Electric scooters may “explode” or burst into flames due to a battery defect or malfunction. I’ve put the “explode” word between quotation marks because they actually don’t explode but burst into flames causing a similar visual effect to that of an explosion.
Batteries are not made of explosive materials so they don’t explode. The only way a battery can explode if it’s made of lead acid and it’s overcharged. At that point, it leaks hydrogen which is indeed a flammable gas which explodes under pressure, heat, spark of flames. But usually, the batteries have an internal resistance which stops the charging if it’s fully charged.
Anyway, small and fold-able electric scooter don’t use lead acid batteries. Let’s see what they use and why they burst into flames.
What batteries are used for electric scooters?
Most electric scooter use lithium-ion or lithium-metal batteries to operate. These are high density batteries that can store a lot of energy. Because of their relative low weight compared to other types of batteries they are preferred by electric scooters manufacturers.
Dualtron electric scooters use a Lithium-Metal battery.
Xiaomi M365 electric scooter uses a Lithium-Metal battery.
UScooters/E-Twow electric scooters use a Lithium-Ion battery.
Qiewa electric scooters use a Lithium-Ion battery.
Why do batteries burst into flames?
In order to understand this phenomenon, we must find out how these batteries work.
They are made of 3 things:
An organic liquid is placed between the cathode and anode. This is called electrolyte. A separator is also needed and this is made from a porous material.
The lithium travels through the separator, within the liquid, between the two connectors: cathode and anode. (source)
The main reasons for bursting into flames are:
- manufacturing or design defect (eg. impurities introduced in the battery) – you sure remember Samsung Note phones
- improper charging using a high voltage charger or non-standard charger
- short circuit of battery
- battery physical damage or external fire which can light the electrolyte
- letting the battery totally drain multiple times can damage the battery (metallic dendrites start to form causing gaps between layers and short-circuit)
Watch these guys as they put lithium batteries to test:
Signs that a battery could explode
Sometimes, batteries give clues of a possible “explosion”. However, these are not reliable. The two big signs are:
- Battery start to swell or bulge and it’s not operating properly like discharging too fast
- Battery is getting too hot (however this can also happen when climbing hills or riding for a long period of time)
Are battery explosions dangerous?
According to Battery University (source) lithium ion batteries are considered safe, but there are just too many batteries used in electronics and e-vehicles so failures are bound to happen.
“Lithium battery failure and overheating results in a process called “thermal runaway,” which is a reaction within the battery causing internal temperature and pressure to rise at a quicker rate then can be dissipated.”
Lithium battery fires are not particularly more dangerous than other types of small fires, but it depends on the situation. The FAA has special rules on the amount of lithium batteries you can take with on a plane. (source) Read more about getting an electric scooter(with a battery) on a plane in our article here.
Manufacturing batteries is a very pretentious process because of the ultra thin separators of 24µm or less. Even if manufacturers have a lot of devices to stop impurities from reaching the wafers sometimes mistakes do happen.
How to prevent battery explosions on electric scooters?
The best way to prevent an explosion or your scooter catching a fire is buying only original, branded batteries. Also, you need to follow the general rules when charging them. We have an entire article dedicated to charging an electric scooter battery properly but here is a short snippet. Feel free to check the entire article about charging here.
- Always go for a full charge
- Do not charge it after a ride
- Do not ride it directly after charging
- Charge it at room’s temperature
- Keep your battery charged
- Winter storage – Store it at room temperature away from cold and humidity
Read the full description of each point in the linked article above.
How to store batteries
Always store your batteries at room temperature away from cold, humidity or sun.
If you have devices at home that use lithium batteries and you go for a vacation you can get a flame retardant case or bag. This way, you can place that electronic device inside it and be protected in case of a fire.
Lithium ion are part of our everyday life. They are found in smartphones, laptops, tablets, e-vehicles and so on. Even if they are considered safe by conventional means and the vast majority don’t explode or burst into flames there are some that do because of the reasons above. However, small fires are not dangerous and they can quickly be put out. Batteries usually explode when they are in operation, so most likely, you’ll see the fire and act fast.