Electric vehicles are certainly on the rise. New legislation in the UK mandates that all new vehicles sold must have some form of electric power by 2030. Registration data shows that sales of new electric vehicles are up massively, while new petrol vehicle sales are down nearly 20% and diesels down by almost 40%. Obviously, there’s a lot of new infrastructure required to accommodate these seismic changes in the automobile industry.

But one change that might not be at the top of everyone’s mind is fire safety. This is an important element of health and safety legislation when working on vehicles due to the flammable nature of the fuel in internal combustion engine powered vehicles. Vehicle garages and service stations across the country are required to take fire safety incredibly seriously as part of their HSE provision.

But electric vehicles prevent a unique challenge when it comes to battery fires, and existing fire suppression systems and extinguishers may not be up to the task. As the number of hybrid and full electric vehicles continues to rise, it’s important to take a look at your fire safety provision and ensure you’re protected against Lithium-ion battery fires.

Why are lithium-ion battery fires so dangerous?

While lithium-ion batteries are very safe, especially battery packs designed specifically for the automotive sector, failures do occur. One of the main issues is that where lithium-ion batteries do fail, either due to being damaged or simply a component failure, the increase in temperature (known as thermal runaway) could be due to several different things, or even all of them at once. Also, once the battery has been damaged, these heat generating processes will typically continue until all of the energy the battery is storing has been dissipated. This makes it difficult to extinguish the fire with conventional extinguishers.

Some of the heat sources that could be present in a lithium-ion battery fire include traditional combustion, ohmic, thermodynamic and chemical. Due to the obvious addition of the electrical energy, these ohmic and thermodynamic heat sources can cause very dangerous fires.

It can also be very hard to extinguish lithium-ion battery fires. The designs of the batteries can make it difficult to actually apply extinguishing agents to the source of the heat. With conventional agents like water or foam, you may also need to continue dousing the battery until all of its energy has dissipated. In the case of a large vehicle battery, this may take some time.

How do you manage the risks of lithium-ion battery fires?

Well, the first thing to note here is that the fire safety procedures in your garage should be based on keeping your members of staff safe. Vehicle fires are extremely dangerous and should be tackled by professional firefighters. Make sure that your staff are trained on being extremely cautious with vehicle fires, especially if the vehicle’s batteries are in a closed location where hydrogen and ethane has had the opportunity to build up.

However, there is also a prevention element to help manage the risks. As we’ve already discussed, conventional fire extinguishers or fire suppression systems like the ones you likely already have on the premises are not very effective at tackling lithium-ion battery fires.

Many are turning to a new form of fire extinguisher to help them manage the risks of electric vehicle fires. As you review your fire safety procedures in light of the growth of hybrid and electric vehicles, it’s worth considering these new types of extinguishers.

Lith-Ex fire extinguishers: designed specifically for li-ion battery fires

The Lith-Ex range of fire extinguishers have been designed specifically for lithium-ion battery fires. By using an Aqueous Vermiculite Dispersion (AVD) extinguishing agent, these kinds of extinguishers are extremely effective at dealing with lithium-ion fires. This agent has been specifically formulated to stop the thermal runaway processes at work in these kinds of fires.

The vermiculite particles within the agent will actually form a film over the top of the fire, preventing it from spreading and bringing the fire under control. Because electric vehicle batteries are made up of lots of smaller cells, this can be a very effective method for stopping a small fire spreading across the entire battery and becoming extremely dangerous.

We’d recommend garages look to these AVD extinguishers as part of reviewing their fire safety procedures – as well as potentially a fixed system specifically designed for the location in question.

Find out more about Lith-Ex fire extinguishers here.

If you’re thinking about the fire safety in your vehicle garage, workshop or service centre, speak to Fire Control Services. We’re experts in fire extinguisher servicing, maintenance and more, and we can supply Lith-Ex fire extinguishers to your premises.