We carry batteries around constantly in our everyday lives: we walk around with them in our trouser pockets, put them on our bed- side tables and even into childrens' cots.
Batteries are in childs' dolls, mobile phones, alarm clocks, laptop computers, remote controls, postcards, bicycles, lawnmowers, cars and much more – they have spread their influence almost everywhere in our daily exis- tence.
So we implicitly trust that these batteries will only discharge their stored electrical energy how we wish – in the form of music from an MP3 player, in the form of transmitted speech on our mobile phones, and more recently in the form of a tailwind for our bikes. But unfortunately it is occurring ever more frequently that batteries release their stored electrical energy, and their chemical energy which is even greater than the electrical, in an uncontrolled manner and without warning, often in the form of a fire or even an explosion. This danger has been known about in technical circles since 2003, when the first major fires caused by pedelecs batteries occurred. Back then, the size of the world market for high energy lithium batteries was still very manageable.
Now, according to ExtraEnergy estimates, the market in 2011 was much larger, with around 2 million lithium batteries sold in the light electric vehicle sector. And there are currently developments in China which suggest that by 2015, annual sales in China alone of lithium batteries for the LEV sector will reach over 10 million, representing around three times the overall market in China for 2011. Lithium batteries over 100 Wh capacity are because of the many incidents classified by the United Nations as Hazardous Goods Class 9.
In 2011, two transport planes crashed, probably because lithium batteries in the hold had exploded. In China, also in 2011, there was the first fatal incident involving a lithium battery in an electric bike; a resident of the house tried to escape the blaze and died in a fall from a window. In Europe, over 30 fires as a result of lithium batteries have been reported in the press, with the frequency increasing in the last three years, in line with market growth within Europe. The number of unreported cases is probably large, too, because pedelecs batteries are not widely recognised as a cause of fires.
Text: Hannes Neupert
Translation: Peter Eland, prepared within the EU GoPedelec! project: GoPedelec! Handbook (German version), Go Pedelec! Handbook in Czech, Dutch, English, Hungarian, and Italian
8 November 2012