MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
MotoE: is it safe?
After last week’s blaze, what can MotoE learn from the hugely successful Formula E championship?
Last Thursday the entire MotoE grid was consumed by an inferno at Jerez. Riders and bikes were at the track preparing for what was supposed to be the first round of the electric-powered championship at May’s Spanish Grand Prix. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.
Electric vehicles do cause some concerns, due to the risk of electrocution and fire. Isle of Man TT marshals are equipped with special insulated rubber gloves to marshal the TT Zero race, the world’s first high-profile EV bike race. And at last year’s TT a Zero bike caught fire in the paddock and blazed for 24 hours.
The big concern is the lithium-ion batteries used in most electric race bikes and cars, including MotoE’s Energica Ego Corsa machines. Although the Jerez fire was ignited by a charging station and not by a battery, it is the lithium-ion batteries that are the usual worry.
Heat is the biggest enemy of battery performance and also the greatest danger. The problem is so-called thermal runaway, when a drastic temperature increase or damage to the battery triggers an exothermic chain reaction that leads to catastrophic combustion. This problem is magnified by the fact that these fires are very difficult to extinguish because some components of lithium-ion batteries produce oxygen as they burn.
It’s not only EV batteries that can suffer from thermal runaway – this is why some smartphones and laptops appear to spontaneously combust.
And yet lithium-ion batteries used in car racing’s Formula E series – the cutting edge of EV research and development – haven’t been a problem. Williams Advanced Engineering supplied batteries for the first four seasons of the championship, claiming just two failures and zero fires in 149,000 track miles and many hundreds of thousands of miles in planes, crisscrossing the globe to Formula E’s numerous flyaway races.
“Safety procedures were at the forefront of everything we did when we were getting ready for the first Formula E season,” says Gary Ekerold, who headed the Williams battery programme. “Safety drives costs up but you can’t take shortcuts. When you put 350kg Formula E batteries in a cargo plane those batteries need to have gone through a massively rigorous testing process.”
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.