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Electronics & Test

Chevy Volt Battery Fires: Experts Say Engineers Managing Risks Properly

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oldtimer8080
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Gold
Risk Managed? I don't think so
oldtimer8080   12/5/2011 3:42:30 PM
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Remember, when GM first tested airbags, the prototypes kept decapitating the dummies.

 

The danger of any exotic chemical batteries and energy cells is well known. The Bolder TMF cell can do a similar job powering hybrids...Remember the Chrysler EXS created some time ago? Bolder uses a LEAD ACID combination with plastic shielding isolating EVERY CELL in the pack. That cell system was used in the ESX. No fires, no leakage except from the damaged cells in a collision...The amount of standard car battery electrolyte is contained in the matrix. No more than a few drops per cel actually leaks out.

 

Contrast that to the problems the ( re) VOLT (ing) has.

 

Used regular materials in power pack construction and the problem goes away.

 

Too bad the company got outsourced to the pacific rim....

ricardo
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Silver
Re: When do they catch fire?
ricardo   12/5/2011 5:04:00 PM
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Rod, according to Hollywood, your Pinto experience is not typical.  If you do a survey of all car crashes in films or on TV, all car crashes result in fire & an explosion.  This is specially true if you are a bad guy.

Alexander Wolfe
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Blogger
Re: Risk Managed? I don't think so
Alexander Wolfe   12/5/2011 5:13:25 PM
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I think at this point we clearly don't know the complete range of risks in the Volt. Nor, re the earlier comment, do we know exactly how many Volts have been sold. We'll be keeping up with both issues in our continuing coverage on Design News; thanks for the comments and for bringing these issues to the fore.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Waiting to Explode?
Charles Murray   12/5/2011 9:17:12 PM
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We still don't know enough about what happened and when we do, we will report it. But too many times, stories in the newspapers and TV news about such subjects take on the apperance of a witch hunt, then they disappear. Consider Toyota's unintended acceleration "problem." Little was written when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said this after the NHTSA investigation: "The jury is back. The verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. Period." And what about the infamous General Motors pickup trucks -- the ones that were profiled on NBC Dateline in a story called "Waiting to Expode?" Those vehicles, too, were supposed to be death traps...until it was learned that NBC faked the explosions with remote control explosives. Again -- I repeat -- we don't yet know what happened here. And, yes, there are anomalies. So, yes, government agencies should certainly investigate this fire (or fires, as the case may be). But until we do know anything definitive, I'm siding with the engineers. For the most part, they have a good track record.

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: When do they catch fire?
Rob Spiegel   12/6/2011 10:33:16 AM
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Yes, Hollywood does love its pyrotechnics. Hollywood does twist your expectations. Makes you wonder why more of the accidents you see at the side of the road are not bursting into flames.

dbg
User Rank
Silver
Re: Risk Managed? I don't think so
dbg   12/6/2011 2:46:53 PM
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The whole thing is overblown, especially when you consider the horrible statistics for gasoline powered cars.  Just in the USA:

"329,500 vehicle fires, 565 civilian deaths, 1,825 civilian injuries were reported in 2002."

http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/osvehicle.pdf

That's over 300,000 gasoline vehicle fires per year.

Any time you store large volumes of energy there is the risk of fire.  I'd rather be sitting in a vehicle with a well-designed battery pack than a tank full of highly flammable gasoline.

 

Alexander Wolfe
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Blogger
Re: Risk Managed? I don't think so
Alexander Wolfe   12/6/2011 3:08:34 PM
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Alongside gasoline-fueled fires, a big cause of automotive deaths remains distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (pdf download), some 33,000 deaths were caused in 2009 by drowsy driving. I don't know if there are stats yet for accidents caused by texting while driving, but I'd bet the numbers are pretty scary. That said, this stuff as well as gas are discrete from the issues raised by Lithium Ion batteries, which need to be investigated.

dbg
User Rank
Silver
Re: Risk Managed? I don't think so
dbg   12/6/2011 3:42:59 PM
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I'm not saying that it doesn't need to be investigated.  I'm just saying that we have to put the risks in perspective. Gasoline fires are depressingly common.

We should also note that the fires in question happend a week or two after the damage to the pack was incurred.  Most people don't sit in their damaged cars for two weeks.

 

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Risk Managed? I don't think so
Charles Murray   12/6/2011 11:05:16 PM
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Good point, dgb. Consider this: A gallon of gasoline contains about 30 kWh of energy. That means that a 15-gallon gas tank holds about 450 kWh. In contrast, a Volt battery contains 16 kWh -- equivalent to about half a gallon of gas.

Retired Engineer
User Rank
Iron
Li Batteries Have Been and still are Potential Fire Hazards
Retired Engineer   12/7/2011 2:58:27 AM
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These batteries have caused numerous product recalls including thousands of computers and just last month I got a message from Apple recalling my 1st generation, 5 year old iPod due to battery fires!!   Apparently as these units aged, they have become more susceptable to initiating fires.

As with all systems, we learn to live with risk managment, by both the provider of the product and the user of the product.  However, as systems become more complex, the potential failure modes increase and the reliability decreases.  Just remember that the more cells you stuff in a battery and the more electronics you pack around it and its vehicles interfaces, the higher the probability of a failure. 

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