I'm not too happy about very large lithium ion batteries as a mass market product in low-end vehicles. Lithium iron phosphate, which doesn't have the thermal runaway problem but stores less energy per kilogram, may be more appropriate there. Both BYD and Tesla are going that route at the low end.
Light electric vehicles (bikes, scooters, skateboards) are now causing a sizable number of fires in NYC. It's mostly a battery quality problem, apparently. FDNY reported 28 battery fires in 2019, 44 in 2020, and 104 in 2021. Bike and scooter shop fires tend to result in multiple batteries cooking off.
One thing would stop much of this: making Amazon criminally responsible for selling power electrical devices which do not have verifiable UL certification.
Can we stop it with this absurd fear mongering already? There's millions of EVs on the road now. I have had my Leaf for 8 years and keep seeing this same tired FUD online. The incidents of fires from electric cars are extremely low.
The scooters and other cheap vehicles you cite are a separate problem from just being Lithium-Ion batteries. They're cheap procucts with bad electronics and poor protection of the battery. Gasoline powered products of such low quality would be similar fire hazards, if not worse.
Lithium-Ion batteries work fantastic for EVs. My 8 year old, 50k+ mile Leaf still has its origial battery and it still has 100% capacity. Something anti-Lithium-Ion FUD pushers told me was literally impossible.
Let me add that such "gasoline powered dangerous cheap products" aren't hypothetical. I remember the era when it was legal to hook a 2 stroke up to a bike or a scooter platform, those things were hideously loud and had plastic exposed bottles full of gas attached to them.
We banned those, we can demand adequate quality control on electric vehicles as well.
It's impossible to carry on a normal conversation next to a running two stroke regardless of muffling. I support a complete ban on those engines in city and most suburban limits, electric versions of the various tools which run on them are adequate and much, much quieter.
This is fully justifiable not on noise alone, which can be mitigated, but the unacceptable level of hazardous particles released by incomplete oil combustion, which cannot be. Better to write them off like leaded gasoline, the tradeoffs aren't worth it.
I have not yet seen an electric leaf blower with equivalent specs as a top of the line 2-stroke. I think the minute that happens and 80% charging is under 2 hours, the industry will flip automatically.
The electric leaf blowers I’ve seen (I bought 2, returned one, put the second on “sweeping dust and leaves off concrete” duty, and tried two of my fan-of-electric-anything friend’s battery blowers) are indeed quieter, mostly by virtue of moving less air.
It’s not enough to move wet leaves off new grass, or maple helicopter seeds out of established grass. You know how I know? Because I’ve got one of the top-spec gas blowers and it often takes 4 or more passes to move these items. And I’ve tried 4 different electric ones, none of which came close to working on those two tasks.
Once they work equivalently, I’ll be happy to give up the maintenance and hassle of small gas engines.
The corded ones are an utter joke. (12A at 120V is only 2 horsepower before considering losses.) That’s the one I have occasionally dusting the floor on a warehouse type building now. My gas blower is ~6HP and it’s one model down from the largest I think. I won't have an L6-30 handy for you to use as the supply for a corded model...
A backpack battery model would be preferable anyway; I’m already wearing a 79.9 cm^2 engine, fuel tank, and blower on my back now. No one’s going to carry this as a handheld; all the large ones are already wearable for convenience.
I suspect you are only listening to unmuffled 2 strokes. I've owned plenty of 2 stroke vehicles. Not only are they quiet, they are substantially quieter than their four stroke counterpart. Of course, they come with a nice muffler from the factory.
I always thought they should only need to be safer than gas powered products, not a new standard.
Let's directly compare the impact of battery incidents from EVs to the impact of widespread usage of internal combustion engines through the lens of public health policy. The damage that is being done by widespread ICE vehicle usage is very well documented and a problem we need to solve.
You can't simply equate the individual vehicle safety without considering the wider public health impact inherent with ICEs.
A similar argument this reminds me of is drug contraceptives, where male contraceptives are only directly assessed in risk compared to not taking any drug, but female contraceptives are compared to the inherent dangers of a pregnancy as well, so it would be disingenuous to directly compare the risks of male to female contraceptives much the same as EVs to ICEs
It's anything but FUD, it's just that most vehicles have very well designed battery packs, but not all of them do and when you get out of the car domain to scooters and other personal mobility devices the quality drops like a stone.
