As electric vehicles are rapidly increasing in numbers on the roads, fires in damaged batteries are becoming a new safety issue for the rescue service. In an SEC funded project, researcher Elna Heimdal Nilsson is looking to prevent the fires through so called quenchers. 

The batteries of electric vehicles contain a number of chemicals that you don’t want to slip out. And even though it is extremely uncommon with fires in the batteries, due to outer force, heating or even defects from the factory, they do occur. Many of the gases produced in battery fires are extremely toxic and the rescue service’s equipment isn’t adapted for filtering it out, making them reluctant to putting out fires where electric vehicles are involved.

Photo of Elna HeimDal Nilsson

“Some of the gases that are produced in battery fires, such as hydrogen fluoride, are lethal and the rescue service isn’t prepared for working in those conditions, which makes car accidents with electric vehicles potentially a big problem the more common they become”, says Senior Lecturer Elna Heimdal Nilsson, at Lund University, who leads the project.

In the SEC funded project “Chemical quenchers for inhibition of battery fires”, Elna Heimdal Nilsson and her group aim to gain a better understanding of the gases that are released in a battery fire, create chemical models for simulations of battery fires and identify and test chemicals that may mitigate fires, so called quenchers.  

Toxic gases

Inside the battery, the chemicals are liquid or in a solid state, but heated up and mixed with the surrounding oxygen, multiple toxic gases are produced. Exactly how this happens on a chemical level is still not fully mapped. In the two-year project Elna Heimdal Nilsson, her colleague at Combustion Physics at Lund University Christian Brackmann, and her post doc Intu Sharma will increase the knowledge of which toxic gases that are released and systematize this knowledge, creating models to foresee what will happen when different batteries burn. 


The quenchers, that the project aims to detect, are substances with a characteristic that decreases the reaction and stops reactive chemicals, such as hydroxyl radicals, from react with other chemicals that may cause toxic gas emissions. 

“It is important that the reaction is stopped immediately. The more substances the reaction is exposed to the more it is propagated and the wilder the reaction becomes. We want to mitigate the reaction by letting it react with quenchers as soon as possible”, says Elna Heimdal Nilsson. 

Volvo Cars as a partner

Volvo Cars is an important collaboration partner in the project. The group will work with their batteries and do some tests in Volvo Cars’ site in Gothenburg. 

“I am very excited to work with Volvo Cars in this project. Safety is a very important part of what Volvo Cars stands for and so of course they are very skilled in this kind of work”, says Elna Heimdal Nilsson.