First Things First
A recommended practice for first and second responders to hybrid and electric vehicle automobile accidents.
Automotive recyclers soon can be a little more comfortable in dealing with damaged hybrid electric vehicle batteries. Although it is important to follow specific safety precautions when dealing with undamaged hybrid batteries, it is a fairly straight forward procedure to remove, process, inventory and sell the units for reuse. 

However, when hybrid vehicles are totaled in an accident and the hybrid battery is damaged, it represents potential fire and safety hazards for employees. A technical committee at the Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE) has prepared J2990, a Surface Vehicle Recommended Practice (RP) for the inspection and handling of high voltage batteries damaged in collisions or other automotive crashes.

Some of you may recall the 2011 incident when a Chevrolet Volt that had been crash tested by a government agency spontaneously caught fire while in storage, weeks after the test was conducted. The fire was caused by a coolant leak that occurred when the car’s high voltage battery pack was punctured during severe side test crashes conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The fire occurred weeks after the tests as the coolant leaked and eventually created a short circuit. No inspection of the battery system damage was made on the vehicles which could have prevented the incidents. Key recommendations in J2990 are post-crash inspections of the batteries and vehicles to determine the possibility of fires and to take steps to neutralize the high voltage battery system.

In early 2010, SAE formed the Battery Standards Committee to address a variety of hybrid electric vehicle battery issues, including safety, labeling, transport, testing, recycling, and terminology. This committee formed a series of 14 work groups and assembled the most appropriate experts from the automotive industry, supplier companies, and other relevant experts to evaluate a wide range of technical issues. The Battery Standards Committee is now the largest working committee in the history of SAE.

In addition, several task forces were created to develop standards, recommended practices and other informative documents on hybrid vehicle batteries. The First and Second Responders Task Force, formed under the Hybrid EV Committee, was designated to draft a recommended practice for fire departments, emergency medical service personnel, tow truck operators, and salvage yards that may deal with electrified vehicles damaged and/or totaled in accidents and highway crashes. Electrified Vehicles (xEVs) were defined to include any electrified propulsion vehicle with a high voltage system, including but not limited to HEV, PHEV, PEV, BEV, FCEV, and EV (see definitions). The development of J2990 included representatives of the National Fire Protection Association, government agencies, OEM experts, police agencies, tow truck companies, associations, and the automotive recycling and shredding industries.

The final document, J2990, is titled “Hybrid and EV First and Second Responder Recommended Practice” and includes information on both nickel metal hydride and lithium ion battery systems in xEVs. It provides a checklist by way of an inspection flow chart (decision tree) to evaluate the vehicle and hybrid battery system post-crash, for a variety of potential safety and fire hazards. The goal is to provide the first and second responders at accident scenes and later, prior to storage, with information to prevent fire events from battery systems compromised in crashes and other accident damage.

The scope of the document is to evaluate the hazards associated with damaged high voltage battery systems in the xEVs. SAE J2990 provides guidelines and education to first and second responders of incidents associated with xEVs and high voltage batteries and is not intended to replace the Emergency Response Guides (ERGs) created by OEMs for specific vehicle models. You may know, that most automotive OEM’s publish ERG’s designed for first responders to understand unique hazards associated with specific models.

J2990 also includes a number of recommendations for the creation of future ERG’s by OEM’s, which include 1.) Quick reference sheets as a supplement, 2.) Standardized graphics for ease of identification of xEVs, and 3.) OEM consultation with responders during ERG development to ensure information is understandable and useable.

SAE’s First and Second Responders Taskforce started discussions in late 2011, and by late 2012 sent for approval to the Battery Safety Task Force, Recommended Practice document J2990 on the identification of HEV’s at crash scenes, disabling the high voltage systems, post-crash vehicle inspection, hazard communication and subsequent treatment, storage and monitoring at tow yards and salvage yards. The document does well at addressing the most important issues for first responders and identifies specific criteria for second responders to be aware of damaged, leaking or otherwise compromised battery systems.

Impact on Auto Recyclers

A major benefit of the criteria set up by J2990 is that automotive recyclers are not expected to evaluate the vehicles’ high voltage battery for damage and fire potential. That process is recommended for the first responders to conduct at an accident scene and again, later, by the fire department, tow operator or storage facility operator at a storage or repair facility. However, it is still important for automotive recyclers to be aware of the dangers posed by high voltage systems if they were heavily damaged in a crash. J2990 recommendations also will help salvage yards identify xEVs and offer a simple way to inspect a vehicle if they’re concerned about the condition of the high voltage battery.

