By Marek Grzybowski
Electric vehicles have already found a permanent place in our everyday lives. It is easy to notice that in many cities the use of electric cars, scooters, scooters and bicycles with battery support has become an everyday occurrence. All these devices are transported on a massive scale by ships. Smaller units in containers. Cars on ro-ro ships or car-passenger ferries. Transporting these devices is a challenge not only for shipowners, but also for ro-ro terminals.
A fire on the PCTC Fremantle Highway carrying more than 3,500 vehicles from Europe to the US has again drawn public attention. We informed about its course and consequences on GospodrakMorska.pl
Initial information shows that the cause of the fire was not an electric car. However, every driver knows that every car with an internal combustion engine has a battery, and it is good that maritime transport safety experts have also drawn attention to the problem of transporting electric cars. This issue was addressed by the team developing the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG). The code analyzes all vehicles powered by alternative fuels, including battery electric vehicles (BEV), including hybrid vehicles – HEV.
BEV transport regulations
The Polish Register of Shipping issued a document a year ago in which it informs that the special provision SP 388 states that battery-powered vehicles are self-propelled devices intended for the transport of one or more persons or goods, for example bicycles (bicycles with pedals and an engine) and self-propelled vehicles maintaining balance (e.g. Segway).
Special provision SP 961 of the IMDG Code states: these vehicles are not subject to the provisions of the IMDG Code if they are located in vehicle, special category and ro-ro spaces or on the open deck of a ro-ro vessel or in a cargo space meeting the requirements of the SOLAS Convention, regulation II- 2/20. If these conditions are not met, the vehicles should be classified as Class 9 and should comply with the provisions of the IMDG Code.
Spectacular events, such as a car fire, change the perspective not only of public opinion. Some ferry lines are taking a closer look at electric vehicles introduced on board. Car carrier operators have also increased their vigilance. Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) plans to implement a modern fire alarm system based on artificial intelligence, developed by the Israeli company Captain’s Eye.
Pre-emptive actions are rightly taken, although the statistics on electric vehicle fires are not alarming. They show that the risk of fire in BEV cars is lower than in the case of vehicles with conventional combustion engines. Electric vehicle battery fires are rare. Available data shows that the risk of fire is 60 times greater for internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
Administrations publish guidelines for the transport of BEVs
However, the consequences of a BEV fire can be more serious. Hence the active actions of many maritime administrations. On a safe note, the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency recently issued trade guidance amending guidance on the safe carriage of electric vehicles on board passenger ferries.
The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency justifies this, among others: that electric vehicles are commonly carried on board UK ro-ro ferries. Fires in these vehicles do not release significantly more energy than fires in traditionally fueled vehicles. They also do not have a greater risk of fire, although such fires may last longer and be more likely to re-ignite. However, there are significant differences in best practices for detecting and extinguishing fires in electric vehicles.
The risk of fire from thermal instability in a battery cell occurs when the heat generated in the battery exceeds the amount of heat dissipated to the surroundings. Without intervention (cooling), the internal temperature of the battery will continue to rise, which may cause a fire to spread and an explosion if the resulting gases accumulate in the room.
Insurance companies inform about risks
Most modern BEVs have an internal cooling system to maintain battery temperature. Modern batteries are designed to vent excess gases through vents rather than explode. This does not improve the situation in the event of a fire. Escaping gases must be removed from confined spaces to avoid pressure build-up and explosion.
The International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) draws attention to a number of basic risks associated with fires in vehicles with batteries. Temperature rises in a lithium-ion battery are indeed difficult to extinguish unless extinguishing agents are introduced directly into the battery to enable effective cooling, notes IUMI.
It is emphasized that a characteristic feature of electric vehicles is the risk of re-ignition, which is usually higher for a longer period of time than in the case of ICEVs. Therefore, after extinguishing the fire, precautions must be taken to avoid re-ignition of the traction battery.
Toxic gases are another risk component, particularly important when there are passengers on board. On ro-ro ships, the crew has the opportunity to fight a fire in an organized manner. On board ferries, the matter is more complicated because you also have to organize passenger rescue operations. And the situation becomes even more complex when a hold fire occurs in port.
Elimination and transfer of risks
In the case of a fire caused by transporting electric vehicles, there is a problem of transferring the risks of incurring loss costs. However, an electric car, scooter or bicycle with batteries can also catch fire when parked at a port. Since any losses will be covered by the insurer, the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) has also recently taken a position on this matter. The International Maritime Insurance Union conducted a risk analysis after identifying growing concerns about the safe transportation of electric vehicles (EVs), and published a set of recommendations.
“Our report is based on scientific research that shows that fires in battery electric vehicles are no more dangerous than fires in conventional vehicles, nor are they more common,” said Lars Lange, Secretary General of IUMI.
Maritime, tourist and business travel by ferry is still trendy. Every year, more and more battery vehicles are loaded into ferry terminals. It is worth reading the IUMI report and PRS recommendations to realize that passengers bringing an electric vehicle onto a ferry are also responsible for the safety of the ship, people and goods.
They recommend that drivers and owners of electric vehicles inform ferry crews about information from the dashboard about irregularities signaled by the car’s installation sensors. It used to be said that the prudent is always the safest. In the case of electricians, a cautious person must always be under voltage and read hazard signals well. And inform ship crews and ferry terminal operators about them.