Donald Sadoway, professor of materials chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an email: "If they get hot, they'll bloat, and the case could rupture. Explosion as a result of autogeneous heating perhaps could happen if one cell in an array caught fire and the fire spread. But I'd be surprised if a single cell would explode."
Experts also said that prospective EV buyers and owners should not worry that their electric car batteries could explode during a collision.
"If a battery is operating normally and there's a collision that causes the cell case to rupture, the contents would still be at normal temperatures, and you wouldn't have an explosion, or even a fire," Cairns said.
Battery experts emphasized that lithium-ion batteries contain a flammable electrolyte, which has a well-understood fire risk. But they said today's conventional vehicles burn gasoline, which also carries a fire risk.
"You have to put it perspective," Cairns said. "The fire danger from the battery is still far less than the fire danger from a tank of gasoline.
For a close-up look at GM's Chevy Volt, go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director, Brian Fuller.
Chuck, I found myself debating myself just reading the article. I would fully expect, as the experts note, that there would be controlled explosions during the testing of experimental technology like EV batteries. You figure, in the lab, they would be contained, managed, not a biggie. But reading further into your article and hearing what the town Mayor is reporting is a totally different story. Injured people, blown-out doors--those don't sound like effects from a controlled experiment. That sounds like serious stuff that could make people leery about the batteries for a long time.
Beth I share your thoughts. I'm now wondering what Hollywood and the Media will do with this information. We have some nice examples: 1979 movie The China Syndrome had quite an effect on public perception of Nuclear Energy, the 2010 CSI Episode "Fracked" did quite a bit to fuel rumors about the ills of Fracking, the 1992 TV movie Dead Ahead: The Exxon Valdez Disaster dramatized the dangers of petroleum use, and there is a rumored movie in production based on a New York Times article from December 25, 2010 titled Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours. I'm all for disseminating factual information about the development of new technologies, but I'm curious how this event will shape public perception of battery research.
Well, they were doing a test where they were trying to get the battery to fail. It just failed in a more "explosive" manner than they expected. I think (and forgive me for using this word) that this is being overblown a bit. If you left your Clorox bottle at home uncapped for a week, with all the windows and doors tightly sealed, you'd have some very sick occupants. That doesn't mean Clorox is something that shouldn't be used or sold.
Beth, it does seem like they are trying gloss over a serious failure. Certainly, gasoline is not exactly a stable compound, and we drive around every day with tens of gallons of the stuff being pumped at high pressure just inches away from us, so I'm not really worried about an increased risk. Just the same, the quotes read like the Three Mile Island report and I half expect that they will soon be saying they experienced "rapid oxidation" rather than a fire.
I glad I ran across this article, I am in the process of transplanting the "guts" of a wrecked 2006 Toyota Prius in to a 1992 Lexus es 300 Donner car (engine and drive train removed of course) I would like to add three more batteries in parallel to the existing battery to extend the mileage before the gas engine kicks in and starts the charging process, I can only imagine the damage it could do to my vehicle or a individual if there was an explosions or fire.
I am ambivalent regarding this as well. In other blogs I have brought up safety only to be told in so many words that I was being overcautious. Yet nobody brings hard data as to the safety standards that batteries are tested to in vehicle use when they do so, they just say that their EV works great. I still haven't had anyone tell me if the volatility increases with density...has anyone checked out the videos that are available online as to what happens when a lithium ion battery is thrown into a barbecue grill (analogous to an EV and an ICE collison where there is a fire). It's not very encouraging.
I am not as worried about the exploding battery issue as I am with the dangers involved to the poor mechanic who has to work on these things. The high voltage can kill! Plus, the computer goes through a systems check periodically and activates, amongst many other things, the brakes. If you are working on the brakes at the time, you might just lose a finger! Mechanic friends of mine are scared of the electric cars. You can't always get a factory tech, so the small-town mechanic might be the highest risk group of all- not Alaskan crab fisherman dangerous- but significant nonetheless.
Unfortunately, people are notoriously bad at assessing risk, even when given accurate information. Stoking fear by sensationalizing an event doesn't help the situation. To be fair, driving a car is probably the single most dangerous part of anybody's day. Yet, despite the 40,000 deaths a year from this activity (in the U.S.) you don't hear any public outcry.
Some cars are more reliable than others, but even the vehicles at the bottom of this year’s Consumer Reports reliability survey are vastly better than those of 20 years ago in the key areas of powertrain and hardware, experts said this week.
As it does every year, Consumers Union recently surveyed its members on the reliability of their vehicles. This year, it collected data on approximately 1.1 million cars and trucks, categorizing the members’ likes and dislikes, not only of their vehicles, but of the vehicle sub-systems, as well.
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