Author: Jez Williman, Founder and CEO, D-Fly
With the kids’ summer holidays in full swing I was reminded of the potential hazards of lithium ion batteries. While searching for a rechargeable battery from a global reputable company in a drawer in the kids play room, I discovered it had ‘blown’ and was leaking. The drawer was next to computer equipment, a sky box and so was in a fairly warm place, which really stopped me in my tracks as I reflected on how many of us live with batteries around the home in multiple devices. From consoles, to vacuum cleaners the list is a long one. The reality is that if uncared for they represent a potential fire hazard. We should all be aware that a small battery in your toothbrush for example, is in many ways no different to the battery contained in a Tesla. There are just more cells!
Regulate the battery manufacturers
In the UK, the charity Electrical Safety First recently called for scooter and e-bike batteries to be regulated like fireworks so that any battery entering the market has third-party approval.
I don’t think the comparison with fireworks is helpful, however a call to action should be agreed that ensures manufacturers and supply chain owners are selling products that are independently certified and fit for purpose. Manufacturers should be required to offer original batteries for their products and matching chargers. But let’s not just make this about micromobility, we need regulation for wherever there is a lithium ion battery. Consumers should be better informed and if needed fined if they don’t follow strict guidelines.
Although the large manufacturers will all 100% check these cells, it’s impossible to guarantee that there are not some which will develop faults and not perform as planned. This is where a BMS (Battery Management System) comes into play. Firmware that monitors the cells and checks them to safeguard that they are all working as planned and also ensure the battery is not overheating. But this costs money! Not least at the design phase but also development and manufacturing, which means a more expensive product.
Cost is of course a key component of this conversation. Most, but not all battery fires are a result of either a low quality product in the first place or consumers who have used non-OEM batteries and chargers and are overcharging cells, and in combination with both of these, charging in a location that is hot and not ventilated. Without a BMS, in a hot location and continuously charging, is a recipe for fire or worse.
So what can we do as consumers? Actually quite a lot!
Take responsibility for your purchase and battery for one. Always buy a product that has been fully tested and independently certified. If you’re not sure, ask the reseller or OEM to confirm. This is vitally important as it ensures that a registered independent body has rigorously tested the product. There are many companies who are self certifying. This is not ok and it’s not worth the risk.
Always ensure you charge the original battery with the original charger. They are designed together and the electronics inside the charger vary considerably. The charger should also be independently tested and certified. NEVER charge your battery with a charger that has a greater capacity than the battery can support. It should be noted that battery cells and their software are designed to take charge at a given rate. So trying to charge them faster can also end in disaster.
As it relates to e-mobility, never replace the original battery with a larger capacity battery or buy a second hand battery even if it’s the same voltage. The software and controls will almost certainly be different. The less expensive the product, the more likely the battery will have less frills. So take care when doing your research.
Testing our Dragonfly
At D-Fly we have spent well over £250k on independent testing for all aspects of our new Electric Adventure Vehicle, including the battery and BMS. This is vital for the safety of drivers and to give us peace of mind that we have done everything in our power to make every aspect of our product as safe as possible.
We also offer every component as a spare part including batteries and chargers. This is also important and one of the reasons consumers look to mix and match because they find there is no after sales service or spare parts.
As consumers and pioneers of carbon footprint reduction it’s on us to take responsibility for ensuring that these rare battery fires are not an excuse for governments to stop or block development of this vital industry which is a driver of change to support global warming.
Just this week I was told at a traffic light while riding my bike that Rishi Sunak [UK Prime Minister] was now “with motorists” so cyclists can Fxxk xff! An ill conceived comment can lead to a media frenzy that is not helpful. A friend’s daughter recently asked me… “Jez you’re involved with the electric revolution and carbon reduction… should I finish my studies and start my career now or should I travel the world??” I asked her why she was asking…. She replied…” I am concerned that the politicians won’t listen and I won’t have a world to travel to if we don’t start taking the climate seriously..!”
We all owe it to the next generations to take meaningful actions now. Enjoy mobility safely and thoughtfully!