Two reports of battery packs catching fire in Chevrolet Volts last year highlighted the need for the standardization of safety procedures for electric and hybrid vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has called for the development of EV safety standards to alert first-responders to possible dangers in post-crash situations.
Standards Institute steps up
Monday the American National Standards Institute stepped up to the plate with a 122-page report pointing out gaps between the automaker’s hardware and the readiness of the marketplace to adopt it. The guidelines in the report are just that, voluntary and not subject to legal enforcement.
James McCabe of the American National Standards Institute, said in an interview:
“There are no specific industry wide standards that address the storage of lithium-ion batteries. This is a key safety concern, because they are likely to be stored in all sorts of situations, from repair facilities to swapping stations.”
Mark Sylvia, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, told Boston.com why first responders need to be alerted to approaching an EV or hybrid crash site:
“You want to make sure that it’s completely disabled. You want to make sure any issues relative to electric shock are addressed.”
EV license plates
Part of that effort is to stamp state license plates that specifically identify a vehicle as an EV or hybrid. Hawaii was the first state to make that move, followed by Massachusetts on Monday.
The new Massachusetts plates will cost only $20 for already-licensed EVs and hybrids to swap out. The plates are stamped with EV for consumer vehicles and EC for commercial ones. They feature a cartoonish graphic of a car with an electric plug trailing from its rear bumper.
Sara Lavoie, press secretary for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said in an interview:
“The plates are kind of cute, aren’t they? It will be interesting to see how many of our EV and hybrid drivers rush out to get sets of them.”
Plates not specific enough, some say
However, the plates are causing controversy. Jay Friedland, the legislative director of the advocacy group Plug In America, says the plates can be confusing when used on hybrid vehicles, which do not require plugging in.
“They should just be for plug-ins. We understand the importance for first responders, but there shouldn’t be a plug on there if they cast the net to include hybrid vehicles.”
Standards for wireless charging
Another area in need of standardization is inductive, or wireless, charging systems. Wireless systems use an electromagnetic field to transfer energy and power-up batteries without the need to physically plug a vehicle in. The U.S. Department of Energy said in March that it would be willing to fund the development of the right feasible wireless charging system to the tune of $12 million.
Rebecca Hough heads the wireless company Evatran, that is vying for the DOE development dollars. She said:
“Interest in wireless charging is at an all-time high. For long-term viability, we are very, very supportive of standards.”
SAE International, which develops international standards for many industries, says it will release standard guidelines for wireless charging stations within the year.