Traction batteries on fire: Too hot to handle?

August 17, 2020 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Burning electric cars: Too hot to handle?
The fire of the traction battery is the greatest horror scenario for drivers of electric cars. But is this fear justified? A team of researchers from the Swiss research institute Empa has tested what happens when such a car bursts into flames in the worst conceivable place: a road tunnel or an underground car park.

A dry bang and then it starts: a battery module of an electric car is set ablaze in the Hagerbach test gallery. A video of the test shows impressively the energy contained in such batteries: meter-long flames hiss through the room and produce enormous quantities of thick, black soot. Visibility quickly approaches zero. After a few minutes, the battery module burns out. Ash and soot have spread throughout the room.

The experiment, financed by the Swiss Federal Roads Office (Astra), took place in December 2019. The evaluation is now available. "In our experiment, we were thinking primarily of private and public operators of small and large underground or multi-storey car parks," says project manager Lars Derek Mellert from the company Amstein + Walthert Progress AG. "All these underground structures are increasingly being used by electric cars. And everyone asks themselves: What happens if such a car catches fire? What are the health risks for people in the vicinity? And also: What effects does such a fire have on the operation of the plant?"

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