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The End of Internal Combustion Engines


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With 10 years until the demise of the internal combustion engine, operation fire risks in relation to vehicle fires will surely change

Lets not forget, the changes will start sooner as who will want to buy a £20,000 car in 2025 with only 5 years until its resale worth is virtually nothing?

So EV fire risks will grow rapidly in the next 5 years before a steep rise in sales thereafter. Is your fire service ready?

Do you have suitable SOPs for firefighting? RTCs and does your fire safety team have policies for the location of EV chargers?

I have been working on several projects re installing EV chargers in car parks and its worrying stuff. A rapid charger can draw 70amps, and while risk can be controlled by maintaining it properly, it plugs into a car where the building owner has no part of keeping the car maintained 

As you know, lithium batteries caused rapid fire spread and need a massively aggressive offensive attack with lots of water - perhaps more than a sprinkler system can throw at it

I have been on this project to roll out EV services for almost 3 years . The project is now having to rush its deadlines to meet Boris' 10 year deadline. But we will be ready

But will your proecures be ready by then? 

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I'm not so sure fuel cars will suddenly become worthless in 2030, conversely they could even rise in value if the electric roll out isn't as successful or efficient, particularly in rural areas. Not sure what will happen to the price of fuel in the meantime, less demand and production normally means higher prices so that will have an effect as well.

Either way I think you're right and that we need to prepare now. In my service we had an EV fire (not sure on model) but there were rolling reliefs for the incident due to an apparent need to let the batteries completely discharge which takes around 24 hours. Maybe someone else can elaborate more on this rationale and the incident in question but this is what I've heard.

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I went to a conference before lockdown about EVs and how to prepare for the next 20 years. 

Expert speakers talked about there fears about power capacities in residential and rural areas and suggested many £billions would be needed across the UK on power supplies alone - let alone charging infrastructure .

Imaging a suburban housing estate, a small town or village. Its winter and dark between 17:30 and 19:00 when people are finishing their commute. Everyone will want rapid chargers in due course. At 80+ amps, thats a big ask for local supplies on top of all the other demands of heating, light and at a time when ovens and grills are on preparing the supper and working families are switching on washing machines and tumble driers.... you get the picture

Boris has put aside £4b for the next 10 years. That's £400m per year. A commercial charger is around £2k to £k, plus a data link to charge the user and we have 38 million cars in the UK. So that £4b could be swallowed up just on chargers. Then will data capacity be sufficient in rural areas? ....... and on it goes 

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When @Messyshaw speaks, I always seem to learn something! Fascinating insight there into just how much infrastructure upgrade is needed to make this happen. It really does sound like another one of Boris' ideas plucked from thin air. 


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I didn't think it was the end of the internal combustion engine. it was just that no 100% IC engines cold be sold. So hybrids etc..

You are 100% correct about the last mile infrastructure in the UK not being anywhere sufficient to handle these sorts of demands at present, i believe the current smart meters do have the upgrade ability to allow integration of chargers for load balancing, but that's still a long way off.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Because successive Governments have purposely ignored the political hot potato of building more nuclear power stations, we will not be in a position where we can generate enough electricity to accommodate every car being electric.

Also, an EV fire is a Hazmat incident and can involve putting water on it for days!... we had one recently which tied up resources for a long time which is just crazy.

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As they become more prevalent then manufacturers/owners are going to have to take some more responsibility for when this happens. I'm sure some specialist recovery companies will pop up that can safely remove the vehicle which is then billed to the owner/breakdown/insurance company.

It's not the fire service's job to babysit a car that may or may not explode into a ball of flame on the side of a road. Maybe they will devise some sort of shroud or other media that they can coat the car with to prevent this issue?

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My research into EV fires and methods of dealing with them have led me to Aqueous Vermiculite Dispersal (AVD) fire extinguishers.

These use 20% vermiculite (a sort of sand which is used in fire resisting boards and intumescent fire resisting paint)  suspended in 80% water. When applied from an extinguisher onto lithium ion batteries, the water cools the huge heat generated and as it evaporates, the vermiculite is left covering the battery in a sticky mess that excludes oxygen. The chemical properties in the vermiculite also interfere with the exothermic chemical chain reaction and extinguishes the fire much more efficiently than class D powder.

At £400 for a 9l extinguisher they aint cheap and if further research (& a trial) of these extinguishers is successful, I will be looking to investing £16,000 into an order for them.  They will of course be for first aid firefighting by technical staff, but where that is impossible, they will be in place for use by the local fire crews. But is that rationale realistic? 

So please help me out:

  • Have you heard of AVD extinguishers?
  • Does your F&RS use them?
  • Does your F&RS have an SOP or guidance on their use?
  • If you haven't heard of them and were faced with a small but significant lithium (or metal) fire, would you have a go or just flood the fire?

Aqueous Vermiculite Dispersion


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in answer to your questions in order.

  1. no
  2. no
  3. no
  4. current guidance large amounts of water, I’d go with that but depends on size and effectiveness of attack.

I think there is future mileage (forgive the pun)in a self extinguishing system on board although how that is absorbed or indeed mandated to/by the auto industry , would probably start to push prices up beyond most people’s purse. 

