Governments have dubbed electric vehicles as the future of the road transport sector. The adoption of electric vehicles helps us decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with them. Although India is quite a recent entrant into the list of countries adopting electric vehicles, the country is slated to become one of the biggest markets for electric vehicles by 2030. However, there have been a few instances of electric vehicles catching fire in India.
Two-wheelers mainly lead the electric vehicle segment in India. However, even as India confidently and ambitiously moves towards an era of electric vehicles, the electric two-wheeler sector is facing a severe crisis.
On 19th April 2022, a detachable electric scooter battery (which the owner had kept to charge) exploded, resulting in the death of a man. We have also heard about many fire incidents involving electric vehicles this past month. These events raise questions about passengers’ and occupants’ safety with an electric car. Many people have begun to ask, why are electric vehicles catching fire in India? Before we understand the problem with the vehicles, let us first understand how the batteries work.
Lithium-ion batteries power almost all of our electronic applications from smartphones to laptops to electric cars. The main components of a lithium-ion battery are:
An electrolyte, and
Two current collectors
The electrolyte acts as a medium. Positively charged ions travel from the anode, through the electrolyte, to the cathode. The movement of the lithium ions creates a charge. A lithium-ion battery has several advantages. They include its durability, its ability to recharge, its lightweight, and high energy density.
Why Do Electric Vehicles Catch Fire?
The battery’s high energy density sets it apart from other types of battery cells. However, this feature is also the reason why some industry experts also consider the battery dangerous. Failure of the battery pack to manage its components is the primary reason for fires. Almost always, a short circuit causes the fire.
The main reasons for a fire in electric vehicles are:
1. Poor cell quality
2. Inappropriate battery design
3. Poor battery management system
With a rapidly growing market, manufacturers are not spending enough time on the design of products and testing them. They must also make sure that the product entirely complies with governmental prescribed standards. The hurry to push batteries into the market has led to inappropriate battery design, poor cell quality, and an inadequate battery management system in electric vehicles. An electric car needs the right software to manage the battery cells smoothly.
The convergence of heat, oxygen, and fuel also leads to electric vehicles catching fire in India, as explained by an energy storage scientist. To prevent this, there must be controlled manufacturing of these devices. Building high safety systems into electric vehicles is costly. But, the functioning of lithium-ion batteries sans accidents depends on it.
Some industry experts blame the country’s rising temperatures and the poor thermal management systems for electric vehicles catching fire in India. However, other experts have termed this a misconception. They say that for the battery to be compromised, temperatures would have to rise by a few hundred degrees Celsius. In contrast, the temperatures in our country have increased only by a few degrees. Though high temperatures can impact performance and shorten the life of the batteries, they cannot cause fires.
The Government of India has sprung into action following the increase in fire incidents involving electric two-wheelers. The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways ordered a probe into the incident of electric vehicles catching fire. The Government has also asked the Centre for Fire Explosive and Environment Safety to investigate the incidents. Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister, announced that the failure of electric vehicle companies to comply with customer safety standards would result in a heavy penalty. He ordered companies to recall all defective electric vehicles. With the Indian Government’s vision of having 80% electric vehicle sales in the country by 2030, the problem of exploding batteries must be addressed and fixed immediately.
Firstly, the battery pack assembly design needs to be perfect to prevent electric vehicles from catching fire. We need battery cells manufactured locally, keeping in mind Indian weather conditions. However, even this local manufacturing process needs to be well-thought-out. A haphazard production of local battery cells could face an even bigger problem once they enter the vast electric vehicle market.
If we can perfect the cell design and manufacturing process with Indian requirements at the heart of them, we could see a drastic reduction in the number of battery fire incidents. In addition, electric vehicles in India would also need a built-in temperature measurement sensor. When the battery cell reaches a temperature above a specific limit, the sensor should be able to cut off the power, immobilizing the vehicle.
Another solution to avoid electric vehicles catching fire in India is appropriate chargers. A lot of people use smartphone chargers to charge their electric vehicles. Smartphone chargers are inappropriate for electric vehicles. They could damage the battery. People should avoid using the wrong type of charger for their electric vehicles.
The Government must encourage the development of third-party labs that can independently test batteries. These labs would then provide certificates that electric vehicle sellers must provide to the buyer on the purchase of the vehicle.
The discovery and implementation of solid-state electrolytes in electric vehicles will also go a long way in preventing fires. Lithium-ion batteries currently use a fluid electrolyte.
We must remember that lithium-ion battery packs form the core of electric vehicle technology. The battery is a sophisticated device, and manufacturers must never compromise on the in-built safety features.
Companies in the electric vehicle supply chain should recall and work on improving the defective vehicles. They must ensure that they comply with safety standards to prevent the recurrence of mishaps.
Lastly, as much as the issues with batteries are unfortunate, they are a part of advancing technology. Issues such as these help manufacturers better understand the problem and improve and perfect the manufacturing and production process. These incidents are inevitable when a country moves forward with modern technology. They lead to better solutions and safety systems.
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