Electric Vehicles Fire
THE fire aboard the car carrier Felicity Ace in the Atlantic last week has once more focussed all the stakeholders in the auto shipping industry on the issue of what to do about EVs that spontaneously combust while being transported at sea. The cars on the ship burned with such intensity that parts of the hull above the waterline melted.
All 4000 Volkswagen Group cars destined for the US market have been destroyed. The ship is a write-off and there is considerable downstream damage in terms of lost sales for both VW Group and its dealers.
In addition to VWs, the cargo included 189 Bentleys and 1100 Porsches as well as Audis.
While it has yet to be established what started the fire, what kept it burning were an estimated 1000 EVs with lithium-ion batteries based on the fact that 25 per cent of VW production is now dedicated to EVs. And this is the problem that is so exercising the minds of the shipping and ferry industry. Once an EV catches fire it is almost impossible to put it out, especially if it is in the middle of a deck of other vehicles that are parked just 50cm apart.
Depending on the model, battery packs are made up of around 7000 battery cells and if a fault develops through a manufacturing defect or damage to the pack, heat released from the damaged cell heats adjacent cells. As the process accelerates it causes what is called a thermal runaway where intense heat spreads through the cells stacked together in the battery pack releasing highly toxic inflammable gasses which explode and then burn.
According to data provided to Australian fire fighting services, these burning batteries reach temperatures of more than 2700 degrees celsius!
This latest fire on the Felicity Ace is the fourth since 2019.
The Grande America, a roll-on roll off vessel with more than 2000 new and used vehicles on board, sank in the Bay of Biscay after the cars ignited. The crew of 26 tried to combat the fire but, within hours, the heat was so intense that it weakened the structural integrity of the ship’s bulkheads and hull. There was little that any of the crew members could do but to abandon ship.
Also in the same year, two other vessels reported car fires including a Mitsui OSK Lines car transport carrying 3500 Nissan vehicles, which led to the death of five crew members and severe damage to the vessel and cargo. The risk for car carriers is huge given deck after deck will be increasingly loaded with EVs and the industry is desperately seeking a solution. The issue is also becoming an increasing concern for RoRo ferry operators.
With used EVs in all different states of repair increasingly finding their way into car ferries that also carry passengers, there is an increasing danger to the public as well.
A Greek ferry taking passengers and cars to Italy caught fire last week with 11 of the 290 people on board losing their lives. While there is no indication if an EV started the fire (the company said the fire started in the vehicle hold) the fact that more and more EVs are going to find their way aboard these ferries as EV sales increase, is raising a red flag on public safety as well as the safety of ships at sea.
Coincidentally, various fire services and vehicle logistics companies in Australia have been meeting recently to address the issue of EV fires and how to extinguish them. As the industry searches for answers, some operators of car carriers are no longer accepting used EVs and some are also banning accident-damaged used EVs.
GoAutoNews EDITION 1109 – MAR 2, 2022