EV fire incidents: A manageable risk amidst EV surge

In a new briefing published by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), the number of light-duty electric vehicle (EV) fires and their relation to the global EV market share has been meticulously charted, providing crucial insights into the safety landscape of the burgeoning EV sector. The briefing, drawing on data up to June 2023, indicates a discernible rise in EV fire incidents that corresponds with the rapid expansion of EV adoption worldwide. However, the frequency of these incidents remains relatively low, suggesting that while the concern is not unfounded, it is manageable with current and future safety measures.
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The global shift towards electric vehicles has been marked by a significant milestone in 2023, with over 14 million light-duty EVs, including battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), sold worldwide. This transition, though promising for environmental sustainability, has raised concerns over the potential fire risks associated with lithium-ion batteries, especially in enclosed spaces like garages.

EV FireSafe, a key player in monitoring global EV fire incidents, revealed a varied distribution of causes behind these fires, with a notable portion remaining unidentified due to ongoing investigations or inadequate reporting. Despite these concerns, the compiled data indicates that EV fires are relatively rare occurrences. From 2010 to June 2023, there were 488 light-duty EV fires reported globally, of which 393 were confirmed as lithium-ion battery fires.

The briefing underscores a crucial comparison: while the absolute number of EV fires has increased, this rise is in line with the exponential growth of the EV market itself. Notably, the years 2020 and 2021 witnessed a spike in fire incidents, primarily linked to recalls of specific models like the Chevrolet Bolt and Hyundai Kona due to manufacturing defects in their batteries.

Further analysis within the briefing compared EV fires to those involving internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, revealing that EV fires are, on a per-mile basis, less common than those in traditional vehicles. This data, reflecting findings from several countries including Finland, Norway, and Sweden, challenges the perception that EVs are inherently riskier than their ICE counterparts.

Addressing these concerns, governments and research institutions worldwide have initiated various measures and research programs aimed at mitigating EV fire risks. These initiatives range from developing efficient firefighting techniques and safety standards for EV batteries to revising building legislation to accommodate the unique needs of electric vehicles and their infrastructure.

As the EV market continues to expand, the ICCT briefing calls for sustained and enhanced research efforts to further understand and mitigate the risks associated with EV fires. The transition to electric mobility, while not without its challenges, is seen as a critical step towards reducing carbon emissions and combatting climate change. With appropriate regulatory measures and ongoing safety research, the briefing suggests that the potential risks can be effectively managed, ensuring a safe and sustainable future for electric transportation.

Source: Approaches to mitigate electric vehicle fire risks in enclosed spaces | ICCT

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