From Watts Up With That?
Essay by Eric Worrall
Should Electric Vehicles be banned from airports and ferries?
Five cars destroyed at Sydney Airport after battery from luxury electric vehicle ignites
By Olivia Ireland
September 12, 2023 — 4.48pm
Five cars have been destroyed at Sydney Airport after a battery from a luxury electric car burst into flames.
About 8.30pm on Monday, firefighters were called to a parking lot on Airport Drive in Mascot after flames engulfed a luxury electric car before spreading to another four vehicles.
Research officers from Fire and Rescue’s Safety of Alternative and Renewable Energy Technologies team have also been at the scene.
Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Adam Dewberry said … “There had been some problem with the car and the battery had been removed, we believe that the car has suffered some mechanical damage which can contribute to a battery breaking down and catching fire without notice.
“We don’t have a concern about this broadly, it’s not often that electric cars catch fire.”
The fire chief Adam Dewberry claims they don’t have a concern about this broadly, but in that case, why do they need a special fire department renewable energy technologies team?
Even if an EV needs minor accident damage to turn it into a ticking time bomb, airports are notorious for minor bumps and scrapes, lots of people arrive late and have to rush to catch their flight. If a minor bump can turn an EV into a ticking time bomb, at the very least EVs should be isolated in their own fire hazard area, especially if they show any signs of damage.
As for passenger ferries, I mean we’ve all seen what an EV can do to a vehicle transport ship – ferocious white hot flames which can’t be quenched, even by experienced maritime fire control officers.
Even if the risk is small, it’s still only a matter of time until a group of EV’s parked next to each other on board a passenger ferry catch fire and torch the entire ship, leading to massive loss of life, and lifelong injuries to survivors who inhaled toxic lithium smoke.
Update (EW): I’m a bit concerned about suggestions in comments that hydrogen isn’t dangerous. Pure H2 gas, by itself, cannot detonate or burn. But Hydrogen is very good at leaking from containers, tiny H2 molecules easily leaks through the smallest crack, and readily form a dangerously explosive mixture with air over a wide range of mixture ratios. There is no effective odourant for hydrogen, no smell which can warn you if there is a leak, because all gaseous odourant molecules are much larger than hydrogen molecules, the odourants can be trapped by the kinds of cracks tiny hydrogen molecules can freely pass.
I used to play with hydrogen as a kid, hydrogen balloons are much cheaper than helium balloons, when you make the hydrogen yourself using common household ingredients. About a third of the balloons detonated during filling – the slightest wisp of air contamination and the friction of the hydrogen gas rubbing against the balloon rubber were enough to cause an explosion. Some of the balloons detonated after sitting quietly for hours. And they were big explosions, given the tiny quantity of gas – like a large firecracker.
We never took the hydrogen balloons inside, a bunch of balloons blowing simultaneously could have damaged our house, likely blown out a few windows.
After my experience playing with hydrogen as a kid, I have zero doubt that parking 40-50Kg of compressed hydrogen next to anything you care about, or inside anything you care about, would be the definition of insanity.