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E-vehicles and fire protection

Aug 17, 2021

Electric vehicles make an important contribution to the decarbonisation of road traffic and are a prerequisite for achieving climate neutrality in 2040. But electric vehicles can also score points when it comes to safety-related aspects.

The Mobility Masterplan 2030 describes goals in order to achieve only emission-free new registrations in the car sector by 2030. It is therefore necessary to gradually switch to battery electric vehicles. The fact that electric vehicles are safe and, according to ADAC, already perform better than conventional vehicles in crash tests, underlines their potential. Nevertheless, it is important to dispel existing uncertainties in the population, especially with regard to fire safety. In the current information sheet on fire safety in electric vehicles, the Federal Ministry for Climate Protection (BMK) has summarized this topic and other safety aspects for electrically operated vehicles.

Fire safety in the garage

According to a study commissioned by the German Ministry of Transport, around 80 to 90 percent of charges will take place in private parking spaces in 2030. Many of them are in garages and there are still uncertainties about the fire safety of e-vehicles. It is a common misconception that modern e-cars emit so-called charging gases. This myth turns out to be wrong, as it only applies to lead-acid batteries, which are no longer used in today's electric car models. Lithium-ion batteries, which are largely gas-tight and safe, are used in modern e-vehicles. Cable fires cannot be ruled out per se, but if the charging infrastructure is properly installed and maintained, they rarely or never occur. It is important to know that the normal household shockproof plug is not designed for the continuous load that occurs when charging an e-car. For this reason, at least a CEE socket (“high-voltage socket”) designed for continuous load or even better, a “wallbox” designed for charging should be used. The "Right to Plug", which was assessed on 17th June 2021, will facilitate the expansion of charging stations in residential buildings and also accelerate the expansion accordingly. A private charging station should only be installed by a licensed specialist electrical company. The installation and operation of a charging station are strictly regulated, and charging stations must be checked annually.

Fire safety in an accident involving an electric vehicle

In the event of a fire, electric vehicles do not behave significantly differently than combustion vehicles, as the Austrian research project "BRAFA" has proven. However, there is a difference when it comes to fighting the fire and recovering the vehicles involved in the accident. If the battery is so badly deformed that a battery fire occurs, one or more subsequent fires cannot be ruled out up to 100 hours later. It is therefore important to ensure that there is sufficient water for fighting the fire and the gases released, and that the wreck is properly transported and stored appropriately. According to the German Social Accident Insurance Association (DGUV), the vehicle only has to be stored in a water bath in the rarest of cases, which is also not recommended as a preventive measure. The Austrian Federal Fire Association published an information sheet for fire fighters on how to properly deal with electric vehicles in an accident in 2020.

Further research on security aspects

New studies and projects investigate further questions on accidents and fire behaviour of e-vehicles so that e-cars can also make a positive safety-relevant contribution to the mobility transition. In addition to the FFG “BRAFA” project, the “BEVITUN” project is investigating the effects of accidents with alternatively operated vehicles in tunnels. In any case, the interim results of these research projects are very positive: E-vehicles are very safe and do not differ significantly from combustion vehicles in terms of fire behaviour. In its investigations, the ADAC also came to a positive test result: There is currently no evidence that electric vehicles, with or without the effects of an accident, start to burn more quickly than cars with internal combustion engines. As part of the Zero Emission Mobility Implementation annual program 2020, an R&D service was tendered which will investigate further open safety-related questions in accident situations with battery electric vehicles.

In order to achieve the climate goals in the mobility sector, a switch to emission-free vehicles is a prerequisite. In the passenger car sector, the technology decision to transform to purely battery-electric drives has already been made. In the bus and heavy commercial vehicle sector, the drive technology of the future is not yet clear. This can also be seen in the new registration figures for the first half of 2021, where around 15,300 pure electric cars (around 14% of new registrations) and only four hydrogen cars were registered. It is important for the public sector to set the right framework conditions so that the charging infrastructure can be expanded in accordance with the safety-relevant criteria and new findings from research can flow into the design of the framework conditions.

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