Why are e-scooters in India catching fire?

One of the biggest benefits of Li-ion batteries, namely its high energy density, can also be a potential reason behind the battery’s undoing. Fires are caused by a failure in the battery pack to manage its components

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 02 May 2022

Electric Vehicles or EVs are dubbed the future of mobility — as one of the methods to reduce the near-total reliance on fossil fuels. And even though India is quite a new entrant in this segment, the country is on the path to becoming one of the largest EV markets by 2030.

According to independent studies, the EV market in India will be a $206 billion opportunity by 2030. This will be mostly led by the two-wheeler segment. But as the country ambitiously moves towards a new electric era, the two-wheeler EV sector is undergoing a major crisis.

On the night of Tuesday, April 19, a man lost his life after the detachable battery of the electric scooter, which was kept for charging, exploded in his house. Over the past month, several fire incidents have raised serious questions regarding passenger safety with electric vehicles.

So the question is, why are e-scooters in India catching fire? In order to understand the problem, let’s first look at how batteries work and the variables involved.

From smartphones and laptops to electric cars, lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are the most popular battery type that is used. A Li-ion battery consists of an anode, cathode, separator, electrolyte and two current collectors.

The electrolyte carries positively charged lithium ions from the anode to the cathode and vice versa creating a charge. The key things that make a Li-ion battery better than other kinds are its lightweight, high energy density, durability and ability to recharge.

However, one of the biggest benefits of Li-ion batteries — its high energy density — can also be a potential reason behind the battery’s undoing. Fires are caused by a failure in the battery pack to manage its components. Most often, it is due to a short circuit.

The primary causes of a fire are: Cell quality, battery design (the way cells are connected and packaged) and issues with battery management system (BMS) (management of cells via sensing and software intelligence).

And this is not the only case. With growing market demand, manufacturers are not spending enough time in designing and testing products and complying with testing standards prescribed by government bodies.

Not giving enough time, this hurry to get batteries into the market leads to poor cell quality, bad battery design and poor battery management system, where cells aren’t properly managed with the right software intelligence.

With increasing incidents of electric two-wheelers catching fire, the government has pivoted into action.

The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has ordered a probe into the vehicles catching fire abruptly and is learnt to have reached out to the Centre for Fire Explosive and Environment Safety to carry out investigations.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari also announced that any EV company found to be negligent with customer safety will be penalised heavily. He also issued orders to recall the defective electric vehicles.

The two-wheeler EV market in India has seen exponential growth in the past year, with a record sale of 2.33 lakh units. And with India’s vision to turn 80 per cent of two-wheeler sales into electric by 2030, the issue of exploding batteries should be addressed and rectified immediately.

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