Fire isn’t the hazard we need to be concerned about for Lithium-ion, it’s the destructive mining and the subsequent hazmat disposal that should be worrying everyone. The lithium mining companies are filing claims all over my county and the proposed large scale excavation of extremely sensitive desert dry lake habitats is just disgusting. I’m no fan of oil, but at least there you drill a hole and not remove a few cubic miles of the earth. Seeing the battery lifecycle up close has left me depressed about our options…
The issue I have with this is that if we aren't allowed to mine in the desert where there is one sensitive shrub, like Thacker Pass, then how are we ever supposed to mine anything ever again. It seems like the perfect place to mine with minimal destruction.
The other option is we never mine anything ever again and let countries with less environmental protections do the dirty work which is net worse for the environment.
I think I would need to write you a book to capture my feelings around this correctly and in an organized manner, so apologies if it’s disjointed or comes off flippant. I’m a scientist by education and I fundamentally recognize your correctness, but it’s difficult to reconcile the experience of what is happening. When we did the tortoise roundup last year, knowing there would be 50% mortality, to put in a new solar farm and when the bulldozers arrived and started clearing the Joshua Trees, it literally hurt to watch. Now there’s the push for lithium mining and hundreds of more acres of solar farms in areas that are socially important to us. The primary benefit from all of these projects first benefits others (we net export everything) and if often feels unappreciated. For example, I think we all have collective groans when the occasional article comes from California lamenting water limitations for lawn watering while we watch Lake Mead drop to the lowest level since it was created. At the same time, I know you’re right about this becoming some other poor schleps problem and I’d never want to wish that on anyone. I realized recently that this area is resource exploited and I never understood the notion of how resource exploitation harms people mentally, but I do now. I also might be getting the most important life lesson in my 40+ years on earth - I’m a high net worth, white, tech leader, that adopted this barren place. I wouldn’t have missed a beat in the past to just call for bulldozing the desert. Man, let me tell you about “shoe on the other foot” feelings when they kick you in the jaw like this. I guess my only ask to you, or anyone that reads this comment: maybe this is the right thing to do, but please have empathy when it happens.
The NIMBY question is a legitimate social one to solve. It’s easy to sit and say that, but if you were facing a giant pit, dust problems, and leaking toxic mine tailings in your literal backyard, as I am, you might find yourself with a different point of view on the utility of it. It’s also possible you can truly look past that and accept it, I don’t know, but in my case this is the equivalent of bulldozing a favorite city park because corporate interests in the supply chain need to build batteries. Maybe it needs to happen, I don’t know, but I’ll tell you it’s a bitter pill to swallow and one that doesn’t come with much empathy from the folks calling for bulldozing my backyard for their benefit.
You're right that it's not a simple problem. Individuals face consequences for decisions made by people with no stake. On the whole though, mining done in a well-regulated country with accountability and citizens with a means to environmental justice is better than mining done in countries where you get your lot and die of lead poisoning at 40.
You kind of have to choose what sort of destruction you want: either you can have marginally more mining for the minerals required for battery production or you can have ecosystem wide damage due to further global warming. There is no free lunch.
I'll note though that eventually the fossil fuels run out, so the mining will need to be done anyway. It's only a question of now vs later with the later option being "habitat destruction AND massive global temperature rise" and the now option being just "habitat destruction". So habitats are getting destroyed either way.
I always wonder where this is coming from. I'm sure there are certain well funded industries that would have interest in such FUD.
From what I can see, this technologie is the future to a green world. We could ultimately have a distributed power system where every home has its own battery with solar panels on top. How fucking awesome would that be. Not even an eletrical grid failure would be a problem anymore.
It's not FUD. Emergency responders and wrecking yards have already had problems with EV fires. An EV wreck with a damaged battery can catch fire days or weeks later. They have be stored with extra room around them just in case. Battery fires are a whole different thing than gas fires. This is a serious issue.
It is possible both for a technology to be incredibly safe and yet occasionally have huge risks. I'm typing this on a device with li-ion batteries. Most of us accept the slight risk involved. Yes the parent comment is a bit weirdly skeptical, but calling it FUD isn't accurate either.
The 2019 and 2020 fires were mostly because of a 'misunderstanding' between US consumers and Chinese manufacturers.
Manufacturers wrote in the product manual 'do not charge device for more than 4 hours'. US consumers left it charging overnight. The devices reliably caught fire when charging for more than about 15 hours. They just didn't have circuitry to stop charging when full.
The same used to be the case in the 1960's in the USA - many of us remember the instructions on battery chargers how to calculate the number of charging hours required and to set an alarm or timer to stop the charge at the right time. If you screwed that up, they were nicd batteries so they'd just split open and hiss.
That is now resolved for new devices - you can't easily buy a device from China which has a lithium battery and doesn't have a battery overcharge protection circuit.
> The 2019 and 2020 fires were mostly because of a 'misunderstanding' between US consumers and Chinese manufacturers.
