Recall at Hyundai Fire hazard for the electric car image

Recall at Hyundai Fire hazard for the electric car image

Recall at Hyundai Fire hazard for the electric car image

The membrane is small, wafer-thin, a penny product. It separates battery cells from one another and ensures the correct flow of current in a car battery, which consists of hundreds of battery cells and membranes – provided the membrane is precisely installed. If not, the current looks for other paths, wrong paths. The battery cells overheat; first one, then many and finally the hundreds of kilograms heavy battery block in the vehicle floor burns.

Something like this could look like this in the batteries of 82,000 electric vehicles made by the South Korean auto company Hyundai, which also owns the Kia brand. Hyundai ordered the recall of these vehicles in February. In addition to 76,000 SUVs of the Kona EV model, there were also several thousand Ioniq Elektro and several hundred electric city buses. Mind you: Not because the vehicles will all burn down, but because there is a risk. According to the company, 14 battery fires have been reported worldwide since the introduction of the affected Kona model. The recall was not made because the South Korean authorities had ordered it, but as a voluntary measure by the manufacturer.

It is unclear whether, as previously suspected, slipped membranes are the cause and which company is responsible – Hyundai or the South Korean battery manufacturer LG Chem – and is being investigated by the car manufacturer and its supplier. In a statement, the battery manufacturer blamed Hyundai for the problems: The car manufacturer had not correctly implemented recommendations for charging the batteries. The South Korean Ministry of Transport, however, referred to technical defects in the LG batteries.

One thing is certain: the recall is likely to cost the world’s fifth largest car company over 700 million euros and is an embarrassing affair for South Korea. Because both Hyundai and LG Chem have been striving for a top position in electromobility for years and have come a long way: According to the e-car index of the consultancy AlixPartners, Hyundai / Kia is the fourth largest e-car provider in Europe and also in the German market. LG Chem is the third largest battery manufacturer in the world and most recently showed the strongest sales growth of any industry leader. These days, the Koreans are horrified to recall another, very similar disgrace in 2017: At that time, smartphones from Apple’s competitor Samsung burned due to defective batteries from Samsung’s subsidiary SDI.

What the recall in South Korea means for the manufacturer’s electric cars in Germany is unclear. It is possible that Hyundai will order a recall in Germany after the completion of the technical investigations – or even, should the Federal Motor Transport Authority intervene – will be forced to do so ex officio. Such a recall would be the next to an existing recall from the end of last year: The manufacturer called back around 6,000 e-cars because of battery problems. A battery deficiency is to be remedied with a software update. Only if the update is insufficient, which according to the manufacturer is the case in around two percent of vehicles, should the entire battery be replaced.

The Hyundai recall was the third electric car recall in Germany last year. Ford and BMW had previously ordered numerous models to the workshops. At BMW, there was a risk of overheating in the batteries due to contamination in production at a supplier. Ford also assumed contamination was the reason for misdirected electricity flows. In both cases the cells came from South Korea – from Samsung SDI. So the manufacturer who had already made the burning batteries of the Samsung smartphones.

The risk of fire in e-cars makes car buyers in Germany sit up and take notice. More than one in ten new cars sold is currently an electric car. There should be a million e-cars on German roads this year – and each of them a potential incendiary device? Experts say no. “E-cars burn neither more violently nor more frequently than petrol or diesel,” says the Vice President of the German Fire Brigade Association, Karl-Heinz Knorr.

The special thing about electric car fires is that the battery can ignite not only from external influences, such as accidents, but also from within. Many rightly find this particularly worrying. There are cases in which e-cars that have already been extinguished are re-ignited on the tow truck or in the workshop. 99.9 percent of electric cars run on lithium-ion batteries. Several cells are put together to form a battery, which in turn is encased in a thick steel jacket. “But if it is damaged, for example in a serious accident, the battery can catch fire,” says Audi safety engineer Sascha Staudenmaier.

The lithium-ion cell consists of four main components: anode, cathode, separator and electrolyte. Usually it is the electrolyte that caused the fire. It ensures that the charged lithium particles can swim from the positive to the negative pole and back, thus saving the electricity when charging and releasing it when driving. In the current Li-ion technology, the electrolyte is always liquid and made of flammable material. Manufacturers try to minimize the risk with flame retardants. In the event of an accident, the electrolyte may leak if the battery is severely damaged. And in mechanically damaged cells, the plus pole, which is normally separated by the separator, can come into contact with the minus pole and cause short circuits. “Short circuits are the most common cause of fires without external influences in the lithium battery,” says battery researcher Winter.

“Fires can start in three ways,” he explains. “Through mechanical effects, such as in a crash; electrically, that is, through excessive overcharging, and thermally, through too much heat. ”Modern e-cars have a number of protective mechanisms to eliminate all three causes as well as possible.