Electric vehicles (EVs) are seen as a beacon of hope for clean transportation. Production of EVs has increased from just above 1 million cars in 2015 to more than 26 million in 2022. With the adoption going upwards every year, new challenges are becoming aparent in the manufacturing, transportation and maintenance of these vehicles.

The risks of Li-Ion batteries

Li-Ion batteries have been used in mobile phones and laptops for years. We have seen incidents where devices were recalled due to safety issues relating to Li-Ion batteries, the most prominent of which is probably the one with Samsung Galaxy Note 7. One of the problems with these battery fires is that they burn with twice the energy of a normal fire and have a risk of spontaneously re-igniting. 

Apart from mobile devices, Li-Ion batteries are also found in electric bikes where we have seen a 60% increase in baterry-related fires in London from 2022 to 2023. There have been 4 deaths associated with these fires in the first half of 2023 in London alone. The reasons for these battery failures vary from electric (related to over- or under-charge), mechanical (impact-related) or thermal (environments with very high of very low temperatures). 

The risk of EV transportation

The biggest risk of Li-Ion batteries in EVs is during transportation. Large tanker ships are transporting thousands of vehicles over the ocean with about 10% being EVs with Li-Ion batteries. According to Reuters, there were 209 ship fires reported in 2022, the highest number in a decade and 17% more than in 2021. Not only has the number of fire incidents increased, but the problem is very difficult to manage. The cars are stacked tightly one next to the other, bumber to bumper, leaving very little space for people to reach a fire. The proximity of cars to one another increases the risk of the fire spreading. Add to that the fact that fire extinguishing systems in ships were never designed for the hotter fires of EVs and you have a big sdafety concern and a lagging regulatory adaptation.

Smart Scent Detection of battery failure

The main safety hazards associated with failing Li-ion batteries are the ignition of the battery cell and/or the emissions of toxic gases. These gases include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), meaning sensitive VOC sensors can be used to check the condition of these batteries – either within portable detectors or in process/plant monitoring equipment. Altered Carbon’s K9Sense technology can detect the VOCs that can tell us the state of the Li-Ion battery every step of the way. Even before the vehicles are loaded for shipping, our smart sensors can be used to determine if an EVs is safe to load. Then during transportation we can give fire fighters early detection of the battery going bad, providing the necessary time to address the incident, despite the physical challenges of lack of space. And since battery failure risks do not disappear as the vehicles reach the shop, the sensor can be integrated into the vehicle’s systems so that detections relating to battery health can be exposed to the owner along with the rest of the health monitoring. 

Conclusion: A safer future

The advent of scent sensors promises to address challenges that existing technologies fail to catch on time. The ability to detect a safety issue based on the VOCs emitted is at the same time futuristic and part of how we have evolved as humans. Scent has always been used to detect danger and harnessing that power through the use of Altered Carbon’s graphene-based K9Sense chip and the AI models behind it can revolutionise the way the world works. From safety and sustainability to business processes optimisations, the opportunities are vast and ripe for early adoption.