Do you have any source articles about that? I can't quite tell your intended level of sarcasm around "misunderstanding".
Because that design, where a device that's left plugged in too long then just ignites, is ridiculously stupid from any side of the equation, especially since over the past 20 years people have been trained with things like cell phones to just plug it in and leave it. I wonder how this "self igniting" design got through any regulatory constraints at all.
in 2020+, if you're designing a charger that doesn't stop charging when full, then you're just a cheap ass bastard that deserves to go out of business. unfortunately, the people buying things are even more cheap and would continue to buy the cheap one to complain later when their home burns down. The only solve is that these cheap chargers are regulated into oblivion
I agree, but after some limited Googling I couldn't find any evidence of these "Chinese battery chargers that don't stop charging when full", which is why I asked the comment I responded to for evidence.
I only have evidence from fire investigations I've done. I found some devices (like quadcopters) that just have a USB 5v input and a diode drop to the lithium battery. Since many USB supplies are 5.5 volts, they'll certainly catch fire pretty quick.
I also found hoverboards that have an 8s battery pack, just hooked straight to a constant voltage power supply, with no balancing circuit or charge current limiting, so some cells will end up overcharged and emit gas. There's also no protection against charging after overdischarge, which will also usually end up with a fire.
I understand that, which is why this is so maddening. It's not like we're in the transition phase to new standards. We've had these rules for a while now, we shouldn't still be having to worry about the item purchased might be a problem.
Battery quality in consumer electronics is horrible and it's a small miracle that there aren't many more fires. The things I've come across while servicing/disassembling/rebuilding e-bike batteries would set your hair on end. More than one wire that simply evaporated inside the casing and fortunately did not set off some kind of chain reaction. Balance wires crossing and recrossing, having their insulation eaten away by vibration. Single cell fires that miraculously did not spread to the cells around them.
Li-Ion battery behavior is very predictable these days. With a good battery management system (BMS) that includes temperature control, current limiting, charge monitoring, and cell monitoring the things work very well and very safely.
Good news: Most EVs have very good BMSs.
Bad news: Lots of small consumer devices with Li-Ion batteries have lousy BMSs or none at all. Which is why their batteries don't last long and sometimes catch fire. If cheap manufacturers would stop trying to skimp on the BMS the problem would be over.
Elon Musk has said that he believes a significant portion of the industry will move to LFP (Lithium iron phosphate) chemistry due to its lower cost, fewer supply constraints, and better safety and stability properties.
It was recently reported that Ford is working on LFP packs for their Mustang and F-150 Lightning EVs.
So they say, but the main gripe of switching to EVs has always been their too small range. Your average Li-ion 21700 cell has a capacity of 4-5Ah, whereas one with an LFP chemistry only gets 2-3Ah. That's almost a 50 % reduction in spatial density, not to mention their abysmal C rating.
Perhaps they would fit for PHEV usage, but for pure EVs they would be rather shite imo.
Hmm, so instead of filling the bay with 50% Li-ions, they fill it up to 100% with LFPs? I guess that sort of works but with the added mass you must get even less range than you'd have with the partial capacity setup, not to mention worse handling.
Doesn't seem like too good of an option unless they're really like a quarter of the price, which I'm not exactly seeing. They seem rather on par, with maybe a 10% reduction in price.
> gets excellent charging speeds
Since the battery is larger, yes. But per unit, no.
Those modest yearly increases in battery capacity and drops in production costs add up. After a while, a use case that needed the batteries with all the downsides can get by with a safer, more affordable battery that wouldn't have enough juice 20 years before. It's a much slower version of the phenomenon we see in computing power. Eventually, even a slow CPU can do what only a top end desktop CPU could do 20 years ago.
The phrase "range anxiety" has been with us for almost 25 years, so it's about time.
That's only because LFP isn't usually made in round cells like that, so whoever is making that cell hasn't optimized the process. LFP has the same amount of Ah per volume as li-ion, but at an average voltage of 3.2 instead of 3.7. That is the only forced source of reduced capacity and is about 20%.
The answer is to regulate battery standards and internal input jacks.
The overwhelming majority of people don't need more than 50 miles range the overwhelming majority of the time. The problem would be solved if you could just put your house battery or a rented one in the boot for that rare long trip.
Additionally make all vehicles on the road slower, smaller, and lighter so you can safely drive something that more closely resembles a velomobile than an SUV and safely drive anywhere at 80km/h rather than having 100km/h as the minimum.
1C or 0.5C is completely fine, nothing needs to do 0-100km/h in under 20s, and as long as it can do around 15m/s up a 10% hill it has enough power.
