Lithium-ion batteries, which can be found in many popular consumer products, are under scrutiny this week after a massive fire in New York, believed to have been caused by the battery powering an electric scooter, injured seven people. In 2022, New York City firefighters responded to more than 200 electric scooter and bicycle fires, resulting in 6 deaths.
“In all these fires, these lithium-ion fires, it’s not a slow burn. there’s no small amount of fire, it’s literally exploding,” explained FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. “It’s a huge volume of fire once it happens, and it’s very difficult to put out and therefore particularly dangerous.”
Incidents of lithium-ion batteries have proliferated: first, these batteries are present in various consumer technology products. However, a combination of manufacturer issues, misuse, and aging batteries can increase the risk.
“Lithium batteries are generally safe and unlikely to fail, but only as long as there are no defects and the batteries have not been damaged or mistreated,” said Steve Kerber, vice president and executive director of the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) Fire Safety Research Institute. (FSRI). “The more batteries around us, the more incidents we’ll see.”
In 2016, Samsung issued a global recall of the Galaxy Note 7, citing “battery issues” that caused the device to catch fire and sometimes explode. Later, HP and Sony recalled lithium computer batteries due to fire hazards: About 500,000 hoverboards were recalled due to the risk of “catching fire and/or exploding,” according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. US consumption.
In 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration banned non-installed lithium-ion batteries from being checked in luggage and said they must remain with the passenger in their carry-on luggage.
Dylan Khoo, an analyst at tech intelligence firm ABI Research, pointed out that electric bikes and scooters use batteries that can be about 50 times larger than a smartphone. “So when a fire happens, it’s much more dangerous,” Khoo said.
All lithium-ion batteries use flammable materials. “This process can be caused by battery overheating, puncture or electrical damage such as a short circuit,” he said. “In cases where fires occur spontaneously during charging, they are likely due to manufacturing defects.”
According to Kerber, the number of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries is increasing with tremendous frequency in the United States and internationally, especially when it comes to e-bikes and e-scooters, due to the increase in purchases of these products. the pandemic.
And what can people do?
Kerber advised people to buy UL-certified electric bikes and scooters from reputable companies. Online shopping often makes it difficult for customers to know where products actually come from. Aside from scooters and e-bikes, experts have warned that anyone with a lithium-ion battery should follow proper instructions for charging and using the battery.
Any device with such a battery should be charged and stored in a cool, dry place and should not be left charging for long periods of time or while you sleep. Batteries should also be checked regularly to ensure there are no cracks or bulges. People should always use the charger that came with their device or use one from a reputable supplier.
“Elevated temperatures can accelerate the degradation of almost all battery components and can lead to significant safety risks, including fire or explosion,” the experts warned. “