the fundamental problem with energy storage for renewable generators. Whatever storage system you use, storing enough energy to run a country is always going to be a risky process…

Enginer01
Reply to  dodgy geezer
March 4, 2021 7:18 am

I always think of the Ford Pinto plastic gas tank positioned BEHIND the rear axle. A classic example of cost-benefit analysis gone wrong.
In our case, when we position government subsidies ahead of practicality, we get an occasional fire.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Enginer01
March 4, 2021 10:22 am

In our case, when we position government subsidies ahead of practicality, we get an occasional fire.

Oh, but we get so much more!

  • Unreliable electric grid;
  • Rolling blackouts;
  • People freezing to death in the dark in extremely cold temperatures due to power failures
  • High electricity prices;
  • High heating prices;
  • High transport fuel prices;
  • Higher prices for food, both due to higher prices of production and higher prices of transport and refrigeration (where needed);
  • Higher prices for everything else, because everything requires energy for its raw material extraction, transport and refinement of raw materials, manufacture, storage; transport to point of sale, shipping to end user, etc.;
  • People unnecessarily choosing between “heating” and “eating”;

And all to achieve…

Absolutely nothing!

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Enginer01
March 4, 2021 10:59 pm

I think of the bumper sticker I saw on more than a few Ford Pintos, which read: “Caution: Flammable.”

Thomho
Reply to  dodgy geezer
March 4, 2021 8:34 pm

Dodgy geezer is right re flywheels I worked at Ford Australia in the early sixties evaluating a major expansion and rehabilitation investment program The rehab part was required because parts of the engine plant and stamping facility had been capitalized in the 1930’s but kept running for the war effort until one day a flywheel disintegrated sending large chunks of metal spinning at speed down the length of the factory fortunately missing the workers
Thomho

MarkW
Reply to  Thomho
March 5, 2021 8:35 am

Ever watch the show BattleBots?

Watching a bot with a large spinner have one side lift up because the driver tried to turn it too fast while the spinner was at speed, would be enough to prove that putting a large flywheel is not a good idea.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  MarkW
March 5, 2021 4:48 pm

Favorite show. Love the destruction but what is most impressive is the demonstrations of kinetic energy.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  dodgy geezer
March 4, 2021 10:58 pm

Thanks, dodgy geezer, for stating what should be obvious – but apparently isn’t.

Albert H Brand
March 4, 2021 6:53 am

When I replaced my iPhone battery I first ran it down so it had no charge left. Then I removed it from iPhone. Boy, that adhesive really held. The battery was quite distorted by the time it was free. I was afraid of internal shorting. No fires.

commieBob
Reply to  Albert H Brand
March 4, 2021 8:17 am

Thank you for that useful information. I’m currently working on some very expensive equipment where the circuit boards are held in place by adhesives. I’m having to be quite creative. Grrr!

Back in the day … the rule was that electronic equipment had to be repairable. As a result, you could get schematics for anything. Now the cell phone makers bend over backwards to make sure you can’t even replace a battery. They want you to throw out a perfectly good phone and buy a new one for a thousand bucks.

The Right to Repair movement is still alive. Some manufacturers have this distorted view that you don’t actually own your own stuff. It’s one of the reasons I am a big supporter of Free and Open Source Software.

Spetzer86
Reply to  commieBob
March 4, 2021 9:20 am

Just imagine how irritating that is for a modern farmer: https://foodtank.com/news/2021/01/farmers-fight-for-right-to-repair-their-own-equipment/

Bruce
Reply to  commieBob
March 4, 2021 11:00 am

I have seen dry ice used to freeze the adhesive bonding two parts, thereby making it brittle enough so the two parts could be separated using a putty knife.

ozspeaksup
Reply to  commieBob
March 5, 2021 3:50 am

Ive fixed a few KOBO units with the thinpack batteries glued in and the throwaway hplaptops with the onboard drives, same type of battery but larger
a hairdryer on low carefully used and then an old credit card to slide under and gently lever the batteries out works rather well, you may have to work slowly from edges inwards but its safer than using a heatgun

Benjamin DAMIEN
March 4, 2021 6:55 am

That’s how we do it in Europe: Put the whol car in a container filled with water:
Smoking BMW i8 Dumped In Water By Firefighters (motor1.com)

nickc
Reply to  Benjamin DAMIEN
March 4, 2021 10:47 am

How about if it’s in a parking garage?

Keith
March 4, 2021 6:55 am

Not sure if this works for Lithium, but magnesium is pretty much the same way. in fact Magnesium can steal the oxygen from water and sand ( silicon and aluminum oxides ) and burn that. So the only thing that works is zirconium sand. But you’d need a truckload for a car! $$$$

Graemethecat
Reply to  Keith
March 4, 2021 8:50 am

Lithium reacts vigorously with silicon dioxide (glass), but the products of combustion (lithium oxide and silicon) are involatile. In labs where they handle lithium metal, sand is the only material recommended for extinguishing lithium fires.

Martin Hobbs
Reply to  Keith
March 6, 2021 11:01 am

Put myself through university in Canada working summers in a local foundry that was the first in North America to introduce magnesium die casting for the NA auto industry. Lucky me got to fed the magnesium die casting machine that we imported from Italy. All by hand, firing metre long ingots of magnesium into the melt pot while standing on top of a metal roof over the melt pot where there was a foot operated load port smack in the middle of said roof. A nitrogen blanket was maintained over the surface of the melt pot to prevent the molten magnesium and the oxygen in the air meeting. Hence the need for a roof. The other metal melt pots I worked with were also top fed but needed no roof as they were molten zinc and aluminum.