Speaking as someone with 7.5 years daily driving a Nissan LEAF, it is rare that I drive more than 50 miles in a day, but driving 50 miles requires a car with more than 50 miles of range. Right now, I’d take a 50 mile drive in my car (without swapping to my spouse’s ICE car), but I’m not sure I’d do the same for a 60 and definitely not a 70 mile drive. Fully charged, my car guesses it has around 75 miles of range, but that quickly is proven wrong in operation and I can only count on 55 or so. This from a car with a published range of 84 miles on a new battery.
A non-hybrid with an electric range of 50 miles when new would likely be a market flop. I love my LEAF, but I’d not buy a car with that little range again.
But if you knew every service station had a charger that could give you 20 miles of range in 15 minutes, and a supply of charged 30kg batteries you could rent and swap into your boot for the day (returning to any other service station) that gave you another 50 miles plus you knew that every car park had a charger that would give you 30 miles an hour, how would that change?
I still wouldn’t buy a 50-mile electric, especially when 100+ mile electrics are readily available.
I don’t want to be stopping all the time and even less want to be unpacking and repacking my trunk regularly to move a 75 pound battery in and out.
Nissan figured that out and put a 40kWh battery into their base model. Mine is 24kWh. A 50 mile range would be something like a 16kWh battery. Unless that’s a hybrid, I think it would flop in the market.
It works well for the Model 3. The standard range version now mostly uses LFP batteries. They have about the same size and weight as the long range batteries.
And of course, there is constant progress in battery density. The move to 4680 cells supposedly gives 16% more capacity due to the different geometry. That would make LFP batteries competitive for more configurations.
LFP is also a more stable chemistry which makes them safer but also it has more than double the cycle life and can be charged to 100% while still keeping that long cycle life. No need to choose to charge to 80-90% for daily use vs 100% for long distance, Tesla recommends charging the LFP to 100% all the time.
LFP's where getting ridiculously cheap recently, you can get 19" rack mount batteries with built in BMS for less than $300 / kWh to your door. I think most UPS are going to move over to LFP, they will be 20 year batteries in controlled environments.
I put some 12v replacements in my RV getting 4X the capacity of my lead acid at half the weight for about 3x the cost but the batteries will last 10+ years.
The main downside is a lower energy density than NMC which seems to be getting better I believe its about 20% less kWh/kg at this point. No nickel or cobalt is another advantage, iron is plentiful.
> No nickel or cobalt is another advantage, iron in plentiful.
Nickel is a problem but you might be surprised to know that cobalt is fairly plentiful. The issue is it doesn't have a whole lot of industry usage outside of batteries. That's why it's a human rights problem. Instead of mining it locally we use small time mining operations with cheap (often child) labor.
In other words, the amounts needed to meet global demand are below the demand needed to setup industrial cobalt mining operations.
This is why iron phosphate are both great key materials. Both are highly plentiful AND highly useful outside of battery production (thus, already have industrial mining/recycling systems setup)
There was recently discussion about opening old cobalt mines in idaho (my home state). 
Why is it hard to put out a fire when EV batteries are involved? If the fire doesn't start in the EV battery why would the battery catch fire?
It might sound like an odd question, but we have experience with this in Norway, and the results are counterintuitive. Cars in a large airport parking garage caught fire, and it had many EVs in it. Not a single battery pack caught fire. Only the interior of the EVs did. If they were all EVs the fire would likely be less severe, or not have started at all (an ICE car started it)
Battery packs are very well insulated against fires.
Assuming the fire doesn't go completely out of control, I don't see a reason to worry much about battery packs catching fire.
One of the problems is that lithium ion batteries can't be discharged fully without destroying them. Effectively, the batteries are a very large energy source that can never be fully turned off. Another problem is that (if I understand correctly) lithium ion battery fires tend to produce their own oxygen. Another problem is that a manufacturing defect in one cell could cause the whole pack to catch on fire. According to the article, a fourth problem is that roll-on/roll-off car carriers just store a bunch of cars in one big space, and there aren't barriers to prevent one car from starting all its neighbors on fire.
Putting out an EV battery fire basically entails dumping enormous amounts of water on it to keep the temperature under control until it's cool enough that it doesn't auto-ignite as soon as you stop. That can take hours.
I tend to agree that the risk of EV fires is overblown. ICE cars catch on fire all the time and we don't usually hear about it because it's not all that rare or unusual. It just doesn't make the news. EV fires are a novelty so we hear about them. (Not that any amount of vehicle fires is okay.)
I do think though that if you're moving thousands of cars together on a ship, then that's maybe creating a different kind of risk profile.
