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Service Station and Car Park Fires: Put the Breaks on Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Risk

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As electric cars rise in popularity, what safety considerations should car park and service station managers be taking to protect their premises and the public?

What do car parks, waste facilities, and your local fire department all have in common?

The answer can be found inside parked cars, public waste, and burning vehicles respectively: lithium-ion batteries, and wherever this emerging technology is found, it brings with it all manner of new considerations for responsible parties.

What exactly are the challenges facing car park and service station management companies? What should they be considering in regard to EV safety and how could one of the solutions we offer save lives, protect structures, and prevent damage to other vehicles?

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About the author

My name is Ben Seddon and since 2007 I’ve helped a wide range of industrial, institutional, educational, and commercial customers from across the UK source the Emtez solutions they need to comply with key legislation and keep their people safe. Today, these solutions include spill kits, absorbents, flammable liquid containers, and specialist lithium-ion battery storage solutions designed to contain and control lithium-ion battery fires in the event of an incident.

For more information about Li-ion battery storage solutions, download your copy of our Lithium-Ion Catalogue for free now.

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Car park fires and Li-ion batteries

Waste management companies face challenges in the sheer volume of potentially damaged batteries reaching their facilities. For fire services, challenges come in the form of burning electric vehicles (EV), which present significant health and safety risks to firefighting teams.

In many ways, car park and service station environments combine both these risks. Nowhere else is such a high volume of cars and other vehicles stored in such close proximity. They won’t all be EVs; in fact, only 2-3% will be electric or hybrid in the UK (14% globally). But it only takes one battery to ignite for the whole area to be put at immediate risk.

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How can a parked electric car catch fire?

EVs run on lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Li-ion batteries are considered relatively safe up to 60°C but temperatures exceeding this threshold can make them unstable, leading to thermal runaway. At around 500°C the battery can ignite. The ensuing fire is unlike a typical blaze.

  • Li-ion fires burn incredibly hot. In the event of thermal runaway, Li-ion batteries can reach temperatures of up to 1,110°C.
  • In the case of EVs, the battery is contained in such a way that it’s enclosed. This means firefighters can’t get to the source of the heat with their water. 
  • Because they are self-sustaining fires, they can actually reignite for up to three days after they are eventually extinguished, greatly increasing their risk.

Surrounded by the flammable fuels used to power combustion vehicles, and potentially other Li-ion batteries in nearby EVs, these incidents pose a particular threat to car park environments where a single vehicle fire can quickly spread to engulf a much larger area.

Related read: What Is Thermal Runaway? Common Causes and How to Prevent It

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Charged responsibilities

The actual risk of a Li-ion battery igniting or exploding is low, but it’s worth considering the added pressures that modern car parks and service stations put on them. Most notably these days, it’s not uncommon for these types of facilities to include EV charging stations. 

These practical additions enable drivers to recharge their vehicles while they’re parked. overcharging a Li-ion battery puts it at greater risk of overheating and catching fire. Charging a damaged battery, such as a battery that has been physically damaged or manufactured incorrectly, is an even greater risk. 

Car parks or service stations with EV charging facilities should be extra vigilant in their accident reduction strategies and the wider health and safety policies surrounding them.

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A simple, reliable solution to EV fire risk

Most Li-ion battery safety solutions take the form of storage units; specialist containers designed specifically to house Li-ion batteries during storage, charging, or transportation. We offer a wide range of these units ourselves, including bespoke solutions made to order.

But these aren’t appropriate solutions for a car park or service station environment. Instead, you can look to one of the products we supply to fire departments to help them contain and extinguish EV Li-ion battery fire risk: our QuarantineFence barrier.

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Contain EV fire to one bay with QuarantineFence

At its core, QuarantineFence is a watertight barrier. In the event of an EV fire, the barriers can be quickly and easily assembled around the burning vehicle, creating a pool that firefighters can flood with water. The burning vehicle is flooded up to a height exceeding its Li-ion battery, which drops in temperature from being submerged in cold water. This has the effect of extinguishing the fire and, crucially, prevents it from reigniting. 

From Japan to the UK, local governments have already begun using QuarantineFence to contain dangerous EV fires and protect local communities. Public or private car parking facilities can use it to similar effect, minimising the risk of damage to other vehicles, preventing structural damage to their facilities, and protecting lives. QuarantineFence comes in both lightweight and heavyweight varieties to suit fires of different sizes and intensities.

"When an EV catches fire, it will burn with long-term intensity. The only way to prevent Li-ion battery thermal runaway is to submerge the EV battery in water for a long period of time. This will prevent the battery from reigniting."

QuarantineFence designer and Fluvial Innovations founder Simon Phelps, ‘FloodFence used for extinguishing lithium batteries

Related reads:

  • Product Spotlight: QuarantineFence
  • Extinguish the Risk of EV Re-Ignition Using this Innovative FloodFence System 

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Park risk to drive confidence 

At time of writing, Li-ion batteries are still poorly regulated in many countries, the UK included. The lack of clear guidance on how these batteries and EVs more generally should be looked after in order to limit the risk of fire means that responsibility falls to the companies  themselves to take ownership of the health and safety of their facilities.

Unassuming and easy to both store away and deploy by firefighters in the event of an emergency, QuarantineFence is an effective solution to a growing challenge faced by car park and service station managers throughout the UK and overseas.

What steps are you taking to park risk and drive confidence in your facilities?

To chat with me about QuarantineFence or the risks surrounding EV batteries in your car park or service station, click the image below and get in touch.