Fires caused by lithium-ion batteries found in popular items like e-bikes, e-scooters and electric vehicles are on the rise – with two cars catching fire on the same day this week.
And a well-placed source said firefighters across Australia were “very concerned” about a rise in cases as the use of lithium-ion batteries explodes.
“What we do know is that there will be more fires,” the source said, noting that the fumes from a battery fire were far more toxic than those from a standard fire.
Firefighters were called to a Sydney Airport car park on Monday to find five cars had become burning wrecks.
The lithium battery, which had been detached from an MG ZS EV, was identified as the cause of the fire at the Airport Drive car park in Mascot.
Meanwhile, the same night in Penrose, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, a Tesla Model 3 caught fire after being hit by the tail shaft of a truck in front of it.
Firefighters from Penrose Fire Brigade were fortunately able to put out the blaze.
The driver and passenger inside were able to stop and get out of the car before it caught fire, with firefighters putting out the blaze in just over half an hour.
Adam Dewberry, NSW Fire and Rescue superintendent, said 165 fires linked to lithium-ion batteries were reported last year in the state.
From the beginning of this year until the end of July, that number is 114.
“We’re seeing a number of these fires linked to lithium-ion, there’s no doubt about it,” he told Daily Mail Australia.
“This is why we have launched a collaborative research program in this area.”
However, the source said the true figure would be “double” that figure in NSW alone.
The source said the problem is that technological advances have outpaced regulations and laws. Multi-storey car parks were built to withstand fires started by conventional vehicles, not those started by “a thermal event caused by battery failure”.
Fire and Rescue NSW has launched a collaborative research program known as Security of Alternative and Renewable Energy Technologies (SARET).
With help from other fire departments, government agencies and research institutions, the program will examine the best responses to lithium-ion battery fires and electric vehicle fires.
Mr Dewberry said both electric vehicle-related fires on Monday were started by external factors.
“The car battery under the airport was already damaged and had been removed, and Penrose’s battery had hit debris,” he told Daily Mail Australia.
“We are monitoring the whole situation and so far everything has gone well and electric vehicles are mostly safe.” But there are still things we are continuing to research.
Mr Dewberry said it was difficult to say whether a non-electric car would have caught fire after being hit by debris, like the electric vehicle which was struck in Penrose.
“It’s entirely possible,” he said.
“We have seen non-electric vehicles catch fire after collisions. The SARET program aims to ensure they stay at the forefront and identify risks where appropriate.
Dr Matthew Priestley, who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of New South Wales, said the most important thing electric vehicle drivers needed to be aware of was not overheating the battery.
Thermal runaway, as it’s called, occurs when the battery overheats uncontrollably and fails to cool down.
Firefighters are seen putting out a fire inside a Tesla after the battery overheated in Penrose, New South Wales.
Five cars were found burnt out in a Sydney Airport car park after a lithium-ion battery caught fire.
“It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill. The key is you never want to let the battery get above that temperature,” Mr Priestley told Daily Mail Australia.
“Once this temperature is exceeded, even if you put out the fire, it can still reignite hours or even days later if you have not cooled it down.”
Dr Priestley said another problem with batteries is that when they are on fire they emit toxic emissions “you don’t want to breathe”.
“Going near the battery not only poses a fire hazard, it’s also a toxic hazard,” he said.
He said electric vehicles benefit from very high quality manufacturing when it comes to lithium batteries.
For example, Teslas have battery management systems that notify the driver when the battery has a problem.
Dr Priestley said treating a car, especially an electric vehicle, with the utmost respect was key to safety.
He said following a serious collision, electric vehicle owners should have the battery inspected, as accidents can often result in mechanical damage, which can lead to overheating.
He also advised owners to never buy second-hand batteries or tinker with their electric vehicle.
Fire in electric vehicle’s lithium-ion battery burns five cars at Sydney Airport
“These cars are safe, treat them with respect and if you suspect there is a problem contact your car manufacturer,” he said.
“Don’t try to put out the fire yourself, because you may think you’re putting it out, but in reality you’re just breathing in toxic fumes.”
Emma Sutcliffe, project director at EV Fire Safe, which provides free electric vehicle fire safety knowledge to emergency responders, said there were often warning signs that an electric vehicle battery had overheated.
“There are loud noises like gunshots and pops,” she said.
“There is also some hissing noise coming from the gases escaping from the battery.”
She said that while electric vehicle batteries can take a lot of damage before catching fire, the biggest concern was with lithium-ion batteries in smaller devices.
“What concerns us is electric bikes and scooters, because they have a much lower quality battery,” she said.
The fire was attributed to a battery that had been removed from the vehicle and stored on the lot.
Monday’s incidents were the only two electric vehicle-related fires in NSW this year.
Fires involving other electrically powered devices like scooters and bicycles are much more common.
In June, the garage of a house in Bass Hill, in Sydney’s southwest, caught fire after a man accidentally charged the faulty battery on his electric bike, which he had bought from a friend.
The same day in Orange, in central-west New South Wales, another fire broke out in a garage after a lithium battery a man was using to charge his drone exploded.
The man had to rush his daughter out of the house and use a garden hose to put out the fire.
FRNSW Acting Deputy Commissioner Trent Curtin said residents in both cases were lucky not to have been seriously injured or killed.
“Lithium-ion batteries, when defective or damaged, can overheat and are likely to explode violently, resulting in fires that can reignite once extinguished and sometimes take days to burn,” said at the time Acting Deputy Commissioner Curtin.
“Always stick to reputable battery brands, make sure they are compliant and don’t mix components.
“Do not leave Lithium-Ion batteries constantly charging, do not sleep while they are charging, and unplug them if you leave the house. »
Mr Curtin said firefighters averaged one lithium-ion fire per week.
“I fear someone will die if they don’t heed the safety advice,” he said.