I look forward to wider adoption of LFP batteries. They aren't immune to fire; I think the electrolyte is still flammable. They just aren't nearly as energetic when they burn, and they're harder to ignite in the first place.
I'm not sure, but I am starting to think that battery fire is more like nuclear reactor or used fuel cooling than putting out of fire. That is you need to have enough water continuously applied to combat generated heat. Where as with fire just removing heat or oxygen one time is enough.
Yeah, I get the impression that's true. There's an electrochemical reaction that's going to take place whether you want it to or not, and you have to keep adding water until the reaction is finished.
I kind of wonder if it would help to pack batteries with something that requires a huge amount of energy to vaporize, so that the heat from a battery fire just goes into a state transition of some inert substance. (You could boil water off for instance, but maybe there's something more weight-efficient.)
I've heard about large packs on boats catching, sinking, and continuing to burn while wholly submurged, and remote control aircraft being left to burn out because its safer and easier yo just repair the runway afterwards. I'm not sure how you soak that much energy. I've seen metal cabinets where people put iffy packs in case they go. It was clear it had been in a fire at least once. I think the normal way to dispose of such a thing is a controlled burn. Repair is too dangerous, its like defusing an explosive device.
In regards to RC packs, the general consensus is to let them burn out yes. The actual purpose of a "LiPo Safe" or fire safe LiPo storage compartment isn't to protect the batteries from fire, it's to provide a safe space for a battery to burn out completely without burning down your house or car.
> Putting out an EV battery fire basically entails dumping enormous amounts of water on it
That's a problem fire departments are still trying to adapt to, many resorting to putting out the fire conventionally, then submerging the car in a water-filled container.
But I'm unclear on how that makes the risk profile worse for ships? The initial fire should be easier to contain with EVs than with gasoline cars because EV batteries are much better protected than fuel tanks, and water for cooling affected vehicles for a couple hours is plentiful. It's a ship after all.
Maybe there's a discussion to be had about modifications to fire fighting equipment and staffing because of the different demands, but I don't see how the risk is bigger.
> But I'm unclear on how that makes the risk profile worse for ships?
Gasoline-powered vehicles aren't fueled when loaded onto a ship, so they don't really pose much of a fire hazard. However for EVs this is a problem, because it's very difficult to completely drain a lithium battery.
> water for cooling affected vehicles for a couple hours is plentiful. It's a ship after all.
Getting the water to all those vehicles is the hard part. If enough of the EVs catch fire the only realistic way to get that much water to the fire is to get the deck below water level, which tends to be very bad for a ship.
Cars are usually loaded onto a Ro-ro on their own power, and will have some amount of fuel on board. They typically want 10-25% full tanks to account for various contingencies, but I don't know how carefully that's monitored. Given the amount of vehicles in question, probably not that closely, though presumably manufacturers are equipped to be reasonably systematic about fuel fill.
Bilge pumps should be able to keep up with firefighting pumps. But, yes, the firefighting pumps won't be able to handle more than several cars on fire.
Exactly. The reason is that manufacturers actually go through a lot of trouble to prevent batteries catching fire. They do crash tests, puncture tests, etc. As a consequence, actual battery fires in cars are pretty rare. But they do happen occasionally of course. They are chemical fires so the procedures for dealing with those fires are a bit different than say an ICE car that is on fire. That's all.
In any case. Fire risk on ships is a matter for insurers. There are a lot of EVs that are going to be shipped around in the next decades. And the shipping business is big business. I'm sure they'll figure it out. Lots of ships catching fire would get costly. So, the prudent thing would be to do the math and take appropriate counter measures. But I seriously doubt any insurers are losing much sleep over this incident.
There are also ships that carry the fuel for ICE cars around; or at least the raw ingredients for it (oil). Or liquid gas. Highly flamable stuff. Very toxic. Nasty when it gets out. Oil tankers do untold amounts of damage to the environment when they sink and spill their load. Happens fairly regularly. Insurers are all over that kind of thing as well.
If you actually genuinely care about cars spontaneously combusting, there are hundreds of people that die in ICE car fires every year. ICE car fires are so common that it's one of the most common reasons for fire trucks to be called. Hundreds of thousands of times per year in the US apparently. ICE cars are not safe at all; they never have been. They catch fire in all sorts of situations. In your garage, while they are parked, when you crash them, or when you drive on the motorway. It happens to old cars; it happens to new cars. So, where's the big outrage over good old ICE car fires? There is none. Double standards. Or rather there's a lobby interested in talking about one thing but very much not about the other thing.
Which is of course what is going on here. This article is on a web site aimed at ICE car enthusiast that no doubt depends on advertising, sponsoring, etc. by various car manufacturers. Spreading FUD about EVs whenever they can. Just so the fearful masses keep on buying ICE cars.
