Washington Post Digs Into EV Fires

Estimated read time 3 min read

Well this is shocking.

As a general rule, corporate media outlets don’t highlight the fire risk of electric cars. Instead, the media has largely turned a blind eye to the risk, with the exception of its campaign to malign Elon Musk and Tesla of late. That’s why seeing an article in The Washington Post that digs into why EV batteries are so prone to horrific fires, it was shocking (pun fully intended).

Check out the cardboard electric SUV the French have made here.

Of course, the article written by Anjani Trivedi is about Tesla, because as I said above the corporate media has turned on the American EV brand lately. Still, what’s said can broadly be applied to any electric vehicle.

Right off the bat, Trivedi claims the problem with suddenly-combusting batteries pertains to powerpacks used to store energy for buildings. He focuses on an incident of a Tesla battery catching fire at a California power storage facility, something that’s necessary to even out distribution of energy captured via wind or solar generation.

What he completely blows past is not only the incidents of consumer electronics with lithium-ion batteries bursting into flames, but also the fact that Tesla, Chevy Bolts, and other EVs have done the same thing. He also doesn’t focus on why there’s a looming energy crisis, which is thanks to the demonization not only of fossil fuel use but also nuclear energy, but that’s a topic for another time.

Where Trivedi’s article gets interesting is when he focuses on why lithium-ion batteries tend to combust. Yes, manufacturing defects can play a role, but he points out the electrolyte used for these batteries is not only volatile, it’s also flammable. Even with safeguards in place, the battery chemistry is primed for a sudden blaze.

Another risk is the fact lithium can turn into needle-like formations as the battery cells are charged. This can create short circuits and lead to sudden fires. And as one cell fails, neighboring ones will do the same, so the fire spreads rapidly despite cooling measures being in place.

Of course, the larger the battery pack, the more potential for a sudden fire, hence why these grid-stabilizing solutions can rapidly go up in flame. But the same is true of EV batteries which have been getting bigger and bigger to satisfy consumers’ range anxiety.

We’ve seen how incredibly dangerous EV fires can be, with firefighters struggling to keep them under control, especially when they’re in large groups. Even with specialized training and equipment, they might burn out of control for hours, days, or longer. While traditional ICE cars also catch fire, the potential for an unpredictable blaze is far less.

Unsurprisingly, Trivedi uses all these salient points to conclude the solution is to move away from lithium-ion batteries to new technology. There’s been significant talk among EV enthusiasts and publications about solid state batteries, organic batteries, liquid metal batteries, and all kinds of other innovative designs. However, none have materialized into a dominant force on the market. In other words, it appears for the foreseeable future we’re stuck with lithium-ion cells and all their drawbacks, including raging infernos suddenly erupting.

Read the article in The Washington Post for yourself here.

Photos via Tesla, GM, Ford

Steven Symes https://writerstevensymes.com/

Steven Symes is an accomplished automotive journalist with a passion for all things related to cars. His extensive knowledge and love for the automotive world shine through in his writing, which covers a diverse range of topics.

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