Unfortunately feeding the magenisium ingots into the melt pot meant disturbing that nitrogen blanket. One ingot at a time, wait for a bit and feed in the next ingot no problem. Get lazy and try firing off three ingots in a row and the nitrogen blanket doesn’t reform in time by the third ingot and you get that lovely white flame shooting back out at you from the loading port. Plus, you could only stand still for a short period of time on that roof before the soles of your work boots started to melt. We called it doing the Magnesium Shuffle. Fun times.

John Tillman
March 4, 2021 6:58 am

The Li in batteries is liquid rather than metal, so their B-class fires should be fought with ABC or BC extinguishers.

Here’s an ad for a product claiming to work on Li battery fires:

https://www.avdfire.com/

On a burning Tesla, maybe not so much.

Last edited 1 month ago by John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
March 4, 2021 7:17 am

AVD fire extinguisher videos

May be not easy to find for non German speakers

John Tillman
Reply to  Krishna Gans
March 4, 2021 7:39 am

Good point.

But there’s always translation software.

Jim G
Reply to  John Tillman
March 5, 2021 9:03 am

Class B is incorrect.

Metal fires are class D.

Water merely removes the heat from the existing chemical reaction to prevent cascade. The reaction continues until one component is consumed.

Coach Springer
March 4, 2021 7:05 am

Between this and self-driving software, Elon must think he’s got some good lawyers. Or politicians.

Rich Lambert
March 4, 2021 7:12 am

Here is a link to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study that provides information on lithium battery risks. https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/Documents/SR2001.pdf

rah
March 4, 2021 7:15 am

Sounds to me that where ever lithium battery powered EVs come into general use the insurance rates for anyplace they are parked. stored, or worked on are going to sky rocket and that detached garages will come back into vouge.

JohnC
March 4, 2021 7:16 am

Water would make it worse as the hot lithium would cause water to dissociate into oxygen and hydrogen. (Not as violent as potassium and water). Carbon dioxide (oh the irony) may work but I don’t know whether lithium would react with it. A heavy inert gas would help, but there would have to be an exclusion zone. Of course there’s an alternative which would be to cause the vehicle to explode using a very reactive gas such as fluorine. Could iodine be used to smother the lithium?

rah
Reply to  JohnC
March 4, 2021 7:42 am

Is what we are getting at here is that lithium, like magnesium burns under water?

Graemethecat
Reply to  JohnC
March 4, 2021 8:52 am

See my post above. Sand is probably the only way of extinguishing lithium and magnesium fires.

Flight Level
March 4, 2021 7:21 am

We are all members of “community volunteer firemen” brigades. A cool way to maintain old village traditions, regularly meet, sometimes pump-out a flooded basement or put down a trash container on fire. However we get “qualification sessions” by the “pros”.

Call the “pros” comes first. Don respirator. An electric car should not be approached until a “pro” has disabled the battery. If on fire and no one can be safely pulled with hi-voltage perches/hooks/isolation gloves, rubber blanket on the ground, then keep public away from fumes and spot-spray where propagation of fire seems to occur to other cars/property.

A dump-truck of sand besides, there’s not much to do until it all consumes.

Also when fires occur in houses with solar cells, do not direct flood/searchlights there as it makes things worse.

Real-estate with autonomous batteries is in a register. A few business buildings with fireproof battery chambers aside, we have no such privately owned setups.

Mr.
Reply to  Flight Level
March 4, 2021 8:26 am

All EVs should have a large prominent decal displayed on the doors.
It just has Red Adair’s phone number.

TonyL
Reply to  Mr.
March 4, 2021 9:00 am

“It just has Red Adair’s phone number.”

Put out the fire by using a large quantity of high explosive and blasting the burning unit to smithereens.
1) Effective
2) Fun!!!

Richard Brimage
March 4, 2021 7:25 am

I worked in an industrial setting with lithium batteries. Our safety procedures were to never use water on lithium battery fires. Only use Lith X fire extinguishers or alternatively sodium bicarbonate.

ResourceGuy
Reply to  Richard Brimage
March 4, 2021 11:23 am

Shake n bake

March 4, 2021 7:31 am

Then you could fill the sarcophagus with an inert gas like Argon, or just wait for the oxygen to run out.

I think that you will find that lithium batteries, once caught fire, will burn in a vacuum.

Of all the various lithium-ion batteries, these guys have the greatest energy density, which is why they’re currently the batteries found in our phones, digital cameras and laptops. Their drawback is their thermal instability. Their anodes can overheat and, at high temperatures, the cobalt oxide cathode can decompose, producing oxygen. If you combine oxygen and heat, you’ve got a pretty good chance of starting a fire and, as the chemicals sometimes used in the electrolyte solution, such as diethyl carbonate, are flammable, there can be some safety issues with this battery.

Lithium-ion batteries

Scissor
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
March 4, 2021 10:55 am

Yes, most batteries contain both oxidants and reductants. Everything is already there for an exotherm, not to rule out oxygen from air joining the party.

Jim G
Reply to  Scissor
March 5, 2021 9:08 am

That will not stop the chemical reaction of a shorted cell.

Water is used to remove heat from the mostly closed cells.

The reaction will continue until the stored energy is liberated. Be it hours or days later.

JSMill
March 4, 2021 7:39 am

Sounds like a silica fire blanket MIGHT work – if fire squads had a few on the truck, big enough to drape over an entire car with plenty of apron on the ground to keep more air (and the water vapor therein) from feeding the fire … just a guess – I defer to anyone expert in such matters ….

