Why Are Electric Scooters Catching Fire? – ‘Hot Mic’ With Nidhi Razdan


Hi, This is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.

You must have seen a spate of reports over the last few weeks about electric scooters catching fire in India. The incidents are a worry not just for India’s fledgling vehicle industry, but for all folks who have made or are thinking of making the switch. Now, sales of electric scooters have more than doubled this year. But at least for some prospective buyers, these fires are now causing them to think twice. A worried Road and Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari has now sent a warning to electric vehicle makers or EV makers through a series of tweets. The first was that “several mishaps involving electric two-wheelers have come to light in the last two months. It’s most unfortunate that some people have lost their lives and that several have been injured in these incidents,” he tweeted.

He said, “We have constituted an expert committee to inquire into these incidents and make recommendations on remedial steps.” The minister had also said that the government would issue quality-centric guidelines for electric vehicles. He tweeted that “if any company is found negligent in their processes, a heavy penalty will be imposed and a recall of all defective vehicles will also be ordered.” He had also advised companies to take “advance action to recall all defective batches of vehicles immediately.”

Now, as a result of this warning by the minister, Mr. Gadkari, reports say this prompted the heads of electric vehicle companies to rush to meet the minister recently because they feared action as well as penalties. Among the scooters catching fire in India includes the one made by the SoftBank-backed Ola Electric amongst others.

India wants electric scooters and motorbikes to make up 80% of the total two-wheeler sales by 2030. At the moment they are just 2% today. The government has been very keen to have these locally manufactured and is also offering the industry many incentives for the same. But these fires have the potential to set that back by many years.

Now, the first video that went viral on social media was the incident from Pune, the Ola fire, which showed one of its popular black-colored S1 Pro scooters first emitting smoke before quickly being engulfed in fire on a busy street. About a day after this incident, there was another e-bike that went up in flames because of an electrical short circuit mishap in Vellore in Tamil Nadu. This one resulted in the deaths of two people.

E-scooter sales, though, have been leading India’s clean mobility revolution, which is why the sector is so important. Annual sales are expected to cross a million units by March 2023 from 150,000 a year ago, according to industry data. Ola Electric, valued at $5 billion is making a thousand scooters a day and has plans to manufacture electric cars and battery cells locally.

Now EVs are powered by lithium-ion batteries that are considered to be safer and more efficient and lighter as compared to their counterparts. However, these batteries do pose a fire risk if they are improperly manufactured. Some have attributed these fires to a combination of rising temperatures in our cities, as well as the poor thermal management system of the EV battery. However, there are experts who disagree with this. For example, there is Arun Vinayak. He’s the CEO and founder of Exponent Energy, which is a Bangalore-based startup that has a battery pack and charging station. He recently wrote a blog saying that this was a misconception. He says, an EV comprising lithium-ion cells required a few hundred degrees Celsius before actually catching fire. So while hot weather conditions and inadequate thermal management systems of the battery can negatively impact its performance and maybe shorten its life, they do not actually cause fires. So, this is important.

Manufacturers of most modern batteries of these kinds ensure that they are automatically switched off at around 45-55 degrees Celsius. Experts also say that 99% of battery fires are caused because of short circuits leading to an uncontrolled current and the only scenario in which cells heat themselves up beyond 100 degrees Celsius, is this one – the short circuit. Now, for a lithium-ion battery to catch fire, you need to get to that few hundred degrees Celsius first. So the outside temperature doesn’t matter, short circuits happen because of poor cell quality, say experts, as well as shoddy battery design.

Meanwhile, most importantly, here are some tips for you on how to keep yourself safe if you’re using an electric vehicle. Use only original and authentic chargers for specific battery types. Keep batteries at room temperature and do not charge batteries within one hour after using them. It’s also advisable to let the batteries cool down for some time before you charge them as well. So use them, let it cool down before you charge it again. But remember to keep that one-hour gap. Guard your vehicle and batteries against extreme temperatures. The battery and the charger should be stored in a clean, dry and ventilated place. Avoid keeping batteries empty or completely full. Essentially, they should be kept at between 20-80%. Here’s hoping we get to the root cause of these fires very soon and that they’re able to stop them but until then, these are some basic tips to keep yourself safe.

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