Tesla CEO says fire caused by impaled battery

Oct 05, 2013 by Mike Baker
In this June 22, 2012 file photo shows a Tesla Model S driving outside the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. Shares of Tesla Motors are down another 5 percent as investors in the high-flying company assess the fallout from a fire in one of its $70,000 electric cars. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)

The CEO of electric car company Tesla said Friday that a battery in a Model S that caught fire this week was apparently impaled by a metal object.

Elon Musk gave more detail in a blog post about the fire that became an Internet sensation and unsettled Tesla investors. He also defended the car's battery technology.

Musk wrote in a blog post Friday that fires are more common in conventional gas-powered vehicles.

"For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid," Musk wrote.

The CEO said a curved metal object on the road was apparently to blame for the fire Tuesday. He says the large object's shape led to a powerful hit on the underside of the vehicle, punching a 3-inch hole through an armor plate that protects the battery under the passenger compartment.

The car properly contained the blaze in one section of the battery, the company said. The driver was able to exit the highway in the Seattle suburb of Kent and get out of the vehicle before flames engulfed the front of the sedan.

Of the estimated 194,000 vehicle fires in the U.S. each year, the vast majority are in cars and trucks with gasoline or diesel engines. Electric vehicles make up less than 1 percent of the cars sold in the U.S.

Firefighters struggled to extinguish the Tesla fire, finding that the flames reignited. After dismantling the front end of the vehicle and puncturing holes in the battery pack, responders used a circular saw to cut an access hole in the front section to apply water to the , according to documents. Only then was the fire extinguished.

Musk said in his blog post that a "road crew" at the scene of the fire identified the curved metal piece, which fell off a tractor-trailer, as the apparent culprit. However, state and local officials have not been able to say what debris, if any, was found in the area.

Shares of Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Motors Inc. fell sharply Wednesday and Thursday after a video of the circulated on the Internet. The stock recovered somewhat Friday, rising $7.67, or 4.4 percent, to $180.98. The shares still finished the week with a loss of $9.92, or 5.2 percent, but they're still up nearly 400 percent this year.

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Neinsense99
2.5 / 5 (13) Oct 05, 2013
I can pretty much guarantee that the penetrating object wasn't the razor sharp wit of the usual anti-green tech posters.
Eikka
1.6 / 5 (14) Oct 05, 2013
"For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid," Musk wrote.


If you punch a metal object through a "large tank of highly flammable liquid", you get a leaking hole. Whether or not it catches fire depends on other circumstances.

If you punch a metal object through a large lithium battery, it catches fire. Period.

Musk also conveniently fails to mention that the battery itself is effectively a large container of highly flammable liquid, because the electrolyte of a lithium battery is a highly flammable organic solvent such as ethylene carbonate, dimethyl carbonate, and diethyl carbonate.
Eikka
1.6 / 5 (14) Oct 05, 2013
That's btw. why solid state batteries are being researched as an alternative. No liquid electrolyte means no flammable liquids in the battery, which means a battery fire won't vent out large quantities of burning gasses.

It's not that batteries can't be safe. It's just that Tesla's aren't.
Neinsense99
2.5 / 5 (11) Oct 05, 2013
Risk is never absent when the situation involves concentrated stores of energy in rapidly-moving vehicles made by an imperfect species, especially vehicles being driven by that imperfect species.
KBK
1.6 / 5 (11) Oct 05, 2013
That's btw. why solid state batteries are being researched as an alternative. No liquid electrolyte means no flammable liquids in the battery, which means a battery fire won't vent out large quantities of burning gasses.

It's not that batteries can't be safe. It's just that Tesla's aren't.


As long as batteries rely upon catalytic conditions, batteries will never truly be harmless in all situations. As we move to nano particles and fluids of similar nature, ie, something akin to massive 'ultra capacitors' we are going to be beset by even more 'speedy' reaction situations.

All that being said, batteries are far more safe than gasoline, on the accident front, alone, ss they both stand, in today's analysis.

All that being said, in the future...watching a nano battery (solid or liquid components, makes no nevermind) go ka-blooey on yootoob, with a flame, spark, and possibly sustained arc, with tons of smoke, well.... that'll be quite the video when it finally appears.
KBK
1.3 / 5 (10) Oct 05, 2013
To add, when going nano, there is a quantum limit..... then you get to very dangerous situations being possible. Designing any effective high storage 'battery' at the nano level is going to be tricky and such devices may never be safe.

