Burn, Baby, Burn

The Tesla Model S burns quite well . Cars are burning, buses are burning; Fetch the engine, fetch the engine; Fire! Fire! Fire! ...


The Tesla Model S burns quite well.
Cars are burning, buses are burning;
Fetch the engine, fetch the engine;
Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!
Pour on water, pour on water!

Yes, we’re plagiarising a (already morbid) children’s song, but it is apt for times like this. We’ve been seeing news on Tesla’s car batteries bursting into flames, in 3 separate incidents within a short 5-week span. Luckily, in each case, the cars warned the drivers about the imminent disaster and they escaped before anyone was hurt.

Not so lucky were the bus passengers in India. In the early hours of 30 October 2013, a bus traveling in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh hit a barrier, causing the diesel tank to catch fire and very rapidly transformed the entire bus into a fireball. The passengers had awoken from sleep to find themselves trapped inside an imminent inferno and scrambled to escape, but the emergency exits had already been blocked by additional seats, added on by the bus operator so that they could sell that few more tickets each ride; there were no hammers to break the windows from the inside. More than 40 people burnt alive.

The maker of the bus, Volvo, who so often prides themself on the safety of their products, were quick to reach the scene to investigate the matter. To them, it is probably a matter of reputation; to the growing number of Indians opting to take the bus, it is a matter of life or death.

This news of vehicles burning have also reminded us of another tragic incident in Malaysia that made headlines in 2010. A 27 year old female student, Florence Joseph, was driving her Perodua Myvi when, after colliding with a lorry, was pinned inside the wreckage. A Good Samaritan, Teo, attempting to save her hesitated when he saw sparks under her car. After failing to obtain a fire extinguisher from a nearby petrol station (because the attendants wouldn't let him have it), Teo returned to the scene of the accident to find the MyVi engulfed in flames with Joseph still inside.
Such news make us think: firstly, always keep a fire extinguisher handy in your vehicle; secondly, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEV) cannot come soon enough.

In an earlier article, we had already explained that hydrogen is much, much lighter than our atmosphere and will rise up very quickly if the tank is punctured, compared to liquid fuel which spreads horizontally.

The US Department of Energy published a research back in 2001 that simulated fuel leakages of an FCEV car and a petrol car. Here, a picture really speaks a thousand words:

Hydrogen car (left), petrol car (right and in frame 5 and 6)
1 minute 30 seconds into the experiment, the hydrogen flow has depleted to a tiny wisp without much damage to the FCEV while the petrol vehicle is still being incinerated. The highest temperature recorded in the hydrogen car was simply an uncomfortably hot 47°Celsius on the rear glass window and a lovely 19°Celsius at the rear tray (between the rear window and the rear seats). That should assuage any fears of a Hindenburg-equivalent catastrophe with FCEVs.

And since FCEVs will soon be in the market and hydrogen army tanks are also a near future possibility, we believe that the good people of India would appreciate if the introduction of the hydrogen bus is expedited.

image sources: dailytech.com, en.rh2.org

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