A recent article from CBS News is a considered and comprehensive account of the nature of EV fires and firefighting readiness for the nature of EV fires unique from gas car fires. Predictably, there is one of the most common strawman arguments defending EVs, about two-thirds into the narrative.
“Every three minutes there’s a gasoline engine car fire, you don’t hear about those on the news. But if an electric vehicle catches fire today, just one or two in this country, you’ll hear about it on the news,” said Klock.
How is this a strawman argument? Because it attempts to bury HOW an EV burns and WHY an EV burns by simply saying “More gas cars burn every day and no one makes a big deal about it.”
Burning EVs are a big deal. Make no question of this.
The simple reality is gas cars burning isn’t newsworthy. It’s not sensational at all. A gas car burns and it’s easily extinguished with water or a chemical spray that removes access to oxygen from the fire (like pouring baking soda on a kitchen grease fire). And a gas car fire doesn’t lead to thermal runaway (explained in the article). And a gas car fire doesn’t take hours upon hours to extinguish using conventional firefighting resources and firefighting training (also in the article). And there’s no chance of the extinguished gas car bursting into flames again hours or days later (maybe just read the article first).
None of this is true for EVs. A burning gas car isn’t newsworthy. HOW an EV burns is newsworthy. It takes hours to extinguish an EV fire and there’s no guarantee the EV is actually extinguished. We’re accustomed to when a fire is put out it stays out. Newsworthy for sure.
WHY an EV burns is singular. It’s a design flaw – the battery and the fuel cells. If allowing the comparison to gas cars, there are many reasons a gas car burns, not one reason. Further, if a singular design flaw was identified in many gas car fires, those gas cars would be recalled and taken off the roads until the flaw was corrected. Or the gas car would be taken out of production completely. A perfect example is the Ford Pinto.
And WHY an EV burns as it does is also unique. A damaged or faulty EV battery ignites fuel cells that in turn ignite further fuel cells. The article likens this to igniting a match in a matchbook, where one match ignites the next and then the next in cascade. There are over 100 fuel cells in a typical EV battery.
And an EV fire can exceed 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature many metals and alloys can ignite and burn, so it’s not just the battery burning. The reason for this extreme heat is the chemical reactions of a burning EV battery cell produces its own oxygen. Things need oxygen to burn. Remove the oxygen and the thing stops burning. But when the thing burning supplies itself with oxygen it’s very difficult to stop those chemical reactions. And the more oxygen, the hotter it burns.
Sweden has been tracking the number of EV and gas car fires, comparing the two car types, and their conclusion is a gas car fire is magnitudes more likely. But the frequency and likelihood of a gas car fire compared to the frequency and likelihood of an EV fire is a strawman argument. Gas cars burning has no bearing on HOW and WHY an EV burns. If all gas cars were eliminated from the planet (this will never happen unless a comet hits us), even then HOW and WHY an EV burns remains. Eliminate all gas cars and EVs still burn because of the battery design flaw. Eliminate all gas cars and the frequency and likelihood of an EV fire is 100%. And that is effectively the reality now.
The absence of gas cars doesn’t make EVs burn any less.
Thus, a strawman argument.
Here’s another simple reality. The EV experiment is over. Saying EV battery technology WILL improve and become safer is only wishful thinking. It’s not an absolute guaranteed or predictable outcome. All indications are EV battery technology is as safe as it’s going to get. Each year of EV production hasn’t changed the HOW and WHY EV batteries burn.
The experiment has run its course and it’s time to explore other alternative energy cars. Any further investment is a waste, and best to stop before we waste any more resources on building an EV charging infrastructure. And best stop before the unavoidable expense of new firefighting resources strictly to extinguish the fires caused by a failed experiment.
And please refrain from the “cell phone lithium batteries got better and are safe” strawman argument. The only commonality is the lithium. A regular bathtub toaster and a waterproof bathtub toaster both toast bread which might not be the best analogy but it was really funny when I thought of it just now so I’m going with it.