When it comes to mobility, the future is electric, and that means a lot of batteries. Unfortunately, batteries can catch fire or explode, causing rapid, violent fires. But we may have a solution – or several solutions.
This article is part three, the last in a series I’ve written about lithium-ion battery fires in e-scooters and e-bikes. Part One investigated the incidence of battery fires, while Part two causal relationship was examined. Today I focus on prevention. Let’s jump in:
Prevent the fire from happening
What if we can prevent a fire in the first place?
The thermestor device provides preventive maintenance. The device monitors detection points and detects heat.
If it detects abnormal heat (above 80°C), it isolates the power and removes the ignition source.
It can be built into new and existing consumer electronics and is easy to install.
verdict: Can a product like a Thermaresor be available for retrofit? I see it resonating, especially with e-bike owners who are already hacking their e-bikes. Linking observation to an app would also be helpful.
What if there was a way to put out lithium-ion battery fires the moment they happened? Meet the e-lampmarketed as “the world’s smallest fire extinguisher.”
Specifically, the e-bulb is a thermally activated glass bulb that contains a circuit breaker. The lamp has a non-toxic, non-conductive extinguishing liquid. The thermal lamp bursts upon reaching a dangerous temperature and the liquid is converted to gas. Within seconds the fire is extinguished
The e-bulb also cuts the power supply in the event of a fire while a device is plugged in. This means that the electric fireplace cannot be re-ignited.
The company is currently in talks with car manufacturers to apply their solution to batteries.
verdict: What’s not to like about a product that extinguishes small fires at the source? However, unlike the Thermarestor, the e-bulb is responsive rather than preventive.
Start up battery ZapBatt considers the safe batteries of the future made of lithium titanate.
Lithium titanate is a nanocrystal of titanium that, under thermal orbital conditions, changes from a conductor to a resistor, effectively containing some form of built-in self-preservation.
According to Charlie Welch, CEO and co-founder of ZapBatt, unlike lithium-ion:
You can do almost anything about it [a lithium titanate battery]short circuit, over voltage, puncture, and it will not run itself into thermal runaway.
I’ve seen the cell tortured, and I’ve never seen a fire on them.
Historically, lithium titanate has not received as much attention as lithium ion due to its lower energy density.
Lithium titanate as a viable alternative to lithium ion is developing in places such as: Taiwanwhere it is currently used in the development of EVs and e-buses.
The downside is that lithium titanate batteries cost twice as much as lithium ion batteries. However, ZapBatt plans to launch a micro-mobility battery next year that is not only much safer, but can be fully charged in 20 minutes and will last up to 20 years.
verdict: This will undoubtedly be a game-changer for the industry, especially for suppliers who are willing to take on the extra costs or owners looking for a faster charge.
Heavy riding bikes
There are e-bikes in New York often used by delivery people guilty of buying cheap bikes, riding outside their intended use and charging their batteries unsafely, increasing the risk of fire.
Only one company sells and rents e-bikes specifically for delivery people Zoomo. I spoke to Joey Skavroneck, the US president of the company. He told me that the world’s largest and most innovative delivery brands use Zoomo ebikes, including UberEats, Deliveroo, Doordash, Just Eat Takeaway, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Gorillas, Getir, Milkrun, Zapp and many more.
Among the several commendable features are the Zoomo batteries that last (up to 8 hours) and fast charge (4 hours), allowing riders to complete long shifts without worrying about running out of battery (or relying on unsafe charging scenarios). . All riders will have access to Zoomo’s comprehensive service and maintenance plans.
The company told me it has been working with individual partners to learn which vehicles and batteries are unsafe, safe storage and forward-thinking solutions to meet delivery needs.
Zoomo believes there is a need to encourage couriers to buy or rent safer and legal e-bikes “so that couriers can continue to earn a living without endangering their homes.”
Find bad batteries
A critical part of battery safety is identifying problems during the R&D phase. A startup called Voltaiq has built the mobility industry’s first Enterprise Battery Intelligence (EBI) software platform, helping to prevent costly recalls and catastrophic battery fires.
I spoke with Voltaiq CEO Tal Sholklapper to learn more about their platform, which extracts data from silos and automatically collects all battery data from the test lab, production line and systems operating in the field. It converts this data into a standard format and organizes and stores it in a secure, centralized location that can be accessed by users.
verdict: essential. You can’t fight a problem until you really understand it. Voltaiq is currently working with several automotive OEMs, and the technology would benefit micro-mobility companies that choose to develop their own batteries.
Integrate battery safety into your MVP
I wanted to understand how micromobility manufacturers tackle the problem of battery fires. I spoke to Oscar Morgan, CEO at escooter company boa company that strives to create ‘the safest scooter in the world’.
A priority is the traceability of cells. The company uses high-quality battery cells with a high degree of traceability:
This means that if a problem occurs within a certain batch [e.g. 1 million cells] you can trace it back to that batch and compare the frequency of occurrence to the expected failure rate per million cells.
So if the number of incidents is beyond reasonable expectation, products using these batteries may be notified and subject to a recall.
Traceability is notably absent on low-cost e-bikes and e-scooters, which typically use unbranded, untraceable cells — possibly even from multiple vendors.
As Morgan points out, “The rate of incidence within a given batch is nearly impossible to identify, making it nonsense whether any given batch of cells is safe.”
Also to Bo’s benefit is the use of a high quality BMS with multiple thermocouple sensors that monitor the temperature of cells, regulate the charging circuit and isolate modules from the battery when an ‘out of parameter’ condition is detected.
Morgan claims the shortest way to eliminate the risk of battery fires would be “to house all batteries in a vented stainless steel housing, which has a melting point higher than the combustion temperature of lithium. For weight, design and cost considerations, however, this is not always practical.”
verdict: It is positive that Bo is thinking critically about battery safety. I would like to see a collaboration with some of the preventive technology like Thermarestor.
General safety tips for e-bike and e-scooter owners
Are you planning to buy an ebike or escooter and now imagine your house going up in flames? Here are some well-known safety tips:
- Buy e-bikes and e-scooters from a reputable retailer.
- Be aware of the risk of fake Products.
- When purchasing equipment, make sure that the equipment has the Underwriters Laboratories Markshowing that the product has been tested for safety.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and storage.
- Use the manufacturer’s official charger.
- Preferably store your vehicle outside.
- Do not park or charge electric bicycles or e-scooters in public areas, such as stairwells, emergency exits and emergency exits.
- Be present while charging.
- Don’t overcharge – unplug, unplug and turn off the charger once it’s fully charged.
- Allow time between charging and driving.
- Where possible, keep e-bikes and e-scooters away from extreme heat.
Preventing and responding to the risk of battery fires is a complex and multifaceted matter. Embedding security in new construction is doable, but dealing with retrofits is a much more difficult scenario. Especially if you look at the number of e-bikes and e-scooters that are already in use.
But it should be a priority, especially as existing batteries in use degrade, increasing the risk of fire.