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Hybrid cars, submerged
Old 11-01-2012, 10:47 AM   #1
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Hybrid cars, submerged

In a NJ port some high end hybrids were submerged, then burned.

While likely a total loss as result of being under water, the insult is that they also burned. Seems the electric configuration has some problems handling the submerged environment, then some uncontrolled current path develops which results in a fire.

These were 100k Fisker Karma hybrids. Wonder how the other models handle water inundation?


Jalopnik.com Updates: More Than A Dozen Fisker Karma Hybrids Caught Fire And Exploded In New Jersey Port After Sandy
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Old 11-01-2012, 11:25 AM   #2
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I am not defending Fisker, I'd never buy any car for $100K. But who knows, it could be that only 1 caught fire (source unknown as of yet) and adjacent cars burned due to proximity. The picture shows at least as many other Karmas that were not burned, and all the burned ones are together. Just as one house catching fire can result in adjacent homes catching fire, and the Karmas were very close to each other. Guess we'll have to wait to see what happened before drawing any conclusions about Fiskers, let alone other models...
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Old 11-01-2012, 11:49 AM   #3
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+1 Midpack
For all we know a power line dropped on one of them and set up a chain reaction to some, but not all of the others.
The results of the investigation will be good to see.

No mention of the 50-100 (guessing from the photo) other cars in the area? Looks like a bunch of Fiat 500s? From what I understand, any car fully submerged in sea water is basically a total loss.
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Old 11-01-2012, 12:07 PM   #4
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Lithium batteries don't go well with water...

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Old 11-01-2012, 02:32 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by ls99 View Post
In a NJ port some high end hybrids were submerged, then burned.
While likely a total loss as result of being under water, the insult is that they also burned. Seems the electric configuration has some problems handling the submerged environment, then some uncontrolled current path develops which results in a fire.
These were 100k Fisker Karma hybrids. Wonder how the other models handle water inundation?
Before the engineers start tearing into the flaming forensics, I'd like to know whether the owner had fire insurance but not flood insurance...
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Old 11-01-2012, 03:35 PM   #6
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Electric cars don't work underwater? Who would have thought?

But they are green though.

I think I can buy a lifetime supply of cars for my wife and I for a lot less than 100K.
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Old 11-01-2012, 04:20 PM   #7
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So far I think MasterBlaster is on the right track.
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Old 11-01-2012, 05:08 PM   #8
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It sounds like a good feature. If my car had been submerged under water I think I would like to have it written off, and having it go up in flames should ensure that outcome.

I've seen in the lab how sodium and potassium react with water so I think lithium would have a similar exothermic reaction.

PS
Just watched the youtube video which looks to me more like potassium.

http://www.chemguide.co.uk/inorganic.../reacth2o.html

Quote:
Lithium
Lithium's density is only about half that of water so it floats on the surface, gently fizzing and giving off hydrogen. It gradually reacts and disappears, forming a colourless solution of lithium hydroxide. The reaction generates heat too slowly and lithium's melting point is too high for it to melt (see sodium below).
Sodium
Sodium also floats on the surface, but enough heat is given off to melt the sodium (sodium has a lower melting point than lithium and the reaction produces heat faster) and it melts almost at once to form a small silvery ball that dashes around the surface. A white trail of sodium hydroxide is seen in the water under the sodium, but this soon dissolves to give a colourless solution of sodium hydroxide.
The sodium moves because it is pushed around by the hydrogen which is given off during the reaction. If the sodium becomes trapped on the side of the container, the hydrogen may catch fire to burn with an orange flame. The colour is due to contamination of the normally blue hydrogen flame with sodium compounds.
Potassium
Potassium behaves rather like sodium except that the reaction is faster and enough heat is given off to set light to the hydrogen. This time the normal hydrogen flame is contaminated by potassium compounds and so is coloured lilac (a faintly bluish pink).
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Old 11-01-2012, 05:21 PM   #9
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I'd still rather wait until we actually know what happened versus trying them in the media/jumping to conclusions (even if it's common these days), but here's more from the LA Times...

Quote:
The damage from super storm Sandy wasn't limited to Fisker. Toyota says 2,128 of the 4,000 hybrid vehicles the company had on lots at the Port of Newark were damaged by the storm.

Cindy Knight, a spokeswoman for Toyota, said some of the vehicles damaged by the seawater did start smoldering, and three hybrids, two plug-in Prius models and one conventional Prius did catch on fire. No one was injured in these incidents.
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Old 11-01-2012, 06:05 PM   #10
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Yesterday Frezza posted an entertaining satirical piece about Sandy's economic stimulus, including a solution for unsold cars. http://blogs.forbes.com/billfrezza/
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Old 11-01-2012, 06:05 PM   #11
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It sounds like a good feature. If my car had been submerged under water I think I would like to have it written off, and having it go up in flames should ensure that outcome.

I've seen in the lab how sodium and potassium react with water so I think lithium would have a similar exothermic reaction.
Yes it does, solid lithium has to be stored in mineral oil in order to keep it away from water.

I am not familiar with the chemistry of those hybrid car batteries, do they use solid lithium or lithium ions?
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Old 11-01-2012, 07:23 PM   #12
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Lithium, same as pure sodium, is highly reactive to water. I would assume that the batteries have to be sealed very well, because lithium and sodium would react with just humidity in the air.

