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This top-secret Michigan project could be the key to preventing future battery fires

ByJerzy Nawrocki

Nov 25, 2021

Hot and fast-burning flames have recently been on the minds of car buyers. “There’s a whole bunch of concerns that come with electric vehicle fires,” said Livonia Fire Department battalion head Michael Magda recently. “These fires are not generated by gasoline in internal combustion engines. They’re frequently initiated by an electrical fault that heated up and melted something, resulting in a fire. However, in an electric vehicle, such metals experience a ‘thermal runaway,’ meaning they swiftly combust and spread throughout the battery tray.”

The key to security is to keep the fire and the heat under control. This isn’t only around the $1.9 billion recall of 2017-22 Chevy Bolts due to faulty batteries, which has resulted in 13 documented car fires and several parking garages in various regions of the country banning Bolts from entry. This isn’t just about the Chinese government’s safety crackdown this year, which stipulates that automobile battery systems “must not catch fire or even explode within 5 minutes after battery cell thermally misses control, to allow occupants a safe escape time.”

Air pollution is a major issue for Chinese consumers, who are estimated to account for over 50% of the $500 billion electric vehicle industry by 2024. In addition, the government is putting in place incentives to encourage the development, production, and use of zero-emission, all-electric vehicles. All-electric vehicles are now subject to stringent Chinese rules.

Meanwhile, automakers are scrambling to figure out how to meet new electrical safety, alarm signals, crash protection, and flame retardant regulations. The call has now been answered by a multinational firm with a team in Wixom. If adopted, it has the ability to prevent future battery crises and save lives.

Plastic is their solution. Is it true that it “doesn’t burn” or “doesn’t melt”? Consider a twin-sized bed mattress. That tray and its lid form a box that houses a battery module and the battery cells it contains. These parts provide the energy that propels the vehicle forward. Aluminum, on the other hand, conducts energy if the battery fails.

The combination has the potential to start a fire. A “thermal event” is what chemists and engineers refer to when a battery fails. A thermal event will almost always result in flames burning out or losing control – a condition known as “thermal runaway.” That’s not a good sign.

Since this chemical-propelled, super-hot fire can quickly burn through aluminum, GE Plastics developed a prototype plastic tray featuring a plastic cover that can resist temperatures as high as lava. According to tests, the plastic can resist temperatures of 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty minutes.

“People are going to think thermoplastic burns much like a candle or melts, but we have invented a new thermoplastic that does not burn, melts, or self-extinguishes,” stated Dave Sullivan, who works as the electrification and engineering market developer at the SABIC Company, a Saudi Arabian company with offices all over the world.

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