Electric vehicle battery fire claim as weak as water – Australian Associated Press

A viral post making the rounds on Facebook claims that electric vehicles (EVs) pose a serious danger because fires in their batteries cannot be extinguished with water.

But there’s not a spark of truth in that claim, with experts saying AAP Fact Check water is safe to use on EV battery fires.

A New Zealand Facebook user shared a version of the post (screenshot here) on July 12 under the caption “ANOTHER DEAD DUST DISASTER!!!”

The post, which is ‘copied from a friend’, makes derogatory statements about electric vehicle batteries, including if someone ‘is involved in an accident and people are trapped inside, firefighters must isolate the battery before cutting into the car” and “The problem with crashing any ev is that if you’re trapped, you’re dead, because it’s impossible to eliminate victims. Also impossible to extinguish a battery fire. Water causes lithium to burn.

Versions of the post were widely shared on Facebook, as seen here, here and here.

However, chemical and fire experts say the water is safe to use on electric vehicle battery fires.

“The message shared online is incorrect,” said Paul Turner, response capacity manager at Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ). AAP Fact Check in an email.

Neeraj Sharma, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of NSW who specializes in improving battery technology, agrees the claim is false.

“Water itself is not a bad thing. You can use it to put out the flames of an electric vehicle fire,” he said. AAP Fact Check in an email.

Professor Hua Kun Liu, coordinator of the Energetic Materials Research Group at the Institute of Superconducting and Electronic Materials at the University of Wollongong, also points out that water can be used on electric vehicle battery fires.

“Internal and external (battery) short circuits can be extinguished with water, because the cooling effect of water is better than dry powder fire extinguisher,” she said. AAP Fact Check in an email.

Lithium is an element used for many purposes and it reacts with water to form lithium hydroxide and hydrogen. The reaction is “gently bubbly” and not violent.

Chris Ling, professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney, said AAP Fact Check Lithium-ion batteries, which are used in electric vehicles, are not the same as lithium in its raw form.

“Lithium-ion batteries currently used in electric vehicles are not lithium metal-based – they are designed so that the lithium remains as oxidized Li+ ions,” he said in an email.

The viral Facebook post claims that water cannot be used on EV battery fires.

Lithium-ion batteries are the “dominant technology” in electric vehicles. They use lithium ions which are separated from their electrons and move from the anode to the cathodic part of the battery, passing through an electrolyte where they recombine with their electrons and electrically neutralize each other.

Unlike rechargeable lithium-ion, lithium metal batteries are “primary cell” batteries that cannot be easily recharged. They are often used in common household items such as flashlights, cameras, and toys.

Both types of batteries are recognized as possible fire hazards. A process known as thermal runaway in damaged or overheated batteries can cause a fire.

However, these fires can be extinguished with water.

“Applying water to an EV lithium-ion battery no longer causes it to burn,” Turner said. “In fact, the reverse is happening. The water begins to cool the battery, which eventually slows thermal runaway.

According to Professor Assoc Sharma, the reaction between water and electrolyte inside a lithium battery can produce potentially dangerous hydrofluoric acid (HF), although “the amount of HF is minute”.

He says specialist extinguishers are recommended for certain types of fires and with lithium battery fires “water is OK but (extinguisher type) class B would be better and the best is the so called F500 – specially designed for lithium-ion batteries”.

He also says that lithium metal itself is not very reactive.

“If you put it in water it dissolves and generates hydrogen gas. The problem is that in doing so it generates heat and that heat can be problematic. So the water will act to cool the system and may help extinguish an electric vehicle fire.

The post’s claim that the restrictions prevent emergency crews from rescuing people in electric vehicle fires is also false, says FENZ.

“During fire and emergency car rescue operations, all vehicles, including electric vehicles, must be disabled before the rescue begins,” Mr Turner said.

“There is no situation in which a person could not be rescued from an electric vehicle – they are no different from any other motor vehicle incident our crews attend.”

The verdict

The claim that electric vehicle fires cannot be extinguished because water burns lithium is false. Experts said most electric vehicles have lithium-ion batteries that are not lithium metal based. They can be extinguished with water.

It is also false that water causes lithium to burn. Instead, lithium reacts in water by fizzing and then gradually dissolving.

Fake – The request is incorrect.

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