Lithium-ion batteries power the spectrum of household goods and micro-mobility equipment, but now they’re fueling household concerns.
Researchers at Underwriters Laboratories’ Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI) told Fox News that their teams are studying fires caused by lithium-ion batteries.
“We’ve run a series of experiments to look at how quickly these fires can spread and the impact they have on the survivability of residents — as well as the safe operations of firefighters,” said Steve Kerber, UL’s CEO. FSRI. “We want to make sure our research gets the word out so people know how to live safely with batteries.”
Lithium-ion batteries ignite due to battery defects or overheating, Kerber explained. The complications create an “unstoppable chemical reaction” known as thermal runaway.
“There’s no stopping it once it happens, so it’s incredibly important that people get away as quickly as possible,” Kerber said. “Imagine the battery touching five batteries around it. So when one overheats and goes into thermal runaway, it heats the five touching it.”
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Record keeping for lithium-ion battery-related fires varies among fire departments, but as of Feb. 15, there have been at least 42 known lithium-ion battery fires nationwide, and in New York City there have been 24, one of which was fatal, according to a spokesperson for the FDNY.
The latest occurred in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day. Fire investigators said two people were injured, including a critically injured 67-year-old woman
During a press briefing, New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said the fire was caused by “e-bikes and lithium-ion batteries,” adding that “multiple devices were found at the scene.”
Back on February 10, Kavanagh wrote a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) asking the agency to create more rules for the battery industry
Kavanagh also proposed a ban on “universal” battery chargers to ensure micromobility manufacturers’ products only work with approved batteries.
According to the CPSC, from the beginning of 2021 to the end of November 2022, the agency received reports of at least 208 fires or overheating incidents involving e-scooters, e-bikes or hoverboards — 19 of which were fatal.
Kristi Carleton of Colorado experienced the dangers of lithium-ion batteries earlier this month after her son’s hoverboard caught fire inside their home.
Carleton told Fox News that she was home at the time of the incident, “I went back outside and I hadn’t called 911 yet because I had taken care of the flames — and I took a video of it (the hoverboard) exploding again, and then continuing to explode again.”
“It never occurred to me when we bought this (hoverboard) for him and I just want to urge extreme caution because I feel like I bought my son a bomb for his birthday,” she added.
Firefighters located about 120 miles east of Denver in the rural Gypsum Fire Protection District responded to Carleton’s home to assess the situation.
“They had to break into the hoverboard and pull the battery compartments apart,” Carleton said. “I think there were four or five batteries in the pack and they ended up separating them in the snow and it was still smoldering for quite a while after that.”
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Kerber recommends only buying safety-tested batteries, following the manufacturer’s instructions, and charging larger items such as e-bikes or e-scooters outdoors.
In a statement to Fox News, the Rechargeable Battery Association said: “PRBA fully supports the CPSC’s recent recommendation on micro-mobility devices such as e-bikes and e-scooters to ensure that they are designed, manufactured and certified for compliance with current consensus safety standards such as UL 2272 and UL 2849.”
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“Other consumer products meet similar safety standards that take a ‘systems approach’ to safety by requiring testing of the device, battery and charger. PRBA encourages consumers to purchase lithium-ion batteries from original manufacturers who design their batteries with redundant safety features and to meet consensus safety standards. The PRBA welcomes the opportunity to work with all interested parties on lithium-ion batteries and education to prevent lithium-ion battery incidents and increase consumer safety,” the organization continued.