Ie, to have a capacity to give 1000 miles of range on a quick charge, but..ultimately...dangerous.
Doug_Huffman
1.1 / 5 (12) Oct 05, 2013
No liquid electrolyte means no flammable liquids in the battery, which means a battery fire won't vent out large quantities of burning gasses.
Mind boggling ignorance.

The liquid in a lead acid cell is sulphuric acid and quite non-flammable. Large batteries cannot be inherently safe, as any submariner will tell you of their safety precautions - like keeping water away from the exterior of the battery.

Electric cars are for those with more money than good sense.
Benni
1.8 / 5 (10) Oct 06, 2013
RISK is the operative feature in choosing energy systems for any powered device. We use electric powered drills because they are safer to use than attaching a small internal combustion engine to them. It is exactly the same RISK when using electric powered energy sources for cars.

Which RISK would you prefer, something with a 1000:1 risk of catastrophic failure, or 100,000:1 risk of catastrophic failure? It is the reason I keep all my internal combustion engine vehicles & combustibles in a detached garage.
ckid
2.5 / 5 (2) Oct 06, 2013
Lets not forget that the Mach capable Concorde SST was downed by a errant piece of metal on the runway cutting a tyre. A one-in-a-billion sequence of events.

As the saying goes - "Shit Happens"
Neinsense99
1.4 / 5 (9) Oct 06, 2013
RISK is the operative feature in choosing energy systems for any powered device. We use electric powered drills because they are safer to use than attaching a small internal combustion engine to them. It is exactly the same RISK when using electric powered energy sources for cars.

Which RISK would you prefer, something with a 1000:1 risk of catastrophic failure, or 100,000:1 risk of catastrophic failure? It is the reason I keep all my internal combustion engine vehicles & combustibles in a detached garage.

I'd much rather plug in a charger or power cord than repeatedly try to fuel a small portable power tool. A chain saw is bad enough.
hudres
1 / 5 (1) Oct 06, 2013
While I am no fan of electric vehicles (battery technology is immature), making a stink over this incident is overblowing the situation. Any condensed energy source has risks. A cup of gasoline has the explosive content of a couple of sticks of dynamite. That said, I would prefer a battery-based system. Now if they can only get a battery to run for 500 miles between charges, I will make the jump.
lengould100
not rated yet Oct 06, 2013
a battery to run for 500 miles between charges
Pointless requirement. What's needed is a hybrid electric with an onboard engine which can take over for those rare trips when you need more than eg. 100 km range.
Benni
1 / 5 (8) Oct 07, 2013
a battery to run for 500 miles between charges
Pointless requirement. What's needed is a hybrid electric with an onboard engine which can take over for those rare trips when you need more than eg. 100 km range.


..........not if you're towing with a pickup truck like so many of the retired & extended vacationers do in N. America. Europeans need to take a drive along our highway systems to understand It is a mistake attempting to impose European standards in the U.S. & Canada, both a much more mobile culture than in Europe. You need energy dense power plants to move things we tow, a minimum of 6 liter equivalent engines.
Eikka
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 09, 2013
A cup of gasoline has the explosive content of a couple of sticks of dynamite.


So does a cup of finely powdered sugar, which can be made to explode as well. The common thing between the two is, that they won't actually do so outside of very specific conditions.

Mind boggling ignorance.

The liquid in a lead acid cell is sulphuric acid and quite non-flammable.


Indeed, but electric cars don't use lead acid cells for obvious weight issues.

There are some that use flooded NiCd cells which do contain water, such as one electric version of the Citroen Berlingo did, but they have a habit of producing hydrogen and at least one has caught fire because of that, that I know of.

Lithium cells do use flammable electrolytes, and lithium itself is reactive enough to produce large quantities of hydrogen and heat when in contact with water, even in the form of moisture in air, which is why lithium batteries generally have to be hermetically sealed.
Eikka
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 09, 2013
When you dig up the news from past years, electric cars do seem to have a habit of going up in smoke. An example from 2010:

http://ekstrablad...3404.ece
Electric car catches fire on a ferry (!). DFDS bans charging of electric cars onboard their boats.