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I'm in the unique position that I used to be a design engineer working on the development of military grade Li-ion and primary lithium packs, a retained firefighter and also a now work with high temp lithium primary cells in a specialist application.

I can't say I've come across these extinguishers. I'd be interested to know what applications they are actually recommended for use in as i can;t foresee a situaion they would actually be useful in.

We've paid lip serve and have Cat D extinguishers, they are designed for lithium metal/chemical fires that limit your ability to put water on a fire. I've been involved in a number of incidents involving packs of all chemistries. Though in all cases they were single packs up to (12 cells) and i have to say the initial event is always violent and short lived. This tends to consume the energy storage elements of the cell and by the time anyone gets to put media on to it, it's become a carbonaceous fire. So it negates the need to use Cat D anymore.  Having been about 2ft from a pack when it exploded and compromised a 20Kpsi pressure vessel(think pipe bomb) I can safely say i will be going no where near a battery fire until that reaction is over, luckily for me it was literally a pipe and the blast was directed away from us.

@Messyshaw if you PM me your email address I'll send you some videos of tests we've done in the past on cells and you'll see how violent that is.

It's also a common misconception that there is solid lithium in a Li-ion cell. There isn't, its an an ionic form that doesn't react with water. It's also a fallacy that leaving the packs for a period to self discharge will reduce the risk. The systems have no ability to do that, the protection circuitry will shut the pack down, but unless the energy is released(fire etc) then it will stay chemically stored in the cell for months if not years.

What I've not considered here is the size of the packs(more relevant to EV cars) and the propagation within the packs, or your ability to stop that, but that's twofold:

Thermal runaway

The pack next to it reacting, heating the pack next to it enough to cause the separator between the anode and cathode to melt and cause an internal short circuit and the process continues. This can also be caused by the failure of the protection/cell balancing circuitry and a resultant overcharge of a cell. cooling would help, but the likelihood of getting effective cooling into where it needs to be is low.

Mechanical Damage

Crush, puncture, short around, or within the cell, prior to the protection circuitry. This is the most likely situation in an RTC, multiple points of failure in the pack and again, nothing you can do about it, because the reactions are self sustaining. this is also a concern when extricating or when recovering the car, you still have a pack comprised of 1000's of cells, you move something and a new bit touches/shorts, it kicks off again, so your just pushing the risk down the line.

I'd make a very strong case for letting it burn and containing the spread. OK on a road, but a nightmare in an underground car park.  

Slightly off topic, these were quite something. Designed to deal with the risk of fires involving the liquid sodium/potassium coolant system at Dounreay nuclear power plant. I can confrim a shout to a nuclear power station in the middle of the night makes your ass twitch in ways you never knew it could 


Edited by Keith
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Quite a few thoughts on this.
This topic comes up a lot at ours and we had a big discussion about this on the pump yesterday. Then in the wee hours this morning we had a kitchen fire from a kids toy swegway charging overnight and a having a rapid thermal runaway. Li batteries are everywhere and only increasing. Vapes and iPods are the new smoking and chip pan fires I reckon. Anyway...

Personally I think the government are in no position to make promises and that is why it's not legislation. Yet.

All we have legally binding is the Climate Change Act 2008 which is states we must have 80percent lower carbon emissions than 1990 levels by 2050. EVs are going to come down in price and availability, there is no doubt about that, but banning new ICE vehicles is a tall order as the its forecast that it could double electricity demand just when we are looking at getting more power from mostly offshore wind, which works about 45 percent of the time, and at times that doesnt always match demand. Basically, I dont think we are going to do it without Nuclear baseload power, hence the scramble to get Hinkley and Sizewell Cs up and running even though they are not necessarily the most cost effective reactor designs. The struggle to get adequate low carbon power will get in the way of rolling out EVs to every single household. Its all rather chicken and egg.

Nonetheless were going to see more EVs. Battery capacity is expanding and they are coming down in price. If you dont have to charge your car at home every night because it can do 300-400 miles in a pop before going to the supercharger at the petrol station, then you will still see more EVs on the streets long before every home has a charging port.

A good video here Youtube
Its of a live burn of a Tesla Model S.

TL;DW: It took 15000 litres of water to cool it sufficiently, the car had to be jacked up to access the battery pack on the floor plan, and needed around 25 minutes of direct application to the battery case. The knockdown was fairly quick however. As Highlander says, its usually a chain of one cell heating another and them cooking off in sequence, not necessarily an explosion. The issue is the latent heat setting things on fire again.

Bulk Water Carriers on the PDAs for EVs maybe? Do what the airports do and use dual application of powder media into a wide hosereel spray to make it safe enough to jack up? Or even something as simple at the curtain spray attachment or fog spike slid underneath the floor pan?

You could leave it to burn with a watching brief, but you would surely have to put cordons around for some time and all the headaches that would entail. Not as simple as just closing a road like you would for a conventional car fire, and would require maybe more resources from Police/Highways. Theres also the envronmental concerns of letting a car full of lithium burn out in its entirety and running into water courses. Headaches all round.

Anyhow, id still have one!

Edited by Keith
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What will be interesting is the future replacement battery economy, where surely third party lower quality, lower price battery packs will become common on older vehicles. 

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