If neither the EV batteries, nor high-power wiring energized by them, are actually involved in the fire - then you can* put the fire out normally.
Once the fire actually involves "serious" electricity...well, then you've got (1) "can't blow out" birthday candles from Hell, (2) "spray water on it and you may die by electrocution" issues, and (3) the fire has Unlocked a whole new way to Level Up fast, which does not depend upon the traditional "fire triangle" (fuel, oxygen, and heat).
*Or maybe you can't. Ask any fire fighter whether things get magically easy if there's no electricity involved.
That might actually make sense. The main danger with batteries is thermal runaway, meaning if you keep them cool you can prevent the fire from starting. So what if you shrink-wrap each battery assembly to waterproof it, and ship them submerged in water (or another liquid of your choice). The water should easily absorb the heat from a couple damaged batteries without reaching a temperature that harms the other batteries as long as you leave some room for water circulation.
It is not clear to me, why it would be cheaper to ship the batteries separately. The car shipment might be theoretically cheaper, however it is much more difficult to ship cars which cannot drive. On the other side, you would have the increased risk for the battery shipment with the associated insurance costs.
However, it is not obvious to me, that shipping electric cars is more risky. Actually all statistics point to electric cars being more safe than combustion engined cars.
As the article points out, it is probably necessary to change best practises of handling electric vs. combustion engined cars. Making really sure, that no car moves and crashes into others, change in firefighting strategies. Make sure, that the cars only contain a minimum amount of charge and of course continue to improve battery safety itself.
And you would not want to place the batteries densely together, in case of fire. Maybe put a few of them in some metal container or so, to keep them apart. Then one could put wheels on that container to move them more easily, maybe even add an engine.
"It is not clear to me, why it would be cheaper to ship the batteries separately. "
Special ships and specially trained and certified crews to savely handle de facto explosive equipment vs. totally hazzard proof expensive boxes of metal.
It might make sense to do this in big quantities. Probably will considered, after insurance companies raise rates after the first ship sank completely due to one carfire, that spread. Even with low charge they can burn out of itself. But sure, there are many other ways to deal with it.
You can stack the batteries in one place, in small compartments. If one compartment catches fire, it's easier to contain than in a big compartment with cars that take up much more space. It could even mean that you ditch the compartment in the ocean, to prevent a bigger problem. But compartments can be designed to be cooled with salt seawater without damaging the ship.
EVs catch fire drastically less than combustion fueled vehicles because they don't involve explosive materials. Also we ship giant ships full of oil and gas all over the world every single day which is vastly more combustible than batteries.
> Also we ship giant ships full of oil and gas all over the world every single day which is vastly more combustible than batteries.
I see what you are saying, but the way we mitigate the fire and explosion hazards on oil and gas transport ships is not really applicable to roll-on/roll-off ships.
The oil tankers and LNG ships use a technic called innert atmosphere to protect their cargo from fire hazard. The idea is that they fill the ulage spaces with a gas low in oxygen to make sure an explosive mixture can’t form.
It would be very hard to innert the whole cargo space of a RO/RO ship the same way, might damage the cargo, would be hazardous to the operators and wouldn’t actually help with a potential thermal runaway of a battery anyway. I will discuss these points in detail:
How do they generate this innerting gas usually? There are two main options. You either use nitrogen, or you pipe in the exhaust gas of the engines. Nitrogen would probably be cost prohibitive. The RO/RO ships are cavernous. The exhaust gas based sytem would cost less, but would damage the cargo. Nobody would want a car which reeks like an ashtray.
The innerted atmosphere is obviously incompatible with human occupancy, yet the cars are usually driven on and off these carriers by a small army of operators. So you need to have processes to vent the innert atmosphere before the vehicles can be embarked/dissembarked, and you need other processes to ensure the venting worked properly otherwise your shore crew will suffocate. This adds complexity, and risks to the operation. This is not a problem on tankers because there nobody needs to enter the tanks during normal operations.
And then finaly why it might not help after all? The nature of electric vehicle battery thermal runaway is such that it doesn’t require oxygen from the atmosphere. It is an exotermic reaction, but not a “fire” in the fire-triangle sense.
So all in all, the one big trick of the tankers can’t be used with vehicle carrying operations. Thus the analogy is less than useful. Not saying that we can’t carry EVs safely, just that our ability to carry fuels safely does not in any way correlate with our ability to carry EVs safely.
The problem is, that a lack of oxygene might prevent fires, but not battery shorts and the consequential heat. For treating battery fires, water is the best. Fortunately, water is easy to come by for a ship. So one component to transition car carriers is to add large sprinkler systems, which can quickly cool down a car with a thermal runaway.
