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Electric Vehicle Fires on the Rise: Is Your Car Safe?

Daniel Kim Views  

The soaring popularity of EVs coincides with a more than six times increase in the number of electric vehicle (EV) fires over the past four years. Experts have identified the cause of these fires as specific battery cells becoming overcharged during the current distribution process within the battery cell space. They have pointed out the severe lack of testing facilities to prevent such fires and have called for immediate support from the government and relevant departments.

According to statistics from the Fire Department and the Korea Automobile Research Institute, 72 EV fires were reported last year, approximately sixfold higher than the number recorded four years ago in 2020. Nine of these fires happened during charging, and 27 occurred while the vehicles were parked.

The number of EV fires has been on the rise each year. The 11 cases reported in 2020 increased to 24 in 2021, 43 in 2022, and 72 in 2023. EV fires would escalate further based on the growing number of incidents nationwide.

The causes of EV fires are typically battery defects, overcharging during parking or charging, and mechanical defects due to external impacts. Fires during charging are hazardous as lithium-ion batteries can rapidly heat to 800°C (1,472°F) due to thermal runaway caused by overcharging, making firefighting efforts difficult and resulting in significant casualties.

EV fires are more dangerous than regular fires since they have a property of resistance to extinguishing. EVs operate on high-voltage batteries, and the battery packs at the bottom of the vehicle are often identified as the cause. These packs are sealed to protect the battery from external impacts and moisture. Therefore, when a fire occurs inside the battery, water cannot penetrate it, making it difficult to extinguish.

Experts are urging swift action from the government and the Ministry of Environment. Only three fire prevention testing facilities out of 10 nationwide exist. Out of 1,972 nationwide EV safety inspection centers, only 608 (30.8%) have equipment to test the safety of EV batteries.

Critics say that the charging infrastructure is not keeping up with the speed of EV adoption. As of the end of May 2023, approximately 450,000 EVs were registered in the country, accounting for 1.8% of all registered vehicles. At the end of 2021, the proportion of EVs was 0.9% (about 230,000), meaning it has doubled (0.9% → 1.8%). However, the number of fires has increased more than threefold, outpacing the rate of EV adoption.

Professor Lee Ho Geun of Daeduk University’s Future Automobile Department said, “The EV maintenance infrastructure and related systems are not keeping up with the speed of EV adoption, and urgent improvements are needed. The Ministry of Environment is organizing a council to comprehensively prepare preventive measures for EV fires, but we must wait and see the results.” He added, “We need concrete methods to delay the spread of fire by at least five minutes when the battery is exposed to the outside in the event of a fire.”

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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