The battery banks in these EVs or hybrids are usually of a fairly high voltage of several hundred volts, and also have a lot of electronic circuits. Water would have caused shorts in the high-voltage electronic circuits, and that would be enough to cause a fire. When the batteries bursted, that might have added to the fire.
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Old 11-01-2012, 09:14 PM   #13
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The damage from super storm Sandy wasn't limited to Fisker. Toyota says 2,128 of the 4,000 hybrid vehicles the company had on lots at the Port of Newark were damaged by the storm.
Sandy was well predicted and the storm surge was also modeled fairly accurately. Why in the world were these vehicle parked in staging areas vulnerable to flooding with that much advance notice. I wonder if the insurance company will have any recourse for people who failed to take reasonable precautions.
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Old 11-01-2012, 10:13 PM   #14
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Yes it does, solid lithium has to be stored in mineral oil in order to keep it away from water.

I am not familiar with the chemistry of those hybrid car batteries, do they use solid lithium or lithium ions?
The Prius , our car, is Nickel Metal Hydride I believe.

The Volt and Leaf use Li-ion batteries, and I don't know what their reactivity is to water, but it will not be the same as the pure metal.
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Old 11-01-2012, 11:07 PM   #15
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Yes, it is true that even the original Li-ion battery has no metal lithium, except for microscopic unintended dendrites that somehow form.

What I have learned is that the original Li-ion batteries may get very hot and explode if overcharged. The fire could be from the organic solvent or electrolyte rather than the lithium.

Shorting a Li-ion battery is also a no-no. I have read in many places that an internal thermal runaway reaction may take place and the battery still self-destructs, even when an intermittent short has been removed.

Since the original Li-ion battery, there has been a type called Lithium polymer or Li-Po, and the latest type is Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) or LFP. I know little about the battery chemistry or construction, but from the user side have read that the later types are more tolerant of abuse, and less susceptible to fire. Some LFP types have been tested for use in aircraft. I would expect the newer types to be used in current EVs and hybrids.
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Old 11-01-2012, 11:49 PM   #16
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Immersing a large battery in salt water doesn't generally end well, without regard to the chemistry of the battery cells. Whether its a little 4 kilowatt hour Prius battery, a 16 KWh Chevy Volt, or the 20 KWh monster in the Fisker, it's going to:

1) discharge in an uncontrolled manner
2) engage in exothermic reactions involving seawater

There's a risk of fire, toxic gas, and general unpleasantness. Good old fashioned lead acid batteries aren't any better. Ask any submariner.

In unrelated news, I hear that there will be some great deals in the used car market in a few months. Who's buying? ;-)
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Old 11-02-2012, 12:34 AM   #17
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I just remember something. People accidentally drop cellphones or cameras containing Li-ion batteries in water, even the ocean, all the time, and nothing much happens, except the devices are ruined.

Cars with regular lead-acid batteries also get flooded all the time. Nothing exciting happens. However, when a flooded-type lead-acid battery gets submerged in sea water, mixing the salt solution and the sulfuric acid releases hydrochloric gas! Very bad for humans in an enclosed environment like a submarine to breathe!

On the other hand, the high-voltage of a battery bank may make a difference with any type of battery. The discharge current through the battery terminals/wirings as electrodes goes up with the higher voltage, and electrolysis of sea water releases hydrogen and chlorine gases. Chlorine is nasty, but hydrogen of course burns.

Just a speculation...
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Old 11-02-2012, 06:51 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Midpack
I'd still rather wait until we actually know what happened versus trying them in the media/jumping to conclusions (even if it's common these days), but here's more from the LA Times...
But but what fun is that...
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Old 11-02-2012, 07:56 AM   #19
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As a side to this, I guess it goes without saying to be wary of buying a used car without doing a title check and inspection. They find a way to get these flood damaged vehichles back in use.

Beware Flood Damaged Car Scams In Sandy Aftermath
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Old 11-15-2012, 10:31 AM   #20
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No surprise, but Fisker has reported:
  • fires in 16 2012 Fisker Karmas during Hurricane Sandy were caused by a short circuit in one car that resulted in a fire that was spread to other cars by high winds.
  • Salt damage caused the short circuit
  • "There were no explosions as had been inaccurately reported," said Fisker.
  • "The Karma's lithium-ion batteries were ruled out as a cause or contributing factor."
  • Fisker noted that "several electric hybrid and non-hybrid cars from a variety of manufacturers caught fire and were damaged in separate incidents after flood waters receded at Port Newark" in New Jersey.
  • "After a thorough inspection witnessed by (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) representatives, Fisker engineers determined that the damage to the Karmas was the result of the cars being submerged under 5-8 feet of seawater for several hours that left corrosive salt in a low-voltage Vehicle Control Unit in one Karma," the company said.
  • "The Vehicle Control Unit is a standard component found in many types of vehicles and is powered by a typical 12V car battery.
  • According to Roger Ormisher, a Fisker spokesperson, 320 Karmas parked on a New Jersey port were destroyed during Hurricane Sandy last week. This meant a $32 million loss for the company. Of the 320 Karmas, one had a short circuit that caught fire and due to high winds, 15 other Karmas caught fire as well. The rest of the Fisker plug-ins parked along the port were damaged by floodwaters.
Simply FWIW...

In fairness to Fisker (re: spin), I did not see where any of the sources that initially sensationalized reported the incident (without knowing anything about cause) - filed follow up reports. Again, I have no horse in this race whatsoever...

Fisker Reveals Cause of Karma Fires During Hurricane Sandy - Edmunds.com

DailyTech - Fisker Loses 320 Karmas to Hurricane Sandy
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