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Are lithium-ion battery packs in electric cars more dangerous than gas tanks?

tesla batteryThe answer according to a piece by Kevin Bullis in MIT Technology review is almost certainly no.  In a related piece he points out that three recent fires in Tesla Model S cars all resulted from collisions that damaged the batteries, rather than from internal failings.  Furthermore, Tesla puts a quarter inch thick plate of hardened aluminium around the battery, and has a firewall separating it from the passenger compartment.  In all cases the alarm system enabled the drivers to pull over and escape before smoke started coming out.

The verdict seems to be that lithium-ion batteries are safer than a tank of highly-explosive fuel that could ignite with a spark and engulf car and driver.  Electric cars put out less local pollution, and can be charged from power stations that pollute less globally.  Nothing that contains enough energy to propel a heavy vehicle forward at speeds will ever be 100 percent safe, but Tesla’s Model S earned the highest safety ratings from NHTSA after crash tests.  No-one has yet burned to death in a Tesla, but many have perished in gas-tank explosions.  It looks very much as though electric is safer.

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One Response

  1. Nobody should be under any illusions about a rechargeable battery’s capability of generating welding temperatures if shorted out either deliberately or accidentally. The current range of lithium-iron batteries used for electric propulsion have a substantial discharge potential and an accident involving disintegration of the battery would cause a very heavy uncontrolled discharge. This could result in a current flow of hundreds or even thousands of amps which would cause splattering sparks with molten metal flow and fire. Either way, petrol or electric, your car in the worse case scenario is capable of cooking you.

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