Parker
March 4, 2021 7:46 am

The lithium here is not a metal, not elemental lithium, so the melting temperature doesn’t really matter. The Li is in a gel or paste electrolyte solution, so it’s weight really doesn’t matter either. It will not “float” to the top. Nonetheless these fires can be hard to fight, and then re-ignite without warning.

2hotel9
March 4, 2021 7:54 am

Was talking about this with our local Fire Chief/hunting buddy and some of the firemen, all of them have training for firefighting in refineries and chemical plants. All said the same, cordon off area and foam it till it burns out. They have experience with Li batteries in equipment in the local plants and have ordered AVD extinguishers that Mr Tillman linked to. Would have to have a bunch of them for vehicle size battery pacs, though they sell 25 and 50 liter size canisters. A bit pricey for a small town VFC.

Gordon A. Dressler
March 4, 2021 7:59 am

Good article, Eric, except for one major error: you wrote “Lithium melts at 180C / 356F, and burns at 2000C / 3632F – almost hot enough to melt steel . . .” (my bold emphasis added).

Multiple sources confirm that different carbon steels melt in the range of 1370-1540 C (2500-2800 F) and different stainless steel alloys melt in the range of 1400-1530 C (2550-2790 F).

Even high temperature, oxidation-resistant nickel-base metal alloys, such as Hastelloy and Inconel melt in the range of 1320-1425 C (2410-2600 F).

So, a lithium combustion temperature of 2000 C (3632 F) is significantly above the temperature at which steels and high-temperature nickel-base metal alloys melt.

One implication of this is that no metal container surrounding a lithium-based battery can contain lithium-oxygen combustion once it initiates inside a (breached) battery pack.

Last edited 1 month ago by Gordon A. Dressler
fretslider
March 4, 2021 8:14 am

What does your fire department do

Seemingly nothing other than laud the use of EVs.

The London Fire Brigade is fully on board.

London fire brigade, battery BMW chiefs car.

London fire brigade, battery BMW chiefs car. (firepics.net)

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  fretslider
March 4, 2021 10:50 am

Now the “spontaneous combustion” of an EV fire truck or Fire Chief’s vehicle, along with the entire fire house, due to their inability to put out the fire, would be a fitting way to show the sheer stupidity of EV fire vehicles.

Maybe another “skit” would be a woman watching her house burn to the ground because the fire truck battery went dead on the way over.

TonyG
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
March 4, 2021 11:31 am

How about the battery running out in the middle of pumping the water to put the fire out?

MarkW
Reply to  TonyG
March 5, 2021 8:37 am

How about the battery catching fire in the middle of trying to put out a fire?

TonyG
March 4, 2021 8:17 am

Class D extinguishers can help. Obviously, only for small fires. Problem is you have to watch out for reactivity.

There is a lot of discussion about this on various firefighter forums and websites. The general consensus is that there is a lot more training needed.

The problem with water and a metal like lithium is the chemical reaction. I haven’t dealt with lithium but I’ve had several magnesium fires – we have to use foam (there’s an agent that we mix with water in the pump) to get those under control, and also have to watch out to ensure the reaction doesn’t spark something nearby in the process. I would assume a similar approach would be the most likely approach for lithium.

A couple articles about it
https://www.firerescue1.com/fire-products/education/articles/what-is-a-fire-triangle-4HSY7X5xagWZR5KQ/
https://www.firerescue1.com/vehicle-fire/articles/ntsb-first-responders-need-more-guidance-on-vehicle-battery-fire-risks-4RIOOu6RogmU6qXr/

For more, hit “search” on that site and enter “lithium”. It’s definitely a concern, and it’s a growing one.

TonyG
Reply to  TonyG
March 4, 2021 8:20 am

Let me add one more link
https://www.firerescue1.com/electric-fire/articles/ntsb-us-fire-service-not-prepared-to-fight-electric-vehicle-fires-EvBZIyP7EA78muwc/

“Survey reveals one-third of departments don’t train on EV fires, half don’t have SOGs for them” – so half of US fire departments don’t have any guidance on what to do when they encounter this. I can say from experience that rural volunteer departments are even less prepared than the average.

2hotel9
Reply to  TonyG
March 4, 2021 8:46 am

We are lucky where I live, three refineries/chem processing plants in the valley and most of the firemen here work in the plants, or did in past. Lot of training for various materials and situations. Plus several are AF and Navy vets who specialized in firefighting and damage control. We will give it the old school try, at least.

Harri Luuppala
March 4, 2021 8:21 am

Lithium battery fire has three main components:

  1. The fire – all material in the battery and e.g. the car
  2. All energy charged to the battery (short circuit to sparks and heat)
  3. Hydrogen from reaction 2 Li(s) + 2 H2O -> 2 LiOH (aq) + H2(g) and each kilogram of LiOH (Lithium Hydroxide) creates 2800 liters (!!) hydrogen gas! (s=solid, aq=soluble in water).

Image attached from Denmark where they use special containers to dump the burning ”teslas”.

9DD94C26-F45C-49DD-9042-A887FCC2EC7F.jpeg
Last edited 1 month ago by Harri Luuppala
TonyL
Reply to  Harri Luuppala
March 4, 2021 9:07 am

By the looks of it, that car is a BMW. Almost completely submerged in a dumpster full of water.
That BMW cost how much?
And it is now worth?????
So much for Virtue Signaling.
Virtue.
Signaled.

