We recently heard of shocking news that a portable electric scooter battery exploded in flames while charging. This happened in China. Last night, news trickled that a similar situation happened in Norway. A firefighter from the scene took to social media to explain to others about the hazards of Li-ion batteries. Hans-Otto Schjerven, head of the Vestfold Fire Department, says rechargeable lithium batteries can cause “fires that are difficult to extinguish and the batteries emit fire that quickly spreads.” Come to think of it, China is the largest manufacturer of electric vehicles while Norway is the fastest adopter of this technology. Doesn't that ring a bell? I will explain.
In India, we have recently seen a spike in the entry of electric vehicles. Some have used the technology as well as know-how from China whereas others have indigenously developed their offerings. More often than not, these scooters and motorcycles use Li-ion battery with swap capability. The latter means that you can simply take your depleted battery and take out a fully charged unit from the station. It's all good, I say but haven't these thoughts crossed your mind. If you buy one of these scooters (inevitable) and are required to take it to a high-rise apartment for charging... Is there proper testing done by both manufacturers as well as the government before these products are handed to us? To quell your doubts and to better understand swappable Li-ion batteries, I got in touch with a few electric vehicle manufacturers for their take on the subject.
The Pune-based start-up recently switched to Li-ion batteries for one of its products. Techo Electra says that it has an intelligent Battery Management System in place that ensures that the batteries don't catch fire when on charging. Customers are usually advised while taking delivery of the vehicle that the charging is to be done in a dry yet ventilated place. The MCB switch should be on while the ignition turned off. As of now, Techo Electra doesn't have a swappable battery system in place.
Emflux has got the basics in place. A racy looking motorcycle, good performance and decent Li-ion battery range. Emflux says that they have got redundant systems (both active and passive) in place to prevent fire due to overcharging or short circuit. Composite body panels are used and these are followed by space-grade aluminium battery casings. If a foreign particle were to enter the battery pack, due to the design, the thermal energy of individual cells will not propagate to the others. Customers will be told that they are not supposed to light a fire under the battery pack or even fire a bullet at it. Rigorous testing is done on these battery cells including overcharge, short circuit, vibration as well as nail penetration. It is said that the latter isn't even mandatory in most countries but in India, it is. The ARAI does tests separately for the components as well as the vehicles overall in India.
Blacksmith will be launching its products sometime next year. However, the Chennai-based start-up has got the battery part covered. They say that more than 10 years of research has been done on the same and safety was of paramount importance during the entire process. The vehicle body is itself fire proof and moreover, the Li-ion battery casing too can be made from the same material. Blacksmith says that they have been charging the batteries at home for more than eight years with no incidents so far. If the battery is left overnight for charging, there is an automatic cut-off, much like modern smartphones. Li-ion batteries usually go up in flames when they are overcharged or discharged to a certain extent. Fast charging, Blacksmith says, not only reduces the battery life but also can cause explosions if not handled properly. The battery swapping stations which Blacksmith is going to set up, are claimed to be fireproof.
Tork Motors says that its batteries are designed to work under high ambient temperatures and are tested for harsh weather conditions. TIROS (Tork Intuitive Response Operating System) always monitors the battery temperature and ensures that the battery temperature does not increase beyond a preset value in spite of charging or continuous running of the motorcycle. Due to this, the customers also aren't given any special instructions. The batteries are tested rigorously to sustain extreme conditions and are constantly monitored physically by TIROS and remotely by Tork. As of now, there is no such certification to the battery separately but only for the entire vehicle. ARAI does test vehicle traction battery according to AIS 048 which takes care of safety, fictional and some abuse conditions to make sure nothing goes wrong on the field. In addition to that UN transportation 38.3, the testing standard takes care of all the instances those may occur pertaining to the battery pack in field and while transporting it.
Okinawa has one of the highest-selling electric vehicle numbers in India. The company says that its battery management system has the safety control (temperature cut off and other features) that resist catching fire during charging. As a precaution, the riders are warned to not charge their scooters immediately after riding. One should let the vehicle cool down for 30 min and then begin the charging process. The scooter is not to be charged under direct sunlight and the charger is not be kept on for extended periods or even after the battery is completely charged.
We checked with Hero Electric, Revolt Motors as well as Ather for a comment. However, at the time of writing this story, there were no comments available. As and when they give us their thoughts on the same, this story will be updated.