A string of high-profile battery fires is threatening India’s efforts to become a global leader in electric vehicles, notably in the prevalent two-wheelers that cruise India’s congested main roads.
A timeline of incidents
There are several videos on social media showing battery-powered scooters catching fire. We give you a detailed list of the incidents.
- In Vellore, a father and daughter perished from smoke inhalation on March 26th. The brand-new Okinawa Autotech Pvt motorcycle caught fire while charging overnight at their residence.
- On the same day, March 26th, a video clip of an Ola S1 pro electric scooter catching fire in Pune’s Lohegaon neighborhood went viral online.
- In yet incident on April 9th, a consignment of 20 Jitendra EV two-wheelers burst into flames while being carried in a container.
- On Tuesday night, April 19th, a man died when the detachable battery of his Pure EV electric scooter, which was charging in his house, exploded.
- More recently, an Okinawa electric scooter went up in flames in Hosur, in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district, on April 30th, creating fear in the neighborhood. However, the owner, a supervisor at a private corporation in Bengaluru, had a lucky escape.
- So far, three Pure EV scooters, one Ola, two Okinawa, and 20 Jitendra EV scooters have caught fire.
Many such fires in electric vehicles over the last month have prompted severe concerns about consumer safety. The incidents have made the public wary of purchasing electric vehicles.
According to a survey of around 11,500 consumers conducted by LocalCircles, the number of people who said they wouldn’t buy an electric scooter due to safety and performance concerns increased eightfold to 17% in the seven months through March. The survey reported that possibly just 2% of consumers could purchase an electric scooter in six months.
Government mandatory guidelines, companies recall vehicles
The government has asked electric vehicle producers to recall defective two-wheelers on their own initiative. The Road Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari, said electric two-wheelers were involved in numerous mishaps over the last two months. A series of tweets posted by the Government on April 21st encouraged companies to take immediate steps to recall all defective automobiles.
The recalls began a week after the Centre invited electric vehicle manufacturers to pull back defective EVs. Most EV manufacturers agreed to comply with the required direction issued by road transport and roads minister Nitin Gadkari last week. Ola, Okinawa, and Pure are said to have recalled over 7,000 e-two-wheelers, collectively.
The electric scooter manufacturer stated it is pulling out 3,215 units of Praise Pro scooters. It plans to analyze and fix any battery concerns, becoming India’s first electronic vehicle recall. When Okinawa was recalled, the car-maker stated that the batteries would get inspected for any loose connectors or corrosion. The company said they were willing to repair at any Okinawa authorized dealership in India for free.
Following Okinawa, Ola has published a statement stating that 1,441 vehicles would be recalled and will undergo extensive diagnostics across all battery systems, thermal systems, and safety systems, according to the company statement.
Pure EV recall
They recalled 2,000 units of ETrance+ and EPluto 7G electric scooters after a series of fires affected the electric scooters.
Hero electric goal
The industry leader has responded by declaring April to be Battery Safety Month for checking battery health and educating customers on proper usage.
Boom motors recall
A Coimbatore-based electric two-wheeler company, issued a recall on their Corbett e-bike on April 30th, just days after a deadly accident. It was also the first E-two-wheeler manufacturer to temporarily suspend manufacturing following the government decree. After Okinawa, PureEV, and Ola Electric, Boom is the fourth business to recall its E2W brands due to safety concerns.
Governmental institutions probe and action
Over 50 top officials representing the 2-wheeler manufacturers were present at a virtual meeting. According to those who attended the meeting, Giridhar Aramane, secretary of the ministry of road transport and heavy industries (MoRTH), told manufacturers to rapidly recall faulty batches of vehicles on their own or face “severe penalties” for concealing any incident of fire or delay.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has begun a probe into fires involving electric two-wheelers after the e-scooter introduced by Ola Electric caught fire in Pune last month.
The Centre for Fire, Explosive, and Environmental Safety (CFEES) will examine the circumstances around the incidents and suggest corrective steps.
But first and foremost, why would an EV catch fire?
As per independent research, India’s electric vehicle market will be worth $206 billion by 2030. The two-wheeler segment will take the lead in this. However, as the government strives to usher in a new era of electric vehicles, the two-wheeler EV sector is experiencing a dilemma. Even though there were no definite explanations for the fires, experts speculate that rising temperatures and manufacturing faults may be a few reasons.
Electric scooters function through batteries, the most popular of which is lithium-ion. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are the most often utilized battery type in smartphones, electric vehicles even laptops. Li-ion batteries consist of an anode, cathode, separator, electrolyte, and two current collectors.
The electrolyte creates a charge by carrying positively charged lithium ions from the anode to the cathode and vice versa. The advantages of Li-ion batteries over other types are their lightweight, high energy density, longevity, and capacity to recharge.