Jim Zott
March 4, 2021 8:32 am

while Li Ion can be pretty energetic… the other larger concern is where do you cut without causing a large discharge from cutting the wrong electrical lines. it becomes problematic to extract victims when you have to determine which car and where to cut. There is limited standardization where they run the high voltage lines. A nice thing is that battery packs being so bulky are usually in a limited number of locations. https://www.firehouse.com/rescue/vehicle-extrication/article/12383749/university-of-extrication-electric-plugin-vehicle-stabilization-part-1-firefighter-training

TonyG
Reply to  Jim Zott
March 4, 2021 10:11 am

I mentioned this in response to Eric on another article – yes, extrication with EVs is a horror to deal with. Standard practices like cutting the posts to roll back the roof can be very dangerous for the reasons you mention, and it’s practically impossible to go through the bottom of the car if you had to. For firefighters, EVs are an absolute nightmare in every possible way.

JoeG
March 4, 2021 8:49 am

You just have to remove the O2. They have sprays that do that. Smother the car in that stuff and it should go out.

Philip
Reply to  JoeG
March 4, 2021 9:27 am

You are assuming that it is just something burnin, like a log in your fireplace.
There are other chemical reactions which produce lots of heat without oxidation, or cause secondary reactions to disassociate oxygen from other materials (such as water).

TonyG
Reply to  JoeG
March 4, 2021 10:25 am

Would you please tell me where we’re going to put that “spray” so that we have it when we roll up on an EV fire? In sufficient quantities to “smother” it?

And as Philip notes, with these sort of substances it’s not quite that simple. You’re thinking in terms of the fire triangle, but it’s a fire tetrahedron – you have to include chemical reactions.

Scissor
Reply to  JoeG
March 4, 2021 10:59 am

Not true. See Philip Mulholland’s comment above.

markl
March 4, 2021 9:26 am

When you consider all the Li-Ion batteries in use throughout the world today the number of fires is minimal (but with a lot of press coverage). Phones, vaporizers, laptops, tools, toys, drones, robots, vehicles, and on and on. But also considering how many Li-Ion batteries go into to a vehicle battery pack the proliferation of those batteries will be geometric. A solution to Li-Ion fires is needed.

PMHinSC
March 4, 2021 9:31 am

Perhaps I missed it in above comments, but will Li batters in a Tesla catch fire in a garage from a house fire. The above discussion seems to be about the fire starting at the batters not about a fire starting external to the car.

TonyL
Reply to  PMHinSC
March 4, 2021 10:24 am

The answer is YES.
Heat up a Lithium battery and it absolutely will cook off and start burning on its own.

TonyG
Reply to  PMHinSC
March 4, 2021 10:38 am

Good point. And we go in there with our hoses not knowing it’s an EV we end up making things worse…

alastair gray
March 4, 2021 9:39 am

We have a Yahoo nearby that zaps up an down the River Thames on his electric hydrosurfer. It is a magic piece of kit – a surfboard with a mtor, pro[pellor and hydrofopil under water When it is up on teh plane it zaps along at 30 miles an hour carving turns like a skier. The speed limit is 3 knots .

. He is a nice bloke and we pass the time of day when I am in my kayak or dinghy and as long as there is only one of him its OK but heaven save the other river users if it becomes mainstream. Anyway a couple of weeks ago he was charging his battery when teh whole lot went up and took out his houseboat and for good measure the adjacent one

Max P
March 4, 2021 10:17 am

How do you Extinguish a Lithium Battery Fire?

With great difficulty.

Max P

ResourceGuy
March 4, 2021 10:32 am

You could say the same about policy fires–you can try and throw cold water on it.

If it’s hot enough it will continue to burn and you have to let it burn itself out at your expense. You may also have to detour your life and job around the fire. And when they tell you that you need to learn to code, then you will know you are toast.

March 4, 2021 10:43 am

The answer you are looking for is F500 Encapsulator Agent manufactured and supplied by Hazard Control Technologies, Inc. This statement can be backed up with 10 years of documented fire suppression testing on Lithium Ion Battery. In addition to the F500 Encapsulation Agent we provide complete Lithium Ion Battery fire suppression. Solution including Fire Extinguishers, Mobile Carts, Quick Attack Mobile Unit as well as multiple fixed sprinkler installation with major companies such as Tesla, GM, Jaguar, BMW, Bosch, Element, Panasonic, etc.

markl
Reply to  Michael Greiner
March 4, 2021 12:40 pm

F500 Encapsulator Agent – Looks promising. How is it delivered to the fire source? How much would it take to stop and EV runaway fire?

Reply to  markl
March 5, 2021 7:09 am

First, F500EA is not a foam. F500EA is an Encapsulator Agent. Two totally different technologies. At the request of Tesla Europe, HCT Europe in conjunction with Johnson Controls (largest single fire protection supplier in the world, largest Foam manufacturer in the world, own Tyco, Ansul, Chemguard, Williams Fire & Hazard Control) performed fire extinguisher certification testing on Lithium Ion Battery (LIB). Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher, Foam Fire Extinguisher, and F500EA (Encapsulator Technology) Fire ExtinguIsher were test in LIB. Testing was conducted by Kiwa in the Netherland (Test facility was dictated by Tesla Europe). The results were documented is a report. Fire extinguisher testing was videoed. Below is a link to the video of side by side of Dry Powder, Foam, and F500EA fire extinguisher.(you will need to copy and paste the URL into your browser)

After this testing, Johnson Control teamed up with Hazard Control Technologies to create EN3 listed fire extinguishers to bring to both parties Lithium Ion Battery clients. In addition both companies have continued joint effort to run additional University level, highly instrumented & documented LIB fire fire extinguishment utilizing F500EA. The latest test is discussed below.

