By Scott D. Kagan,
Lithium-ion batteries are most commonly used in cell phones, laptops, digital cameras and even power tools. They provide lightweight, high energy density power sources for electronic devices. Most recently, they have been seen as an alternative to fuel tanks in several motor vehicles including: the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet and Volt and the Tesla Model S.
The Tesla is an electric motor vehicle that runs on a lithium-ion battery. The NHTSA has given the Model S one of the best safety ratings for any vehicle on the market. Until this month, there were seemingly few problems with the Tesla line. Earlier this month, a Tesla Model S caught fire while being driven on a highway in Kent, Washington. This is the same lithium-ion battery that has recently caught fire in the Chevrolet Volt and the new Boeing 787.
A spokesperson for Tesla said a curved metal object on the road was apparently to blame for the fire. Allegedly the large object's shape led to a powerful hit on the underside of the vehicle, punching a 3-inch hole through an armor plate that protects the battery under the passenger compartment. Specifically it struck one of the battery pack's modules. Luckily, the fire was contained to small section in the front of vehicle. This allowed the driver to easily pull over and get out of car uninjured.
The NHTSA has been monitoring lithium batteries after fires involving Chevrolet Volt vehicles.
However, after those fires the agency was not able to duplicate that fire and said that "no real-world crash data has been reported." As more battery operated vehicles enter the market, additional data will be collected in order to further investigate the threat of fires in these vehicles.