Canadian Consulting Engineer

Fire protection for EV plants

June 26, 2024
By Chris Reynolds

New facilities need to be engineered for safety.

EV plant

Photo courtesy Classic Fire + Life Safety.

As the electric vehicle (EV) revolution continues both its organic and its planned growth trajectories, safety considerations have come to the fore, especially given the complexities around batteries in a fire scenario. With open dialogue with engineers, fire protection systems can play a leading role in moving new battery manufacturing facilities forward.

Given the increased risk found in EV battery plants, it is important for special measures to be taken to contain any fire scenario and thus protect occupants from what could be a large and intense hazard.

“Fires can break out in EV plants as regularly as in other manufacturing facilities,” says Dave Groen, vice-president (VP) of construction at Classic Fire + Life Safety. “However, the key difference lies in the significantly higher risk in an EV plant, due to the type of product being stored, necessitating a deep understanding of the product’s heat release rate and how to control that specific type of fire if it does occur.”

A growing need

The number of both EV manufacturing plants and EV battery manufacturing plants has surged in Canada—particularly in Ontario—and the U.S.

These projects are typically estimated to span two to three years, in terms of their opportunities for engineers, designers, project managers, safety specialists, sprinkler fitters and fire alarm technicians. By collaborating with the manufacturers’ own engineering teams, they can oversee system design, fabrication, installation and testing, ensure seamless integration of safety measures, address potential issues and plan for long-term system maintenance and servicing throughout a building’s useful life.

Indeed, fire protection calls for engineers to work on every stage of a project, to address its full intent and scope. Consulting mechanical engineers typically work with the owner and fire protection specialists to create guidelines for design and installation. All parties play key roles in the approval process, through to the insurance provider and the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

A stage-specific approach

EV battery plants are very large buildings. Batteries are stored at different stages of their life cycles throughout a facility. By understanding how these sections of the building are configured, engineers can work effectively to keep the entire facility up to code by protecting against the specific hazards at each stage of the EV battery manufacturing process.

While there have been many advances in protection systems, water suppression remains the predominant choice for fire containment in EV battery facilities. This is because a lithium-ion battery fire is driven by a thermal runaway condition and cooling the fire is the most effective containment method.

“The significantly higher risk in an EV plant is due to the type of product being stored.” – Dave Groen, Classic Fire + Life Safety

Water’s effectiveness at reducing a high heat release rate, its wide availability and its cost-effectiveness make it a reliable suppression agent. With a lithium-ion battery, however, the amount of water required to contain the fire is much more significant than for a standard industrial fire. Also, it will burn for an extended period and require the fire suppression system to operate throughout the entire burn cycle.

Challenges can arise in applying water directly to the fire hazard in various storage scenarios. For rack storage arrangements, for example, in-rack sprinkler systems are used to deliver water to each storage section of the racking assembly.

In addition to suppression, there are systems designed for early detection of off-gas events, before a fire scenario occurs. If the facility can eliminate the affected battery cell prior to a fire scenario beginning, it may be able to mitigate the issue before a suppression system activates.

A comprehensive approach

As the industry continues its expansion, a comprehensive approach to fire protection will help ensure a secure future for these burgeoning facilities. The support and expertise of engineers with a keen eye on evolving industry standards will continue to play an integral role in the EV revolution.

Chris Reynolds, based in London, Ont., is director of marketing for Classic Fire + Life Safety. For more information, visit

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer.


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