F500EA concentrate is proportioned into water at 3%. F500EA is readily sold to fire department as the next generation of fire suppression (fluorine free replacement to foam with much more versatile applications. It is proportioned into the fire hose stream using standard fire equipment such as inline educators round the pump proportioned, etc. F500EA is also provided in stand alone systems such fire extinguisher, mobile carts, quick attack mobile units (QAMU) as well as proportioned into fixed sprinkler systems such as bladder tanks, water driven proportioners. In the latest highly documented University testing conducted in Germany F500EA solution extinguished the Lithium Ion Batter using misting type nozzle with only 4 @ 5 sec bursts of agent application. First 5 second burst took temp from 1400 C to 400 C and knocked down 95% of flame. There was a wait of 30 seconds prior to second 5 sec burst. During that time no new flame was created. After the second 5 sec burst all flame was gone and the temp went from 400 C down to 80 C. Then there was a 3 minute wait to the third 5 second burst. No new flame, no increase in temp. After 3rd burst temp from 80 C to 40 C In addition the test documented the Encapsulation of Highly toxic HF off gas and flammable electrolyte. How F500EA stops LIB thermal run away is through two mechanisms; 1) Encapsulation of flammable electrolytes within Encapsulator Agent Spherical Micelle (chemical/molecular separation of the fuel from the oxygen as opposed to foam which is a mechanical/macro separation of fuel from the oxygen). 2) couple with the rapid and Perten ant heat reduction. Get rid of the heat … get rid of the fire … get rid of thermal runaway.

markl
Reply to  Michael Greiner
March 5, 2021 8:27 am

Impressive. I’m surprised this isn’t better known and should be readily available at suspect locations (like airports) and on fire trucks.

Alex
March 4, 2021 10:54 am

Hieve the whole car into a container filled with water and transport it to a waste place.
There, wait until it burns through. A week or so.
After that, it becomes a toxic waste.
Tesla has to handle it finally.
Shoot to Mars?

nickc
March 4, 2021 10:54 am

Add to the mix, hybrid vehicles.

AGW is Not Science
March 4, 2021 10:59 am

Park it in Al Gore’s garage and wait till it stops burning?

Seems only fair to let the Climate Fascists suffer the fallout from their agenda.

Mario Lento
March 4, 2021 10:59 am

Steel melts under 2,800F.

ResourceGuy
March 4, 2021 11:08 am

Call it a fusion power experiment and get a grant for it.

Mike Rossander
March 4, 2021 11:16 am

I’m not sure why your local fire chief doesn’t think much of chemical extinguishers because they work exactly like your proposed sarcophagus. It just takes kind of a lot of chemical foam. As in, you need a dedicated foam truck, not just a hand-held extinguisher jammed in a spare corner of your regular fire truck. Airports have used foam trucks for decades.

While you shouldn’t go swimming in the foam for fun, it’s no worse than many other industrial chemicals that we use safely all the time.

lackawaxen123
March 4, 2021 11:43 am

nuke it from orbit … its the only way to be sure …

2hotel9
Reply to  lackawaxen123
March 4, 2021 11:57 am

Game over, man, game over!

Doug Ferguson
March 4, 2021 11:44 am

I posted this WUWT article as a concern on an RV manufacturers’s owner’s blog (T@B Teardrop Trailers) I belong to, that as with WUWT. has fairly objective and polite responses. One of the comments referenced this article on the newer Lithium Iron (LiFePO4) batteries that are supposed to be cheaper and safer.

https://www.newcastlesys.com/blog/lithium-ion-vs-lithium-iron-batteries

Anyone on WUWT have comments and/or experience?

Fergie

John Hardy
Reply to  Doug Ferguson
March 4, 2021 1:03 pm

Yes I have tested lithiu iron phosphate (LFP) for some years. Eric has a fair point but he messed up on the physics – no metalic lithium. LFP has highest thermal runaway temperature and lowest energy release if it does happen. I’ve never seen a battery fire and don’t expect to

Steven F
Reply to  Doug Ferguson
March 4, 2021 11:02 pm

most lithium battery fires start when the battery cell case is mahanically damaged. This cases a short circuit in the battery. The heat breaks down other components of the battery releasing oxygen. The battery basically goes into thermal run away. heat causes damage and more heat, which causes more damage and more heat.

LiFepO4 batteries are thermally stable so mechanical damage to the battery will not cause thermal run away. if a short occurs the battery gets hot for a minute or two than then runs out of power and than starts to cool down.

Unfortunately LiFePO4 batteries have a lower energy density than the more frequently used Lithium batteries. So most electric cars don’t use LiFePO4 batteries.

Data Soong
March 4, 2021 12:24 pm

Here is what Tesla themselves have to say about it: “. If the battery catches fire, is exposed to high heat, or is generating heat or gases, use large amounts of water to cool the battery. It can take approximately 3,000 gallons (11,356 liters) of water, applied directly to the battery, to fully extinguish and cool down a battery fire; always establish or request an additional water supply. … Battery fires can take up to 24 hours to extinguish. Consider allowing the battery to burn while protecting exposures.” taken from https://www.tesla.com/sites/default/files/downloads/2016_Model_S_Emergency_Response_Guide_en.pdf

Pat Frank
March 4, 2021 12:37 pm

Lithium metal reacts vigorously with water, yielding hydrogen gas. So, you’d never *ever* want to put water on a lithium fire. Water only makes the fire worse.

Covering with sand is in fact a good way to put out a lithium fire. But you need lots of sand. It smothers the fire by preventing oxygen ingress.

Anything else that will smother a fire can also be used. However, halogenated foams are not good because lithium metal will react with them, too. Though more slowly than with water.

People are now working on sodium metal batteries. They’ll only be much more flammable than lithium.

