Fires in electric vehicles are rare but not unheard of occurrences. So far, the thousands of electric scooters zipping around US streets as part of scooter share programs have been spared.

But Lime just announced that certain Lime electric scooters have caught on fire, prompting the company’s partial recall.

Lime electric scooter battery fire

In a recent statement, Lime confirmed that some of their scooters manufactured by Segway Ninebot contained defects in the batteries.

Lime stated that those defective scooters can smolder or catch on fire in some cases.

According to the company:

“In August of this year, we learned of a potential issue with some Ninebot scooter batteries. The issue arose in one of the two batteries housed on early versions of the scooter; in several isolated instances, a manufacturing defect could result in the battery smoldering or, in some cases, catching fire.

We took this issue very seriously. Immediately upon learning of the defect, we worked with Segway Ninebot to create a software program to detect the potentially affected batteries. We then worked independently to create an even more thorough software program to ensure that no potentially faulty scooters remained in circulation. When an affected battery was identified — with a red code — we promptly deactivated the scooter so that no members of the public could ride or charge it.”

Lime says that defective scooters were removed from the streets in Los Angeles, San Diego and Lake Tahoe. The company also stated that the affected scooters represent less than 0.01% of their entire fleet.

After removing the scooters that posed potential fire risks, Lime instituted a series of changes.

Lime scooters manufactured by Segway Ninebot (just one of multiple manufacturers of Lime scooters) can no longer be recharged by Juicers, or private citizens who perform freelance charging of electric scooters in their homes. Instead, those scooters will only be charged by Lime employees at a central Lime storage depot.

Lime will also staff their storage depots and charging facilities 24/7 with specially trained staff who can respond to battery issues.

Lastly, Lime has initiated a new daily diagnostic for all scooter brands in their fleet to check battery health.

A history of risk?

Lime has apparently known about the risk of fire in their batteries since at least August. That’s when the Lake Tahoe Fire Department responded to a Lime electric scooter battery fire at the company’s Lake Tahoe facility.

lime electric scooter battery fire

According to a scathing article in the Washington Post, these new moves by Lime may just be cleaning up for a history of dangerous disregard for electric scooter battery fire risks.

An anonymous source who works as a mechanic for Lime spoke to The Post about raising the alarm regarding the risk of Lime electric scooter battery fires. The mechanic provided images of messages shared in the Lime mechanics slack room, including:

“I feel that these scoots, or the product as a whole, should be removed from the market until they are safe to handle and operate. I get that the scoots are expendable and replaceable, but are we now resigned to say the same for the safety of employees and customers?

These people are plugging these scooters into their house at night and going to sleep thinking they’re safe and that they just earned an easy $15. When I asked my managers if we were going to tell them, all I got was shrugged shoulders and ‘I don’t know.'”

Lime has not commented further about the specific statements made by the Lime mechanics.

Electrek’s Take

Li-ion battery fires are incredibly serious and should be treated with the utmost level of caution. Li-ion battery fires are very difficult to extinguish as well. As a custom Li-ion battery builder, part of my training has been learning to respond to these types of fires.

Generally speaking, it is somewhere between difficult to impossible for an ordinary person to extinguish a fire originating in the type of batteries found in Lime electric scooters. Because the fire burns so hot and produces its own oxygen, the best method is to get the smoldering or burning battery away from other combustibles and let it burn itself out. A standard home fire extinguisher cannot extinguish a Li-ion battery fire, but can be useful to prevent the surroundings from catching on fire. This is apparently what Lime employees did with the burning scooter in Lake Tahoe, according to the fire department’s report. The scooter was dragged out to the parking lot and repeatedly hit with a fire extinguisher, though it reignited several times.

The biggest danger of a Li-ion battery fire isn’t just getting burned by it, but the high probability of igniting secondary fires. For Juicers that charge these scooters in their homes at night, this is a very real danger. For riders of scooters, less so. You can hop off a smoking scooter, but you might not wake up in time during a battery fire in your home at night.

However, it is also important to keep the statistics in perspective. So far, there is only one confirmed report of a Lime electric scooter battery fire on record.

If there is a systematic problem, it is likely, as Lime stated, a tiny fraction of a perfect of their fleet.

It sounds like Lime has now done a good job of making meaning changes to reduce this risk in the future. Preventing Juicers from charging these scooters in their homes is a great start. And with their own new design of electric scooter coming out soon, hopefully Lime electric scooter battery fires are a thing of the past.

But with the margin for error being so thin, I really hope that we aren’t one tragedy away from a convenient transportation solution turning into a lethal fire danger. And I sincerely hope that management at Lime and every other scooter share program has taken note of this case as a dangerous example of the risks of unchecked expansion at all costs.

 

 

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