Ironically, what is often claimed as a fundamental problem with batteries, their lower energy density than fuel, should make them less dangerous in the case of a disaster in the case of a fire. But the nature of the fire is differently and needs to be handled accordingly. (Of course, shipped cars probably only contain a minimum amount of fuel, but likewise, electric cars would only be minimally charged)
And heat. And you know what is around ships? Near infinite amount of easily handled high heat capacity coolant. Okay, usually the stuff is pretty contaminated, but some cleaning and resurfacing is better than everything staying burning.
ICE vehicles aren't filled with fuel when shipped, and oil and gas both have to aerosolize in an oxygen rich environment before ignition is possible. Batteries just have to get hot, and that can occur from simple mechanical damage.
They say not securing the cars properly can cause impacts that cause fire. But these cars are impact tested for passenger safety. The only vulnerability for the battery pack will be a bottom impact which should not occur on Roll on-Roll Off Carrier.
Ships do need to adapt their firefighting process for Lithium-Ion batteries. But I'm not convinced about impacts causing fire.
My parents had their car parked right behind a caravan with a bike rack on the back - they didn't notice anything when driving off the ship, and so it was kinda too late to do anything about it by the time they noticed the impact damage to their car's hood from the bike rack bouncing up and down.
Doing that for thousands of cars, at boarding and then at unboarding, looks like a huge logistics chalenge (even just thinking about changing every ship’s floor to allow for strapping) that has a pretty high cost that might exceed losing part of the cargo once in a blue moon.
Shipping cars in containers sized structures could be a more realistic approach perhaps.
One way in which battery packs catch fire: initial weld looks good and passes inspection but turns out to be faulty after all. It disconnects, then the pack i s charged (this should not happen to cars intended for overseas transport), vibration causes the bad connection to temporarily make contact, then the current welds the contact more solidly and large amounts of current start to flow from the charged cells into the one uncharged cell. Depending on pack geometry this can be 20:1 without any kind of protection mechanism in between. The one cell then catches fire, which in turn can set off the cells around it.
This is why per-cell fusing is a thing in newer designs and why weld quality is super important during manufacture.
I'm not sure what the inside of a car carrier looks like, but I think the idea isn't just that a little jiggle that causes the suspension to flex slightly is the concern but rather a car coming loose and falling on another car, or something similarly serious and unplanned that isn't supposed to happen if everyone is doing their job correctly. If it does happen you wouldn't want it to be a risk to the whole ship.
There's also the possibility that a battery just catches on fire all by itself because of a manufacturing defect. It can happen.
Speculation about risk is literally what insurance companies do; how they determine the terms of insurance.
I learned a lot from this. One, shipping is pretty fly-by-night. Operators are winging it and trusting to luck in a lot of cases; failing to secure cargo for expediency for example. That's more corroboration than new knowledge. Two, fires are common on cargo ships: 14 times a year some cargo ship starts burning for some reason, car carriers being among the more frequent. Small fires that are quickly contained aren't included in that figure because they don't get reported. Three, car carrying ships aren't prepared to deal with cascading lithium battery fires. They can handle ICE fires but haven't yet adapted to the electric vehicles they're actually starting to carry in quantity. Four, the people that have to analyze the risks involved because they're liable for the costs are more candid about electric car fires; they say straight up that "lithium-ion batteries—they can ignite a lot more vigorously as compared to any other cars" and "a high impact on these cars and a lithium-ion battery can ignite them." A refreshing change from the obligatory handwaving and cognitive dissonance one gets at all other times.
In electronics there is the concept of a bathtub curve. The frequency of component failure is high when the components are new. The frequency decreases afterwards and later increases again with old age.
Applied to cargo ships full of electric cars with millions of brand new battery cells, obviously the risk that some battery will ignite and sink the ship has to be considered. And it will be considered -- if only by insurance companies -- whether electric car proponents like it or not.
They're providing background, which they have more than enough relevant expertise to provide. I found it a useful perspective; in particular an un-connected party can often speak more freely about issues.
What exactly did you identify as FUD in this article?
Probably to some extent, but there are limits. If the charge is too low it damages the battery, and self-discharge is a thing. So, if you're moving cars with a low charge you're under a self-imposed time limit to get them where they need to go and recharged before their cell voltages drop below their normal operating range.
Tangentially, I wonder about the environmental impacts of a container full of large Li-ion batteries, such as those found in electric cars, lost in the sea. Cargo ships are known to dump containers* (and oil**, incidentally) into oceans.
