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Report reveals reality of electric vehicle battery fires: ‘The media don’t treat EVs and ICEs with equal footing’

“[Firefighters have] had 100 years to train and to understand how to deal with internal combustion engine fires.”

"[Firefighters have] had 100 years to train and to understand how to deal with internal combustion engine fires."

Photo Credit: iStock

The barriers to electric vehicle adoption among consumers include cost, perceived lack of infrastructure, and a lack of choice in terms of vehicle type.

Another concern for many is safety, with battery fires a particular worry for prospective purchasers.

According to a survey from Morning Consult in early 2023, nearly half of respondents still unconvinced about an electric car purchase were put off by reports of EV fires.

However, a professor from Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering has been speaking out on the perception that EV fires are more likely than similar problems in traditional, internal-combustion-engine machines.

Paul A. Kohl told IEEE Spectrum, a magazine from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, that, “The media don’t treat EVs and ICEs with equal footing, because gasoline is not sensational anymore.”

Citing data from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, IEEE Spectrum said that 1,530 fires were reported for every 100,000 cars sold with an internal combustion engine. Meanwhile, for every 100,000 EVs sold, only 25 fires were reported.

One of the major issues surrounding EV fires is that fire services have a hard time extinguishing them. As IEEE Spectrum noted, some firefighters have reported that no matter how much water is used, lithium-ion battery fires are difficult to put out. 

“[Firefighters have] had 100 years to train and to understand how to deal with internal combustion engine fires,” Andrew Klock from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) told Vox, per IEEE Spectrum. “With electric vehicles, they don’t have as much training and knowledge.”

The NFPA also said only around half of the 1.2 million firefighters in the United States have been trained to tackle electric vehicle fires. 

IEEE Spectrum’s report suggests that some misinformation is perhaps spreading about clean EVs. Considering the vast benefits they have for both consumers and the environment, it’s important to set the record straight.

EVs are much cheaper to run than dirty-fuel-powered equivalents, and they produce zero tailpipe pollution while out on the road — helping to reduce planet-warming gases that enter the Earth’s atmosphere and encourage global heating.

Meanwhile, another myth surrounding EVs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is that they aren’t as environmentally friendly as often advertised because the batteries are difficult to recycle.

However, battery recycling facilities are opening up in many southern states, and Li-Cycle — touted as the largest lithium-ion battery resource recovery company in North America — has developed a method that ensures up to 95% of materials can be safely and effectively recycled to form new batteries.  

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