Steven F
Reply to  Pat Frank
March 4, 2021 11:18 pm

YEs when lithium react with water you get hydrogen gas which leaks of to the atmosphere. The lithium turns to lithium hydroxide which will no longer react with water. Furthermore the oxygen that fuels the lithium fire in the battery comes from the battery itself. Not the air. So smothering a battery in sand will not stop a battery fire.

And there really isn’t that much lithium in car batteries. A 70KWH battery weighs 453Kg but only has 63Kg of lithium. Tesla says to use about 3000 gallons of water which weighs 1000Kg. In a EV car crash very few of the battery cells in the battery pack are actually damaged and burning. Using 3000gallons of water you prevent the undamaged batteries from getting hot which would prevent the fire from spreading. And the few batteries that are during will rapidly run out of energy and the fire will go out.

John Hardy
March 4, 2021 12:52 pm

Eric – your point is a fair one but you have the physics entirely wrong. There is no free lithium metal in a battery fire. It is more serious that that. A lithium ion cell can experience a “thermal runaway” where, if it is heated to a high enough temperature, a complex exothermic reaction starts that is self sustaining and produces it’s own oxygen.

Not nice, but in principle not worse that this crazy business of riding around sitting on a large quantity of flammable liquid: conventional car fires are more likely than EV fires

MarkW
Reply to  John Hardy
March 5, 2021 8:46 am

There are two ways for a gasoline fire to start in a ICE.
1) Mechanical damage to the tank causes leakage AND the fuel finds an ignition source.
2) An electric fault causes a fire that reaches the tank.

There are three ways for a battery fire to start in an EV.
1) Mechanical damage to the battery. (No need for an ignition source)
2) An electric fault causes a fire that reaches the battery.
3) A fault in the battery causes over heating that starts the fire.

The claim that EV’s are less likely to catch fire is a myth started by EV proponents.

The article is about how do you put out battery fires once they start.

Hans
March 4, 2021 1:02 pm

Fabulous thread. Now duly informed.

Crispin Pemberton-Pigott
March 4, 2021 1:28 pm

If I had to design a system I would start with a ceramic blanket. Such a material can take the heat – in certain grades. With electric cars becoming common, they should map a strategy to create such a device. It should be a large tent-like structure or a large enough oval to easily cover a full sized car. It will quickly run out of oxygen – if it really is required to react. It might react with something else. 

About the “2000 degrees C”. That may be a theoretical number. I’d like to see come measurements. Carbon monoxide burns at 2100 C which is why you have a blue flame floating over the BBQ coals. But good luck trying to heat something above 1200 without blowing (hard) on it. 

As a former race track marshall I would be more worried about magnesium on fire than lithium. Magnesium basically can’t be extinguished with anything you can get your hands on. We had a bucket of a sand-like material on each corner that we were instructed to sprinkle around the magnesium that would prevent it spreading. Then we just watch it burn, but not too closely. 

If, in the interests of lightness, someone made a mainly magnesium framed car with lithium batteries, would the combination burn in the absence of air?  Bored firemen want to know such things. Good article. It is making me think. What happens if small scale PV systems are placed willy-nilly in a squatter community with no proper spacing between structures, what happens when there is an inevitable fire?  A candle, an electrical short…anything. 

A few days ago an informal settlement near Cape Town burned 400 homes. Two weeks ago it was 1000 on the other side of the peninsula.

If each one had a PV system with storage what would have happened?

MrGimNasty
March 4, 2021 1:50 pm

Automated mega-warehouses use lithium battery powered robot ‘pickers’. This happened to Ocado in the UK.

They made various excuses regarding sprinklers and procedures, but of course the truth is that once a lithium battery pack has ignited, it’s all but unstoppable.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-48094801

https://www.fire-magazine.com/robot-wars-future-firefighting-challenge-arrives-today

Ed wolfe
March 4, 2021 1:53 pm

there was a very large fire on one of the Hawaii islands a few years ago
one of the earliest attempts at wind power stowage
as I remember it did not go well
t

Mike Ozanne
March 4, 2021 3:14 pm

Foam Blanket like an Airframe/Avtur fire?

Eamon Butler
March 4, 2021 3:50 pm

A few years ago, I accidently punctured a LiIon battery, that was jammed in a camera. So just a small cell. It ignited straight away and nearly burned the hand off me. I literally threw it out the door into the yard and it burned away for a while before going out.
I think, the consequences of this issue for EVs will impact on insurance premiums and will probably have restrictions where one can park. Many places won’t allow them in enclosed, underground or high rise parks.
Not sure if this has come to your notice already.
https://notrickszone.com/2021/02/16/vw-hybrid-car-explodes-bursts-into-flames-22-fire-brigades-to-extinguish-hazardous-battery-fire/?fbclid=IwAR3l-iNLzIMUu1XD70rN96sTOY1mbIZyxt2x-ywnUe-qLwi4d96RhnAsDx4

ResourceGuy
March 4, 2021 3:56 pm

It seems like only yesterday I was watching nice reviews of the Chevy Bolt. The reports of battery fires in Bolts came later.

Bob in Castlemaine
March 4, 2021 3:58 pm

I recall the Boeing 787 Dreamliner had a problem with a hot/burning lithium emergency battery. I don’t know exactly how the problem was overcome but apparently Boeing changed/fire proofed the battery enclosure in some way.
https://simpleflying.com/boeing-787-battery-problems-overcome/
One method I saw on a US video for dealing with vehicle lithium battery fires is to put the whole car into a large open trough filled with water. It didn’t show this contraption in use.

ATheoK
March 4, 2021 4:55 pm

One of the few things NOAA may actually get correct.

Lithium:

Air & Water Reactions

Highly flammable.

Is readily ignited by and reacts with most extinguishing agents such as water, carbon dioxide, and carbon tetrachloride [Mellor 2, Supp 2:71. 1961].