Since the normal container ships often have many refrigerated containers and the crew manage to control their temperature. Maybe roro ship crews will get access to the battery temperature data and will be able to prepare suspicious cars for offloading straight into ocean. Loosing few cars is probably better than whole shop with thousand cars.
It might simply boil down on learning how to safely treat EVs. As the article points out, currently they are shipped like combustion engined vehicles and so far there is no differentiation in treatment. Combustion engined vehicles became relatively safe to handle by about 100 years of experience. Still, statistics point out that they catch fire more often than EVs. But that doesn't mean, one might not have to handle EVs slightly different when putting them on these ships. Like tying them down properly, adjusting the fire extinguishing facilities accordingly.
And of course, battery technology itself and the engineering of BEVs will progress constantly.
Is it currently safe to ship mass numbers of electric cars, under the current safety standards? Probably not. Should those standards and expectations be updated and refined to address the changing nature of hazardous cargo? Absolutely.
I think it's not much different than shipping refined petrol or LPG... The main issue is always the need of transports, unless we can scale toward mass distributed small productions to built as much as possible locally so to avoid the scale of eventual accidents, not much differently than the concept of coming back from big ships to smaller one for petrol, hyper-giant plane trend to smaller ones etc
Accidents/incidents can always happen but at smaller scale means smaller issues...
The question isn't "can the ship support continuous telemetry" but "does it generate more value than it costs". And I'm not sure it does.
Also, since the crew survived, why are they so concerned to get the voice recorder? Is it just because of the recorded alarm information, and if so why keep referring to it as a voice recorder and not a black box.
The recorder contains alarms and other data as well as the conversations on the bridge. As I understand it, they're like an aviation CVR and FDR but combined.
Just like with aircraft accidents, the conversations can provide as much (or sometimes more) value as the data. It gives you insight into decision making, details that may not be recorded in the data ("I was just in area XYZ and I saw sparks coming out of one of the vehicles"), etc.
Curious - why is this recorder not a floating device (which broadcasts its position) so that it could be retrieved easily? It's not like it needs to record the ship's descent to the bottom. Or is the primary function of this device unrelated to sinking?
I'm not an expert here, but yes, there are a lot of incidents and accidents that need to be investigated that don't involve the ship sinking (remember the Ever Given?). Plus, having a device installed in some kind of floating pod which detaches automatically when the ship sinks requires a lot of extra equipment, it has to be on the outside, so exposed to salt water and corrosion, etc.
Most ships sink in relatively shallow water. Broadcasters may fail, especially in the conditions that sink ships. In that case, finding a ship is easier than finding a floating box. It also simplifies the design a lot.
Especially with Starlink allowing roaming mode these days, though I wouldn’t expect them to pick up on that tech by now.
Also hello I think I rode your self balancing scooter at robo games in 2005. Or maybe you just showed it to me. Your web pages with details of your scooter projects were great inspiration to me as I went through college in anticipation of my future career in robotics (which is now going great).
I’ve actually got a clip of that 2005 Robo Games on my YouTube channel if you want a bit of nostalgia. I’m the blonde kid talking about the art bots!
What's your point? Of course the avoidance of a human tragedy is great but the cost of this incident (to the shipping company, automotive manufacturers, insurers, environment) was enormous. It makes perfect sense to try to understand it better.
The issue is that they don't know what caused the ship to sink, because the data recorder is at the bottom of the ocean. If they'd streamed the data continuously, we'd have useful information to prevent future sinkings.
This time. A fire on board a vessel is highly dangerous and should always be avoided if possible. If a car was the cause of the fire, additional safety measures should be implemented on these types of vessel to potentially save the lives of the crew.
A ship at sea can have a cloud repository of data etc, immediately available, not 10,000 feet underwater as well as no data loss. Good job for a mobile Starlink the monthly cost is trivial compared with the annual budget
I say it's safe. Volkswagen group should definitely ship more cars on big ships, and if their ship catches fire again, then they should stop beating about and call it what it at that point is: sabotage.
It still doesn't burn well unless it's in a fine mist. Even just a puddle of diesel is actually quite difficult to get burning on its own without some other material as a wick of sorts. https://youtu.be/7nL10C7FSbE Great practical demonstration of the different flammability characteristics of some common fuels.
For the tar that a container ship burns, it's not going to be very volatile. Coal also burns quite well, but unless it's powdered, good luck trying to ignite some with just a match.
So, don’t ship cars then. Tweak cities for micro mobility and walking.
Also: a couple of burned and sunk ships is a much cheaper price to pay than climate change. If the cost of the odd lithium fire is a lot, wait till you factor in the costs of the emissions of an ICE over the vehicle lifetime.
This reeks of FUD during the death throes of the petrochemical industry, tbh.