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Leak-Detection Standards For Electric Vehicles Long Overdue

Key Highlights

  • Rapid growth in electric vehicle sales, along with an increasing interest in fuel-cell-electric powertrain systems, presents the auto industry with serious and largely unexpected quality-control issues.
  • Billions of lithium-ion battery cells are produced yearly.
  • Over five percent are estimated to have small unidentified leaks that can affect performance, shorten battery life and cause vehicle fires.

Only a small fraction of electric vehicle battery-cell leaks can be identified through traditional methods. For instance, pressure-decay tests are unreliable or too slow and allow small but critically important leaks to go unnoticed.

The problem will be magnified by ever-increasing consumer interest in Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), Fuel-Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) and Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs). 

Electric vehicles achieved a broader and more firmly established market share by the start of the current decade. Combined global sales of BEVs and PHEVs jumped 41 percent in 2020, and the pace has continued in 2021 and 2022.

A study by IHS Markit has predicted that approximately 50 percent of all new-car sales could be electric by 2035. About half of cars on the road at that rate will be electric by 2050. The global electric vehicle battery market is increasing at an ever-increasing rate as well, with annual sales expected to climb from $27.3 billion last year to over $67 billion by 2025.

EV batteries contain various flammable materials, including lithium, manganese and plastic. Lithium is highly reactive to water, resulting in performance and safety concerns when battery packs are exposed to water or high humidity. Even highly small leaks can cause an issue.

A National Fire Protection Association study indicated that most EV fires in the United States from 2013-2017 involved battery systems. Temperature fluctuations and heavy rain were the major reasons for EV battery-system fires.

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