Focus on Technology & Innovation
Increasing the safety of electric and hybrid electric vehicle operations
Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection reports on the EU-funded Li-IonFire (Automated e-vehicle Lithium Ion Battery Early Warning and Fire Suppression System) project which has built a fire protection system that addresses and mitigates risks effectively and safely
As there is a global transition to renewable fuels, there is an increasing demand for electric or hybrid vehicles (EV and HEV). However, knowledge is limited about the new fire risks associated with vehicles having these new energy carriers. Consequences connected to risks of Li-ion batteries, in case of a malfunction, can be serious, for example they can result in toxic gas emissions or explosion.
Fire suppression systems for vehicles have been on the market for decades and are widely used and regulated across a wide variety of industries. However, these systems are tested to be effective on vehicles with combustion engines, and all test standards are designed with this in mind.
The growth of the electric and hybrid electric vehicle industry has accelerated the demand for new fire suppression technologies.
“With the rapid introduction of electric and hybrid electric vehicles in public transport, there are new challenges because they present totally different risk scenarios,” says Anders Gulliksson of Dafo Vehicle, coordinator of the EU-funded Li-IonFire project. “When the commonly used Li-ion batteries fail through short circuiting, overcharging, high temperatures, mechanical damage and overheating, this might cause thermal runaway and the release of a flammable electrolyte, which makes fire extinguishing very difficult. In addition to the dramatic fire scenario with the rapid increase in heat, there are a lot of potentially toxic gases being emitted.”
A comprehensive solution for fire mitigation
The project partners, including Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection and RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, explored different techniques to detect potential battery failure, as early as possible, and take immediate action to stop, or delay, a potentially hazardous situation.
The partners studied the various fire risks related to battery spaces, including specific risks when charging, and procedures for handling electric vehicles and batteries after a crash. They also investigated to what extent fixed and integrated fire suppression systems, which are widely used to protect engine compartments on heavy vehicles, can be applied to vehicles powered by Li-ion batteries, and how they should be designed.
Through extensive testing, the Li-IonFire team better understood how a breakdown occurs within the battery and how it can be detected.
“If a system is activated at this early stage, the battery can be ‘brought back’ to a safe state, without the fire developing further,” explains Gulliksson. “The tests have also shown that even with a late deployment of the fire suppression system, there’s a possibility of delaying the battery reaching a critical state, meaning that the chance of safe evacuation is very high.”
With proper detection and system activation, the hazardous scenario can be reversed and potentially even stopped entirely.
An integrated solution for early fire detection, system cooling and fire suppression
The project team successfully validated and demonstrated a highly innovative fire protection system for electric and HEVs. The new system provides an early fire warning system, and spot cooling to prevent thermal runaway while localising and suppressing fire.
The system was officially unveiled in 2019 and has generated tremendous interest from both end users and vehicle manufacturers.
“Li-IonFire delivers to the market a product that didn’t exist until now: a system that can offer real protection against battery fires, using a new suppression agent, Forrex EV™, which is specifically developed for these applications,” concludes Gulliksson. “Li-IonFire will significantly boost the safety of operators and the protection of valuable assets.”
Li-IonFire is available now.
Training to support firefighter health
Brian Hesler, Consultant and Specialist Advisor at Draeger Safety UK and former Chief Fire Officer of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, describes how training schemes are being used to further firefighter health and wellbeing
The importance of firefighter health has received increased media attention in recent times, and rightly so. Following Covid-19 more emphasis is now being placed on hygiene and disinfection, which I believe will be one positive outcome of this pandemic. A significant cultural change has been a long time coming to take us away from firefighters wearing dirty kit as a badge of honour that proves their hard work and value, to understanding that clean and well maintained kit supported by detailed and robust hygiene processes that mitigate every contact with contaminants are essential.
Prior to Covid-19, the media were also reporting more regularly on the very real issue of firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens, an issue when embedded in equipment and absorbed. But while relatively well known, not enough has been done to force a change.
Manufacturers of medical and safety technology products have a responsibility to innovate solutions that support change. To this end, Dräger’s Health for the Firefighter campaign complements our training programmes and communicates the importance of detailed hygiene processes; from the handling and storage of masks and breathing apparatus equipment through to the subsequent cleaning of the kit after an incident has occurred. Training is the first and crucial step in guiding a cultural shift, and ultimately protecting the health and wellbeing of our firefighters.
It is important that training programmes reflect the fact that fire services are the experts – they have the experience and understand what solutions are practical. It is therefore our role to use technology, research and innovation to ensure we work together as partners with applied training helping to create a robust consistency in approach as well as providing a safe environment to train.
Training has come a long way from when it centred simply around exposure to hot temperatures, often referred to as ‘burn to learn’. It is now about much more than protecting a firefighter from becoming burnt, but rather teaching the science and behaviour of a fire and its contaminants, not only to support fire and rescue operations, but also to protect the firefighter’s own health.
While Covid-19 is driving improvements in this regard, what is more difficult is helping fire services to realise that technical training on the cleaning and hygiene processes related to kit is just as important to firefighter health.
And consistent and robust hygiene processes are also about technology. While manual cleaning of equipment is still generally the norm, there are many fire services that are moving towards mechanical washing systems, which provide complete consistency in washing temperatures, the amount of detergent used, speed and temperature of drying – which can all work together to disinfect contaminants and to protect the longevity of the kit.
Training and support around these systems encompasses the entire purchasing and use life cycle; from helping to build business cases for procurement and logistical installation support, to advice on the exact processes a firefighter should take when leaving a scene and returning to the station. Support also encompasses the ongoing maintenance of equipment and the quantity of stock required.
Despite such advances, the UK is still behind other countries in terms of our hygiene and infection control practices. Netherlands and Sweden, for example, are two European countries leading the way in shifting the mindset and using mechanical washing equipment supported by improved logistics for managing and tracking PPE and RPE more widely. For these countries, stringent hygiene practices are commonplace and are not just about fighting cancer or the current pandemic, but also about protecting firefighters and support staff from more day-to-day illnesses such as flu, common colds, cold sores and other communicable illnesses.
Within Dräger, my role includes advising on these best-practice examples and new equipment technologies – working with our UK-based manufacturing facility and R&D departments to ensure they are designed with the firefighter in mind, and working with fire services, government and other key stakeholders to help drive improvements to further protect our crews. Having manufactured advanced technology solutions for the fire services for more than 115 years, Dräger has the experience and technological know-how to support this necessary change in how we think about equipment, its cleaning, and ultimately how to apply technology and training to make our firefighters safer.