Reacts with water to form caustic lithium hydroxide and hydrogen gas (H2).

Lithium is spontaneously flammable in air if heated to 180°C if the surface of the metal is clean.”

We sort of covered these topics the last time WUWT discussed lithium batteries and lithium battery fires.

  • Use lead acid batteries; in a severe crash there is a strong likelihood of getting splashed by sulfuric acid.
  • Storing hydrogen is very risky, as i the use of hydrogen. Crush a tank of hydrogen in an accident is a very bad idea.
  • Lithium batteries are wonderful; they are light, full of energy and rechargeable. That is, until the lithium is exposed to contaminants, flammables, water, oxygen and many other sources of oxygen like CO₂!

Leftists are willing to endanger anyone to get their EV dream.

The local PBS station has been showing wayback film clips. Including a clip of a guy who turned a Triumph Herald into an EV by stuffing it with lead acid batteries.

Gregg Eshelman
March 4, 2021 5:06 pm

Steel doesn’t *melt* at 1500F but it has lost about 50% of its strength at that temperature. (Plenty weak enough for a building to collapse.) Lithium burning at 2000+ F will melt steel.

But certain people (specifically 9/11 conspiracy idjits) refuse to learn the most basic things about metals.

kzb
March 4, 2021 6:08 pm

I think there is a basic flaw in this thread. Do Li-Ion batteries contain ANY metallic lithium?

GregK
Reply to  kzb
March 4, 2021 11:26 pm

No, but they contain flammable electrolytes

ATheoK
Reply to  kzb
March 5, 2021 7:58 pm

Yes!

Cell Internal Structure

Similarly to a lead-acid cell, a LiFePO4 battery cell is formed of positive plates (cathode), negative plates (anode), porous insulating separators preventing them from shorting out, and a conductive liquid (electrolyte) surrounding them. The differences reside in the materials used and the fact that a lead-acid battery operates through chemical reactions transforming its components, whereas a lithium battery just relocates lithium ions during charge and discharge, leaving everything else in the battery largely unaltered.”

Lithium ions are pure lithium.

Cathode lithium ions are contained in an iron phosphate ceramic.

Anode lithium ions are captured in a graphite matrix.

http://nordkyndesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/LFP-internal.png

The electrolyte is formed of a lithium salt (lithium hexafluorophosphate, LiPF6 typically) dissolved into an organic solvent: some combination of ethylene carbonate, dimethyl carbonate, propylene carbonate with various other additives. This solvent is very flammable”

Once any part of the lithium is heated sufficiently to ignite, the lithium exothermic reaction will pull oxygen from all components.

kzb
Reply to  ATheoK
March 6, 2021 1:26 pm

I think you need to learn some basic chemistry. Sodium ions are pure sodium. Have you seen sodium burn ? Quite scary and like lithium burning in many ways.
Now, have you seen sodium chloride burn ? No you have not. That consists of sodium ions and chloride ions.
To portray the properties of a metallic lithium fire as somehow relevant in this article is utterly misleading and I suspect the author knows full well.

kzb
March 4, 2021 6:10 pm

Also, someone on here said he flattened a Li-Ion battery. This is exactly what NOT to do !

jtom
March 4, 2021 6:28 pm

Well, I suppose you could drop a ton of powdered graphite on it to smother the fire, but don’t ask me what you do next. Putting it out is extremely difficult; KEEPING it out is next to impossible. If the lithium is ever exposed to air, it will reignite.

I guess you could bury it in the same pits with scrapped wind turbine blades….

Dennis
March 4, 2021 6:51 pm

Commencing with New South Wales every State in Australia requires all EV must display a blue sticker on the front and rear licence plate as a warning for road accident and other authorities that Lithium ion batteries (exothermic reaction) are on board.

Vehicles with LPG tanks display a red sticker.

Diesel and Petrol do not require a warning sticker.

Dennis
March 4, 2021 6:57 pm

Relax, exothermic reaction is unlikely to take place until it does, faulty connection, a hard bump to the under vehicle floor batteries and worse a collision at road speeds in an EV.

Dennis
March 4, 2021 7:05 pm

A thought, occupational health and safety for company employees (and government employees) driving an EV if there is an inferno, will insurance companies raise premiums for EV insurance?

The potential disaster of spreading fire, injuries and death could be huge.

Christopher Chantrill
March 4, 2021 7:31 pm

Do I get the feeling that electric cars, like wind turbines, are the cure that is worse than the disease?

Or am I missing something?

griff
March 5, 2021 1:10 am

Well a few minutes of research suggest that this isn’t some huge risk…

Data obtained by the publication Air Quality News through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that in 2019 the London Fire Brigade dealt with just 54 electric vehicle fires compared to 1,898 petrol and diesel fires. Similarly, up to October 2020, the fire services dealt with 1,021 petrol and diesel fires and just 27 electric vehicle fires.

Though this is still an evolving field, UK fires Services don’t appear alarmed and have the issue under control.

The article doesn’t really distinguish between EVs and grid scale batteries… I note that the safety systems on these battery units include a built-in alarm and a self-activating fire-suppression system, as well as a container designed to withstand some significant heat and pressure parameters.

I think that this issue demands a more measured response than ‘oh look a boogyman: we’ll all get burned and poisoned to death’.

Editor
Reply to  griff
March 5, 2021 8:48 am

You post specific numbers but can’t post the source/link for them.

How come?

ATheoK
Reply to  Sunsettommy
March 5, 2021 7:43 pm

a few minutes of research suggest that this isn’t some huge risk”

It is also posing then answering it’s own red herring logical fallacy. Using that red herring fallacy to post a bald faced falsehood, “it isn’t some huge risk”.

