Close Up Detail Of A Burning Car

Electric Vehicle Fire Or Not?

The International Union of Marine Insurance recently published ‘Best practice & recommendations for the safe carriage of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in which they assess the data regarding carriage of EVs and the challenges posed by electric vehicle fires to shipping.  The paper also considered the EU’s LASH FIRE project.  It looked at the common myths regarding fires caused by or including EVs and compared the data to that for Internal Combustion Engine Vehicle (ICEVs).  Here are 5 of the most common myths regarding EVs that keep doing the rounds.

  • Myth 1: EVs catch fire more often than ICEVs – Not true when comparing vehicles driven over the same distance
  • Myth 2: EV fires are hotter than ICEV fires – The data suggests that the total energy output from an EV fire compared to an ICEV fire is roughly equal.  On average 80% of the stored chemical energy in any vehicle is in the plastics and interior material.
  • Myth 3: EV fires spread more quickly than ICEV fires – Diesel / petrol is typically stored in plastic fuel tanks in cars.  These fail at lower temperatures than EV traction batteries, leading to fuel pooling and running fires causing rapid spread at an earlier stage.
  • Myth 4: The fumes produced by an EV fire are more toxic than for ICEV fires – The fumes produced by all vehicle fires are toxic and whilst hydrogen fluoride is a particular by-product of EV fires, it is the carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide that cause most deaths in smoke inhalation situations.
  • Myth 5: EV fires can’t be extinguished with water – Most EV fires do not start in the battery and as such water drenching, boundary cooling and under vehicle sprayers are effective.  An EV battery in thermal runaway requires different firefighting tactics and whilst there are several developments in this area, water is still effective at reducing spread.

The data studied by IUMI and the LASH FIRE project both suggest that whilst the thermal runaway of a battery pack can have serious consequences and pose additional challenges, they remain a rare occurrence (in the shipping world).

The research also hints at the additional challenges posed by carrying used or repaired EVs more commonly found on public RoRo and RoPax shipping and what might be done to screen such vehicles prior to loading.

In summary, the data suggests there is no real difference between electric vehicle fires and normal ICE vehicle fires – the total energy outputs are similar, the fumes produced are equally lethal and the challenges posed to firefighting crews are similar with the exception of a genuine battery thermal runaway scenario which remains rare.

The EU’s LASH FIRE project has now closed and if you have 12 minutes I recommend watching their Final Video:


Read more about what this means for boat owners here:

Boat Fire Safety Lessons Following ‘Fremantle Highway’ Fire

The IUMI report is available on their website: