The brand new sport that is Formula E would not able to exist if it was not for one small tiny detail: a fire extinguisher. Formula E cars contain lithium ion batteries, made by Williams Advanced Engineering; and Category D fire extinguishing agents are the only form of extinguisher that can put out a lithium ion fire.
The problem is, unfortunately, that these fire agents are harmful to humans, but Spectrum FX have now developed an extinguisher that can extinguish the fire safely, without causing any harm to a driver or a marshal.
“We had to replace the compressed gas elements Halon and its replacement FM200 and FE36 in the extinguisher for safer elements in order for the extinguisher to be used safely without causing any harm,” explains Kent Faith from Spectrum FX.
“If we did not remove these elements then there is an increased chance of the driver’s oxygen supply being severely depleted.”
The use of any other category fire extinguisher can be just as dangerous as using a regular Category D fire extinguisher. Water is one of the worst ways to combat a lithium fire.
Kent Faith tells us that lithium is a reactive metal; this means oxygen will be drawn from the water and will actually feed the fire, thus the use of water will increase the risk of further injury.
Normally a lithium fire cannot be treated by spraying foam on the fire all at once, as you would need to repeatedly spray the foam in quick succession, as the flames flare up every time a battery cell ruptures.
A Formula E car has 200 of these lithium ion cells in the entire battery. Therefore Spectrum FX have come up with a solution of having a cooling agent that is so powerful that it extinguishes the fire in a matter of seconds.
Lithium ion batteries also need to be stored safely when being transported, and kept in separate containers in order to prevent overheating. On an aircraft, Halon is the only available fire extinguishing agent allowed in the cargo bay.
However, Halon will not extinguish a lithium ion fire, so if the battery was not contained correctly, it can have devastating effects.
That’s because Halon does not provide the necessary cooling and can only put out the flame for a short time: it will reappear due to it not being properly extinguished.
If it was not for these fire extinguishers being able to tackle a lithium ion fire safely without causing any harm, then Formula E may have never existed – instead, it’s now a reality.