Moreover, these lithium-ion batteries are available in two types LFP and NMC. LFP (lithium ferro phosphate) is more reliable than NMC (nickel manganese cobalt), with a substantially higher thermal runaway threshold of 270 degrees (LFP) than 150 degrees Fahrenheit (NMC).
Because NMC batteries are denser than LFP batteries, they have a great range. However, because of their lower thermal runaway threshold, these batteries are more likely to malfunction. Therefore, NMC batteries are likely to get aggravated by the Indian environment. Summer temperatures can reach close to 50 degrees Celsius in some parts of the nation.
One of the most significant advantages of Li-ion batteries is their high energy density, which can also be a source of the battery’s demise. A failure in the battery pack’s ability to manage its components causes fires. A short circuit is the most common cause.
Major causes of fire
Cell quality, battery design in the way cells are connected and packaged, and difficulties with the battery management system (BMS) are the major causes of fire.
Short circuits from the unregulated current result in 99% of battery fires. According to experts, this is the only case in which cells heat up to 100°C.
Short circuits occur for three reasons, according to an expert, as detailed below:
There may be an issue with the way the anode, cathode, and separator are bundled together due to manufacturing anomalies. Internally, an unintentional contact causes a short-circuit, which results in uncontrolled current and, subsequently, fire.
Battery design flaws (i.e., how cells are connected and bundled)
The method of placing cells together, the way you electrically combine them and mechanically hold them, is referred to as packaging. It’s a formula for catastrophe to cram cells together with no space between them and no insulation. Every nut and bolt needs caution and safety measures. Indian roads have the ability to shake anything free. Consider the EV driving down a bumpy Indian road with a loose bolt dangling inside a container loaded with active cells. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Bad BMS (battery management system via sensing and software intelligence)
Overcharging is due to faulty BMS hardware, a shortage of BMS knowledge, or poorly written BMS software. When you overcharge, it promotes dendritic build-up, which causes cells to swell, smash into one another, and eventually short-circuit, resulting in a fire.
The outdoor temperature is at an all-time high right now, which could be a major factor in the electric scooters catching fire. The high temperatures cause the batteries to overheat, resulting in fires.
Using the wrong charger can cause a fire by using the wrong amount of electricity.
Even if the batteries are adequately maintained, they can be damaged in an accident or by any other physical damage to the electric scooter, resulting in cell ruptures that can cause combustion.
Thermal runaway is a process through which the battery temperature rises, the energy is released, and the temperature rises again, creating a vicious cycle of temperature rise and eventually a fire.
What should you do to make your electric vehicle less likely to catch fire?
Although it is impossible to eliminate the risk of these mishaps, EV owners can take steps to lessen the risk by following specific tips and tricks to manage safety.
“There is no doubting that EVs bring new dangers, yet there is no indication that EVs are less safe than conventional vehicles, “said a report by RISE, a Sweden-based research institute,
Let’s take a look at some fundamental safety tips:
- Study the vehicle manual meticulously. Because most EV users are new to electric vehicles, it is critical that you learn how yours functions to use it properly.
- Keep the batteries in your vehicle out of direct sunlight.
- Keep your electric vehicle at ambient temperature as much as possible.
- While charging, do not leave the electric vehicle unattended.
- Don’t keep your electric vehicle plugged in overnight.
- Keep an eye on your battery’s health. If your vehicle’s battery management system detects any anomalies, it will notify you.
- See that your electric car is maintained on schedule to ensure all is in working order.
- After using the battery, do not charge it right away.
- Before and after charging, make sure the battery has had time to cool down for at least 30 to 40 minutes.
- Use only the manufacturer-supplied original charger to charge the battery, not any alternative or locally manufactured charger.
- Contact your dealer if the battery shell is damaged or if there is any water infiltration. Keep corrosive or flammable substances, heat, and fire sources away from the battery and charger.
- A practical and essential precautionary measure is to park your EV in a sheltered spot. There it will not be exposed to direct sunlight or heat for extended periods of time.
- When not in use, ensure that the battery and charger are unplugged and stored in a clean, dry, and aired location.
If every e-scooter owner considers and follows these guidelines, e-scooters catching fire will become a thing of the past.
India recorded a three-fold growth in electric vehicle sales last fiscal year, with two-wheelers leading the way. During 2021-22, 429,417 electric vehicles got sold, up from 134,821 in 2020-21. Yet, this year’s incidents have put a damper on this burgeoning market.
Growing occurrences, their widespread and immediate social media coverage pose a severe danger to the public impression of electric vehicle safety and reliability in India. It is past time for EV manufacturers and battery suppliers to tackle the concerns of battery and charging pile safety in EVs. Then, companies may develop fire safety measures and improve their testing and validation systems. A key element of EV performance and safety in compliance with top safety and quality standards.