How a Catastrophic Ship Fire Reminded us Why Battery Thermal Runaway Simulation is Important

March 7, 2022
cargo ship fire

A few weeks ago, a 656-foot-long ship known as the Felicity Ace caught fire in the North Atlantic as it was transporting its cargo, including various automotive luxury brands, from Germany to Rhode Island. The fire broke out in the ship’s hold and continued to spread. Thankfully, all 22 crew members safely abandoned the vessel.  

Of concern was the large number of electric vehicles on board this ship. Experts are still speculating if the cause of the fire was due to EV batteries. Nonetheless, unexpected battery fires are always a concern. The batteries complicated efforts in extinguishing the blaze said SMIT Salvage, the Dutch experts contracted to salvage the vessel. But as the ship eventually cooled down near a safe area off the Azores and began being towed, it “lost stability and sank,” according to the Portuguese Navy. 

Why Battery Pack Safety for Electrified Vehicles (EVs) is Important 

For years, there have been concerns over lithium-ion battery safety due to highly publicized thermal runaway events. This recent event brought to light the importance of battery safety and the need to use state-of-the-art engineering to mitigate the risk of thermal runaway.   

Battery engineers are tasked with this challenging problem: to package a set of lithium-ion (Li-ion) cells as tightly as possible and minimize the amount of non-cell weight in the battery. In order to achieve this, engineers need to maintain proper temperature levels of cells, protect against premature cell degradation, and ensure safe operations.   

How to Cost-Effectively Mitigate Battery Thermal Runaway 

Historically, battery thermal runaway has been evaluated using physical testingan expensive and dangerous endeavor.  

With physical testing, costly prototype versions of the battery packs are assembled and thermal runaway is intentionally induced on a selected li-ion cell (either with a nail or by heating it to extreme temperatures).  

A palatable, alternative solution is using simulation. The use of simulation throughout the design and development process allows for extensive testing, immediate results and analysis, and actionable feedback to ensure battery packs are engineered for optimal safety. 

Here at Gamma Technologies, we offer GT-SUITE and GT-AutoLion, the ideal simulation design platforms to run virtual thermal runaway propagation tests. To learn more about our thermal runaway simulation capabilities, read this April 2021 blog written by GT’s own Joe Wimmer. 

If you would like to learn more or are interested in trying GT-SUITE to virtually test a battery pack for thermal runaway propagation, Contact us!