2hotel9
Reply to  griff
March 6, 2021 11:56 am

Funny, that is exactly what ERCOT said about electric grid failure in Texas, and it became a problem. A huge problem that cost lives. You don’t care about that, you just spew the same leftist bullshyte as you always do, lies are all you got.

Tiger6
March 5, 2021 1:35 am

The real problem will be cheap, no-name lithium battery replacements (that Will be common in a few years) that ignite while recharging-often in enclosed space subterranean garages under apartment and office buildings. The enclosed spaces and proximity to other recharging lithium batteries will create toxic fires that flow upward through the building above.

geoffrey pohanka
March 5, 2021 3:12 am

There was a car fire in the parking garage of a Norway airport recently. Since there are many EVs in Norway, the fire soon spread and hundreds of vehicles were consumed. Remember the 1970s movie, The Towering Inferno? Well, with EVs becoming more popular, think of a similar car fire in a parking garage under a high rise condo or apartment building. The fire in Norway caused the partial collapse of the structure. Could we have a real towering inferno? Undoubtedly we will.

Last edited 1 month ago by geoffrey pohanka
ozspeaksup
March 5, 2021 3:31 am

there were some”dont do this at home kiddies” vidclips on utube where a guy shoots a nailgun ? into a rechargeable Li battery and runs fast
pretty impressive results
did make me very careful after seeing that

Tiger6
March 5, 2021 4:27 am

Within 5-20 years, cheap knock-off lithium ion battery replacements (which will overheat during recharging and ignite at higher rates than original mfr batteries) will only be the start of our problems. As a lawyer, former firefighter:hazmat technician and law enforcement crash reconstructionist, I never underestimate the power of stupid. As used EV’s matriculate down through the levels of society, meth-tweakers, crack addicts and non-functional alcoholics will drive over curbs (fixing holes with duct tape) shoot holes in their floorboards (more duck tape) and drill holes in the floor/batteries to create hidden compartments for their sundry lifestyle enhancement substances, thereby disrupting the integrity of the inherently volatile batteries. Murphy’s law will inexorably necessitate that these upstanding citizens park their compromised vehicles under high rises (especially those with free charging) that are populated by pre-schools and senior assisted living facilities. Gaseous emissions from li ion battery fires have an expansion faction far greater than 10,000, generating a huge plume of toxic smoke and fumes that will inevitably expose the most vulnerable members of society to the toxic byproducts. IMO.

the Swede
March 5, 2021 10:51 am

https://www.avdfire.com/ AVD extinguisher is the solution

2hotel9
Reply to  the Swede
March 6, 2021 12:05 pm

Couple of people have already mentioned them, though another link is always good.

sonofametman
March 5, 2021 11:54 am

It’s not just the heat, and the difficulty of extinguishing the fire, there’s a huge problem with the muck given off. As already mentioned, you get a pile of lithium salts released as dust/aerosol (bad for your brain) , and then there’s the Hydrogen Flouride. Inhaling a HF mist is very bad for your lungs.
Lithium-ion battery fires are really nasty, you haven’t just got a heat problem, you have at least two serious chemical problems.

Boink
March 5, 2021 2:41 pm

There’s actually no metallic Lithium in lithium cells. The metal is present as salts in the electrolyte. Now, that electrolyte is a nasty, poisonous volatile, and above all flammable substance. Just to add fun, it’s no point using air-excluding techniques like foam, sand, or blankets, as the reaction actually releases oxygen. So the fire is self-sustaining even in a low-oxygen environment.
The throw-it-in-a-big-tank method is just trying to reduce the temperature to be below the flash point, which can be as low as 130 deg C.

Zig Zag Wanderer
March 5, 2021 4:41 pm

lithium is literally the lightest metal.

Technically, that’s Hydrogen I believe, although special conditions need I exist before it turns into what we recognise as a metal.

Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
March 6, 2021 2:23 am

Like in the center of Jupiter?

Hivemind
March 5, 2021 8:55 pm

I have a question. In the ACT, buildings that contain dangerous chemicals (eg lead) need to have warning signs visible to fire fighters that may be called to attend. Cars powered by LNG need warning signs. So why do cars containing large amounts of either lead or lithium not have warning signs?

TonyG
Reply to  Hivemind
March 6, 2021 1:45 pm

You know, that’s actually a VERY good question.

March 6, 2021 12:54 am

EV fires 🔥 are zombie apocalypse fires; you never know when they’re finally out:

“Once the fire has been successfully put out, the problem for the fire brigade is not over.

Electric vehicle fires are known to reignite hours, days or even weeks after the initial event, and they can do so many times.

‘Just because the fire is burned out at that moment, there is no way of knowing if it will reignite in the back of the pick-up truck or in the storage grounds.’”

https://airqualitynews.com/2020/10/09/electric-vehicle-fires-should-we-be-concerned/

March 6, 2021 2:26 am

So a grid storage Li ion battery going off will be every pyromaniac’s dream come true! For him and his children’s children. Good times

FiftycalTX
March 6, 2021 7:50 pm

Anybody calculate the supply of lithium vs. the amount needed to replace hundreds of millions of vehicles with battery power?

BlueCat57
March 16, 2021 12:02 pm

I do it by dialing 911 (14, 115, 118, 998, 18, 131, 112, 180, 442-020, 122, 999, 198, 1515, 555, 10 117, 933, 190 and those are just the numbers for FIRE! in Africa).
On the bright side, you can also just dial 911 in Antarctica.
TILT – I thought emergency numbers were pretty standardized around the world.

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