NHTSA investigates the electric vehicle segment for fire risks
This investigation has been launched by the NHTSA out of a concern for the future safety of consumers and not due to a fire in any electric vehicles. Many vehicles currently featuring electric propulsion or hybrid drive systems are powered by nickel hydride but the NHTSA expects that 70% of these alternative-power vehicles will feature lithium ion batteries in the next 10 years. For instance, Ford Motor Company plans to shift to lithium ion batteries in their entire electric and hybrid fleet within the next two years. This investigation was spurred by the fact that Dell recalled a large group of laptops with similar battery technology when it was found that overcharging could cause overheating and increase fire risks.
The agency’s concern is that when 400 volt lithium ion batteries reach the market in mass quantities, consumers could overcharge these high voltage batteries and while the modern electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid systems feature safeguards against this, the NHTSA feels the need to spend $8.75 million over three years to see if the next generation of electrified vehicle batteries offers an increase risk of fire. If you have ever overcharged a set of AA batteries, you know how quickly they can get very hot. Now imagine that the AA battery is a 400 bolt car battery and rather than a low voltage battery charger, you have a 240 volt charger connected to the electrical system of your home.
The NHTSA is also spending time looking at the results of various collisions on these high voltage lithium ion batteries. Kevin Vincent, chief counsel of the NHTSA said that the industry doesn’t have a good idea as whether or not these vehicles are safe after a crash. The simple crash tests of these vehicles show that they protect the driver and passengers in the case of an accident like any other car on the road but what happens when that 400 bolt battery is damaged? That is exactly the kind of question the NHTSA hopes to tackle – helping to make electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids safer as technology becomes more affordable and more available to larger groups of consumers.
This investigation should work to either confirm or improve the safety of the high tech and high voltage electric and hybrid vehicles but with the process scheduled to run into 2014 – it could be a while before we see any results.
Source: Automotive News