Battery Fires & Fuel Cell Futures
In 2012, there were 172,500 automobile fires reported to local fire departments in the United States. While that number is half of what it once was in the 1980s, it is still one car fire every three minutes, according to a recent online article on National Geographic.
When the numbers are tallied for 2013, two of them will include a pair of Tesla Model S electric cars. That works out to be .00001159 percent of all the car fires in 2012. Yet, those two US fires - and the one in Merida, Mexico - have triggered a federal investigation by the U.S. and the Germany government, as well as intense media scrutiny. Note: the German ministry looking into the matter on behalf of one of their citizens quick exonerated Tesla and the car and dropped the matter.
Still, its worth considering what caused the fires and what possible remedies, if any, might be needed to insure they don't occur again. Toward that end, EV World interviewed Dr. Paul Mutolo with Cornell University's Energy Materials Center at Cornell, or EMC2, about the actual chemistry and processes involved in the Model S fires and what recourse the electric carmaker has to make sure its cars are as safe as humanly possible.
Mutolo, a chemist who has worked on both battery development and fuel cells, also discusses the current state-of-the-art of hydrogen fuel cell technology in this two-part Skype video interview. One of the biggest challenges to the wider adoption of fuel cell technology is the production of hydrogen. At present, it costs in the neighborhood of what gasoline sells for in Europe, two and three times the price of a gallon or liter here in North America.
Mutolo explained in follow-up correspondence with EV World, "One exciting, unsung opportunity of hydrogen powered transportation is that hydrogen is everywhere! Already we have examples of producing hydrogen from landfill– or wastewater treatment plant gas. The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF) here at Cornell is a small team to research other pathways to hydrogen, including those starting from kitchen scraps."
"In my view," Mutolo observes, "hydrogen brings us one step closer to that scene at the end of Back to the Future, where Doc pours some old soda and a banana peel into the DeLorean to power it! Hydrogen is literally everywhere around us, we just have to learn how to get it."
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