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Smoke detection key to tackling EV and battery fires

Photo: Marcus Hand fire-safety.jpg
With the rapid growth of electric vehicles both as cargo and terminal operating equipment there are growing concerns in the industry over lithium-ion battery fires that rage out of control.

Tommy Carnebo, Training Manager and EV Risk Specialist for Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection, gave a highly engaging presentation on tackling battery fires in the TOC Safety Village at TOC Europe.

Carnebo’s key message was that early detection when the battery is just starting to smoke was essential as once the fire and thermal runway has taken hold there is little that can be done.

Once thermal runway takes hold the battery cells will continue to burn even if they are dumped in water or even liquid nitrogen.

A video of a fire from a Tesla battery pack initially showed a small amount of smoke, five minutes later this was a small fire, and 15 minutes it was an inferno. If the potential fire is detected at the stage when it is just smoke it should be possible to prevent a fire from happening altogether.

EV fires are a concern for terminal operators both as cargoes and also terminal handling equipment as many ports chose electrification as the way to reduce emissions from operations. Carnebo said however that terminal operators should not be afraid of EVs and he definitely sees their use in ports as the future.  

“We don't see EVs as a higher risk whatsoever, and we don't see an increase in the number of fires,” he said.

Rather than being afraid of the equipment Carnebo said terminal operators should be afraid of what is the containers, citing a shipping company he had worked with that 85% of lithium-ion cargoes were wrongly labeled. “That is a big headache for you, no question.”

Misdeclared hazardous cargoes have long been an issue for container shipping leading to serious fires and vessel casualties.

Asked what can be done to avoid fires as result from containers he said the solution lay in smoke detection. A smoke detector in the container linked to the ship’s bridge you would see the “fire” before it was risk.