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EV fires could hinder transition to eco-friendly vehicles

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The remnants of an EV after hitting a shock absorber and bursting into flames at the Namhae Expressway toll booth, killing two people in early June. / Courtesy of Busan Metropolitan Police Agency
The remnants of an EV after hitting a shock absorber and bursting into flames at the Namhae Expressway toll booth, killing two people in early June. / Courtesy of Busan Metropolitan Police Agency

By Kim Hyun-bin

Unexpected electric vehicle (EV) fires that have made headlines recently are causing concern that they could hold back the rapid transition to eco-friendly vehicles.

On June 4, a Hyundai IONIQ 5 EV collided with a toll gate and was engulfed in flames within seconds. The driver and a passenger died as they could not escape from the burning car, and it took seven hours to extinguish the fire. On June 24, an unidentified fire occurred in a Tesla Model S at a junkyard in the U.S.

According to data released from the National Fire Agency, the number of EV fire accidents has steadily increased from one case in 2017 to 23 cases last year, as the number of EVs on the road has increased, growing nearly tenfold during the same period.

Firefighters say that EV fires are "a new type of fire that they never encountered before." EV fires do much more damage than the fires caused in an internal combustion engine vehicle. It usually takes more than seven hours to put out an EV fire and the amount of water required to extinguish it is 100 times more than that of an internal combustion engine vehicle.

In the case of the Tesla Model S fire in Texas in April of last year, 106,000 liters of water was used to put out the fire. This figure is the amount of water that an average household will use for about two years.

Experts point to the lithium-ion batteries installed in an EV as the cause. Up to thousands of lithium-ion batteries ― each the size of a finger ― are stacked on top of each other and are usually located at the bottom of the vehicle. As lithium has a very unstable chemical state, the battery temperature rises in an instant when the separator between the anode and cathode of a battery cell is torn due to shocks or heat. If the battery pack is damaged, the internal temperature rises to 800 degrees in an instant.

Concerns about EV fires are growing among consumers as seen in the numerous comments on various social media platforms and in online communities, with many believing that it is not yet the right time to purchase an electric car.


Kim Hyun-bin hyunbin@koreatimes.co.kr


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