Recent social media trends have brought the issue of fire incidents in electric vehicles to the forefront. Particularly as the global shift toward clean energy vehicles gains momentum general population have started to pay attention. It has become somewhat commonplace to come across images or videos of burning electric vehicles on social media platforms, creating concerns.
Especially in regions like ours where fire risk mitigation measures are not as robust, fire hazards are destructive. This situation poses a potential threat, considering the limited availability of burn hospitals in Nepal. Activists are actively advocating for increased attention from the government to establish more burn hospitals across the nation but so far their efforts have generated no benefits. There are cities with international airport but no burn hospitals in the country.
In light of these circumstances, if there is a substantial increase in fire incidents involving electric vehicles, it might prompt the government to reevaluate its EV policy. However, any government decision in this regard should be grounded in factual evidence rather than assumptions. In order to gain a clearer understanding, let's explore the potential causes of fires in both Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles and battery-operated electric vehicles and know for sure if there is any factual basis supporting a higher incidence of fires in battery electric vehicles compared to other vehicles.
Potential Causes of Fire in ICE Vehicles
ICE vehicles can catch fire due to various reasons. Here are some common causes of fires in ICE vehicles:
Fuel System Issues:
Fuel leaks from damaged fuel lines, faulty fuel injectors, or a compromised fuel tank can create a flammable environment, leading to fires.
Electrical System Failures:
Short circuits in the electrical system, often caused by damaged wiring, faulty components, or overheating, can ignite flammable materials in the vehicle.
Engine Compartment Fires:
Overheating of the engine or exhaust components combined with combustible fluids or materials in the engine compartment can contribute to fires.
Leaking oil, especially if it comes into contact with hot engine parts, can lead to fires. This can result from worn gaskets, seals, or other engine components.
Exhaust System Issues:
A malfunctioning or damaged exhaust system can expose flammable materials to high temperatures, potentially causing fires.
Brake System Failures:
Overheating of the brake system, particularly due to malfunctioning components or prolonged heavy braking, can contribute to fires.
Collisions and Accidents:
High-impact collisions or accidents that result in structural damage to the vehicle may expose components to conditions that can lead to fires.
Exposure to External Flames:
External factors such as wildfires which is rampant in dry season in Nepal or exposure to open flames can ignite combustible materials in and around the vehicle.
It is important to note that while the causes listed above highlight potential fire risks in ICE vehicles, manufacturers implement safety features and adhere to stringent standards to minimize these risks. Regular vehicle maintenance, timely repairs, and adherence to safety guidelines contribute to reducing the likelihood of fires
Potential cause of Fire in Battery Electric Vehicles
Fires in electric vehicles can occur due to various factors, although it is important to note that such incidents are relatively rare. Here are some potential causes of fires in electric vehicles:
Overcharging can lead to thermal runaway in lithium-ion batteries, resulting in overheating and potential fire. Modern electric vehicles incorporate advanced Battery Management Systems (BMS) to prevent overcharging.
External Impact or Damage:
Physical damage to the battery pack, whether due to accidents, collisions, or external factors, can compromise the integrity of the battery cells, leading to a risk of fire.
Manufacturing Defects in batteries:
Rare instances of manufacturing defects in battery cells or the overall battery pack can cause internal short circuits, potentially leading to fires. Stringent quality control measures are implemented to minimize these risks.
Improper Charging Infrastructure:
Charging infrastructure that is faulty or not designed to handle electric vehicle charging can pose a risk. Issues such as incorrect wiring or insufficient safety measures may contribute to fires during charging.
Software or Electronic System Malfunction:
Malfunctions in the vehicle's electronic systems or software controlling the battery may lead to abnormal behavior, potentially causing overheating and fire.
Prolonged Exposure to Extreme Conditions:
Continuous exposure to extreme temperatures, whether excessively high or low, can impact the performance and safety of the battery, increasing the risk of fire.
It is important to highlight that manufacturers continuously work to address and mitigate these risks through rigorous testing, improved safety standards, and ongoing advancements in battery technology. There are stringent vehicle homologation laws in place in different countries to minimize this affect. But in Nepal homologation is yet to come into practice. Electric vehicles are generally designed with multiple layers of safety features to minimize the likelihood of fires and ensure the overall safety of both the vehicle and its occupants. We should have some mechanism in place to check if these vehicles are what they claim they are.
In examining the potential causes of fires in both ICE vehicles and EVs, it becomes evident that the key factor influencing fire risks lies in the manufacturing quality rather than the inherent nature of the vehicles. Both ICE vehicles and EVs face common challenges, such as electrical failures, or external impacts, which can contribute to fire incidents. Manufacturers play a pivotal role in minimizing these risks through rigorous quality control measures, safety features, and adherence to stringent standards.
It is crucial to recognize that blaming fire incidents solely on the electric nature of vehicles exacerbate the situation. ICE engine vehicle with more than 100 years of history are equally prone to fire incidents as any BEV with only decade of history. So it is easier for people to blame new technology , that is not always the case. As demonstrated in the comparison, ICE vehicles, with over a century of history, have an equal probability of catching fire if manufacturing standards are compromised. The relatively new introduction of electric vehicles may make them an easier target for scrutiny, but a closer examination reveals that fire risks are not exclusive to one type of vehicle.
The conclusion drawn from this analysis is that the primary determinant of fire risks is the commitment of manufacturers to improve quality control and safety standards. If manufacturers uphold stringent protocols, whether for ICE or electric vehicles, the likelihood of fires is significantly reduced. In essence, it is not the power source but the diligence and precision in the manufacturing process that dictate the safety of a vehicle. As the automotive industry continues to evolve, it is essential to approach discussions around fire risks with a nuanced perspective, acknowledging that both types of vehicles can be equally secure when built to the highest standards. But Nepali government can at least introduce strict homologation laws in country in order to stop importing compromised BEV’s from abroad and expose its citizen to vehicle fires risks.