The xEVs with damaged high voltage systems may pose hazards at the accident scene, or during transit and storage. These hazards may include loss of electrical isolation, exposure to potentially toxic materials and/or vapors, and potential vehicle/battery fires. (J2990 notes that fires involving high voltage batteries resulting in damaged high voltage systems, may reignite days later if sufficient energy remains stored in the battery). Because of these potential hazards, the vehicle should remain isolated until after the vehicle has passed inspections. Tow operators, storage facility personnel and vehicle owners should be made aware of these risks when towing and storing a damaged xEV according to the inspection steps listed. The tow operator should make arrangements to tow the vehicle directly to a suitable offsite location where the vehicle can be isolated per the recommendations.

Post-Crash Inspections

The detailed post-crash initial inspection, to be completed at the crash scene, includes the following steps:
• Check for active fire or smoldering fire including flames, smoke, arcing, or hot spots.
• Listen for gurgling, bubbling, crackling, hissing or popping noises heard from the battery system which may indicate an unstable battery system.
• Examine battery cell groups to determine if they are separated from the battery enclosure.
• Examine if the battery system enclosure is mechanically damaged. Check for evidence of fire or heat damage which may include smoke residue, heat damage, melted plastic or carpet trim, or a burnt odor coming from the battery system.
• Inspect the high voltage system for evidence of arcing – carbon traces damage such as pinched or lacerated orange cables. Inspect for evidence of external battery leaks such as a sweet ether-type odor from Lithium ion batteries or a caustic electrolyte from NiMH batteries.

Within 24 hours of unloading a high voltage vehicle, post-incident, a second inspection possibly requiring high voltage training and specific tools should be completed. When a damaged xEV arrives at a storage facility post incident, the vehicle should be secured in a well-ventilated and isolated storage area, until the vehicle has completed a full inspection and it has been determined that the high voltage system is not significantly damaged. During and after isolation, a placard or some other identifier should be placed on the roof and hood of the vehicle to identify and warn others it is a high voltage vehicle with suspect damage. This second inspection adds the following determinations in addition to many of the first, on-scene, inspection:
• Vehicle submersion
• Airbag deployment
• Vehicle and battery system diagnostics.
• Battery temperature
• High Voltage Isolation Faults
• Current Interrupt Faults

In most cases, if any of these conditions exist or are found to be abnormal, it is recommended to contact the OEM for further instructions and guidance, and/or to depower the high voltage battery.

In conclusion, while many of the hybrid and electric vehicle components, including the high voltage battery systems, are valuable and in most cases will be a highly saleable item for reuse, there are inherent dangers to the batteries, especially those damaged in crashes. J2990 will help to limit the potential danger of fires and increase employee safety.

SAE – A Partner in the Industry

SAE International is a global association of more than 128,000 engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries. SAE International’s core competencies are life-long learning and voluntary consensus standards development. Engineers, business executives, educators, and students from more than 97 countries form the SAE network of membership who share information and exchange ideas for advancing the engineering of mobility systems. More than 16,000 volunteer leaders serve on their Board of Directors and many other boards, councils and committees.

Technical committees continue to write more new aerospace and automotive engineering standards than any other standards-writing organization in the world. They publish thousands of technical papers and books each year, as well as leading-edge periodicals and Internet and CD-ROM products. SAE’s Cooperative Research Program helps facilitate projects that benefit the mobility industry as a whole. Meetings and exhibitions provide worldwide opportunities to network and share information. They offer a full complement of professional development activities such as seminars, technical symposia, and e-learning products.

One of the society’s key roles has been encouraging and supporting the development of capable practitioners in the many mobility communities they serve. In an effort to promote science and mathematics literacy, and to help ensure that industries will have a qualified and more diverse pool of candidates entering the workforce, the SAE Foundation raises funds to support the development and distribution of education curricula for grades 4 through 8.

SAE’s broad array of technical, historical, and statistical publications are distributed to customers in more than 65 countries annually. It’s training and professional development capabilities have been expanded in the past 20 years – they now produce more than 450 separate professional development events every year.

SAE opened four geographic sections on the Indian sub-continent, and new sections in China, Russia, Romania, and Egypt, to name a few. In 2002, SAE India was established as an official affiliate. As non-North American membership approaches 25%, the SAE International website has become a focal point of commerce and information exchange.

Richard Paul is an Automotive Recycling Consultant. He has been an SAE member since 1994, a member of the SAE Sustainable Development Program Committee since its inception in 1999 and participated in the development of J2990 with the Task Force. Richard also organizes sessions on car recycling annually for the SAE World Congress.

HEV - Hybrid Electric Vehicle
PHEV - Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle
PEV – Plugin Electric Vehicle
BEV – Battery Electric Vehicle
FCEV – Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle
EV – Electric Vehicle

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