NTSB joins investigation into ‘rare’ CT electric bus fire; only 18 verified incidents worldwide since 2010

It’s rare for an electric bus to go up in flames like a public bus did last month at a Hamden bus depot, but the same can’t be said for all electric vehicles, industry experts say.

And the National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates major transportation accidents, has joined efforts to determine the exact cause of the fire.

“Together with the Connecticut State Police and state officials, the NTSB is investigating a fire that consumed a CTtransit battery electric bus (July 23) in Hamden, Connecticut. The bus was in a maintenance facility at the time,” said the The NTSB tweeted Friday afternoon.

The fire, which destroyed one of CTtransit’s twelve electric buses, was the first of its kind for the state fleet. The rest of the electric fleet has since been withdrawn from service.

“Lithium-ion battery fires are difficult to extinguish due to the thermochemical process that produces great heat and continually reignites,” Hamden fire officials said. Two transit workers exposed to smoke from the blaze were hospitalized as a precaution, and a firefighter was also taken to hospital with heat exhaustion, officials said.

State officials, manufacturers and the NTSB are conducting parallel investigations, Department of Transportation spokesman Josh Morgan said.

“The NTSB has opened an investigation that will run concurrently with the Connecticut State Police investigation into the origin and cause of the fires,” Morgan said. “CTDOT, CTtransit, New Flyer and other federal agencies are all involved in the investigations.”

The bus was delivered in December and began service in January, CTtransit spokesman Josh Rickman previously said. It was made by New Flyer and the battery was by XALT Energy, Rickman said.

“The bus, last put into service on July 20, on routes 243 and 265, was not in service at the time of the incident,” Rickman said Monday. “Bus fires are rare but can happen in the same way as cars. This is CTtransit’s first fire with a battery electric bus. Bus operators, maintenance staff and others undergo extensive training and safety protocols are in place.

The electric fleet will be back on the road pending the results of investigations, which are not yet complete, Rickman said.

Electric combustion

Electric vehicle fires and combustion are common, said chemical engineer Christina Lampe-Onnerud. Lampe-Onnerud is the Founder and CEO of Cadenza Innovation, a Danbury-based company that produces safe, high-energy-density, low-cost batteries and energy storage options for the transportation, utility, and utility markets. and commercial/industrial.

Lampe-Onnerud is working on a battery that can be used in electric vehicles and homes that would prevent a fire or explosion if a battery compartment malfunctions.

“I was devastated to see the failure,” said Lampe-Onnerud. “We are in a tectonic technology shift, and there will be mistakes and there should be some humility. We will learn together as a community. We must remain agile in what we seek.

The DOT and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection have the foresight to reduce the state’s environmental footprint, Lampe-Onnerud said, but the fire presents an opportunity to take a step back and reassess the deployment.

“If you look at cell phones, these things happen about 1 in 7 million to 10 million. The market has accepted that as the failure rate,” said Lampe-Onnerud. “For electric vehicles, it’s about every the 1,000 to 2,000. Is that acceptable? Probably not.”

The cause of the fire is unlikely to be related to the severe hot and dry conditions, Lampe-Onnerud said.

“It’s probably a design and manufacturing error, but maybe we should be kinder to previous players and say it’s a learning experience,” said Lampe-Onnerud. “It’s not good on buses or electric vehicles, or when you put it in a house or a basement. … We can’t have a battery that’s supposed to reduce fossil fuels and instead create opportunities for incineration.”

Keeping the electric fleet off the roads until the cause is determined and other vehicles can be assessed is the right decision, Lampe-Onnerud said.

However, she hopes this unfortunate incident will not deter the state and community from adopting electric vehicles.

Electric bus fires

While battery malfunctions and fires occur regularly for electric cars, it is less common in electric buses.

EV FireSafe is a research project that identifies risks to emergency responders who attend an electric vehicle (EV) lithium traction battery fire, particularly when that vehicle is connected to a charging station.

“Our research has found at least 18 verifiable high-voltage battery fires worldwide since 2010, in an inventory of more than 110,000 vehicles,” according to the findings of the EV FireSafe report.

Of the 18 electric bus fires identified worldwide: six of the buses were parked in a bus depot, such as in Hamden; six led to the burning of other vehicles or electric buses; five were connected to charging ports; and the other was an electric bus vapor cloud explosion, according to EV FireSafe.

A March 2022 Propulsion report study found the global electric bus market size is expected to grow from 112,041 units in 2022 to 671,285 units by 2027,” according to EV FireSafe. North America is the fastest growing market for electric buses, while Asia-Pacific is the largest market.

Asia has the highest number of electric buses and many of the 18 identified fires took place there, including several in China, according to EV FireSafe.

Earlier this year, Paris suspended its electric bus fleet after two electric buses caught fire in separate events three weeks apart, according to the Energy Research Institute. Both buses were of the same make and model.

In 2016, one of five electric buses in Frederick County, Maryland caught fire in a bus depot after being connected to an improperly crimped wire, according to the Frederick News-Post.

abigail.brone@hearstmédiact.com


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