Growing electric vehicle sales bring concerns over safety hazards, toxicity, infrastructure costs
The Biden Administration’s EV push comes with safety risks to infrastructure and increased costs.
Electric vehicle (EV) sales are up, but that may come with unintended—if not lethal—consequences. EVs pose many problems that are not well-known including potentially dangerous conditions in commercial parking garages and the fire risks associated with lithium-ion batteries used by EV's.
Electric vehicles are becoming more prevalent, and being scrutinized for their potential dangers, even when they are not being driven. In July of this year a cargo ship caught fire off the Netherlands' coast after 3,500 new vehicles caught fire while in transport. One crew member was killed, and investigators said "the fire started in the battery of an electric car."
Flammability aside, EVs elicit concerns because of just how heavy they are compared to traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Many older parking garages were simply not built with the weights of modern cars in mind, let alone EVs. The lithium-ion batteries that power new EVs account for a large portion of the weight discrepancy with traditional cars. For example, according to automotive trade journal Jobber News, "An electric vehicle can weigh much more than its internal combustion engine counterpart — the Ford F-150 Lightning can weigh 2,000-3,000 pounds more than the ICE version."
The Telegraph reported that experts in the U.K. have warned that parking garages “could be at risk of collapse as heavier electric vehicles put pressure on ageing infrastructure.”
“I don’t want to be too alarmist, but there definitely is the potential for some of the early car parks in poor condition to collapse,” Chris Whapples, a structural engineer and a consultant on parking garage regulation, told The Telegraph. “Operators need to be aware of electric vehicle weights, and get their car parks assessed from a strength point of view, and decide if they need to limit weight.
There is also a concern over the fire hazard that EVs pose, especially when parked in commercial garages because of those buildings' tight quarters and restricted access.
In June, Siemens AG released a White Paper reviewing fire safety protocols in parking garages housing electric vehicles. Smaller parking spaces, larger vehicles, and the increase of plastics in car design has led to greater risks from multi-vehicle fires in parking garages just with ICE vehicles, according to Siemens.
The Siemens report highlights two recent international garage fires—one in Liverpool, U.K. in 2017 and another at the Stavanger Airport in Norway in 2020—which both caused significant structural damage and loss of property. This danger could be amplified by electric vehicles.
Most parking garages today were designed to accommodate ICE vehicles, rather than newer EVs, which Siemens explains, react differently to fires. The lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles undergo what is known as “thermal runaway” when they combust, making a fire in an EV extremely difficult to extinguish. EV battery fires can also reignite hours or days after visible signs of fire are gone, the report said.
“An electric vehicle (EV) battery fire releases the stored chemical energy, causing a rapid increase in temperature,” the report reads. “This results in an explosive combustion of the battery electrolyte vapor, with intense heat and highly toxic smoke, and can easily lead to multi-vehicle fires.”
Putting out an EV battery fire requires more water than a traditional fire because the reaction taking place in the battery cannot be stopped until the fuel is spent. In other words, the battery can only be cooled to prevent the spread of the fire until it has fizzled out.
In an article about the hazards of EVs, Health Facilities Magazine reports that “thousands of gallons” of water are required to put out EV battery fires, sometimes over a period of 24 hours, to cool the battery until it burns out. A fire like this occurring in a parking garage presents additional challenges because a traditional method of firefighters—turning an EV on its side to access the battery so that water can cool it down—may not be available in the confines of a parking garage.
In addition to the safety hazards of fire and building collapses, electric vehicle ownership comes with other cost and safety effects on the average consumer:
- According to The Wall Street Journal, the average insurance cost for a traditional vehicle is $193 a month. With an all-electric vehicle, the average insurance costs increase to $317 a month, a 64% increase in expenses.
- Liberty Mutual advises that a consumer "may want to consider additional coverages" beyond traditional vehicles because of the high upfront and repair and replacement costs of EVs, leading to further increases in insurance costs.
- Maintaining EVs can cost the consumer more than traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. They are more expensive to repair because parts can cost more, there are fewer repair shops that can work on them, and labor costs for repairs is high, according to Liberty Mutual.
- CBS News reports that comparatively heavier EVs pose risks for passengers in lighter vehicles or pedestrians if involved in a crash. The laws of physics provide that in a crash between a heavier and a lighter vehicle, the forces exerted on the lighter of the two will be much greater, posing a greater risk of injury or to life.
- Experts are still at odds about the safety of a fully electric vehicle (as opposed to a gas-hybrid) if caught in a severe snowstorm and traffic jam. The Washington Post noted that "It is a scientific fact that batteries of all kinds lose capacity more rapidly in cold weather, and that includes the sophisticated lithium-ion ones used by Teslas and other EVs."
A transition to electric vehicles has become the centerpiece of the Biden Administration’s goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions for the federal government by 2050. Last month, the U.S. Department of Treasury said that it will supply $12 billion in loans and grants to the auto industry to aid in the transition to electric vehicles countrywide. President Biden’s EPA also recently proposed a rule to set new tailpipe standards that are designed to instigate between a 64% to 69% EV adoption rate by next decade, according to EPA official and reported by CNN.
Safety concerns and increased costs for Americans may not be the only factors that will hinder the Biden Administration’s efforts. This summer, Ford announced that it is projected to lose $4.5 billion from EVs this year, revised from their earlier predicted loss of $3 billion.
“The near-term pace of EV adoption will be a little slower than expected, which is going to benefit early movers like Ford," Ford CEO Farley said in a press release reported by Fox Business. "EV customers are brand loyal and we’re winning lots of them with our high-volume, first-generation products; we’re making smart investments in capabilities and capacity around the world; and, while others are trying to catch up, we have clean-sheet, next-generation products in advanced development that will blow people away."
That company continues to generate substantial profits from its traditional vehicle lines. “Ford Model e is an EV startup within Ford. As everyone knows, EV startups lose money while they invest in capabilities, develop knowledge, build volume and gain share," Farley said this spring, before the losses were announced.
And this was not the only bad news for the Biden Administration, who has attached itself to "green" energy initiatives. Recently, Secretary of the Department of Energy Jennifer Granholm scheduled a four-day road trip from Charlotte, NC to Memphis, TN to highlight the benefits of EVs to Americans. It revealed bad planning and the challenges EV owners who wish to travel cross-country may face.
Granholm's caravan experienced charging station shortages, ran up against the limited driving range of EVs, and used a gas-powered car to commandeer a spot for Secretary Granholm’s EV, angering a family of "ordinary" citizens wanting to charge their own car. “It was poor judgement on the part of the team,” Granholm told Rep. Scott Franklin (R-FL) at a hearing this week.
As the share of EVs populating America’s roads continues to increase, incidents like these may become more common. Coupled with the potential safety hazards of these new vehicles, in addition to the coming crisis of depleted lithium storage—the debate over the long-term benefits transitioning to electric vehicles is far from over.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook
- are up
- according to the New York Post
- the Telegraph reported
- told the Telegraph
- weighs approximately 2,900 pounds
- an entire 2022 Honda Civic
- a White Paper
- Siemens explains
- Health Facilities Magazine reports
- the Wall Street Journal
- advises a consumer
- according to the insurer
- According to CBS News
- the Biden Administrationâs goal
- supply $12 billion in loans and grants
- reported by CNN
- reported by Fox Business
- said this spring
- Just the News reported
- a hearing this week