Why Hoverboards Keep Exploding

a devastating house fire caused by a lithium battery

We are showing an article from a few months ago, as you will see, there are many concerns with hoverboards, this article advises to keep a fire extinguisher handy, however, this will not help if you leave a device on charge unattended (not advisable but happens).

This can be completely avoided with the Fire Protect Bag!

a devastating house fire caused by a lithium battery
This family could have died due to a hoverboard fire.

Why Hoverboards Keep Exploding?

Self Balancing Scooters, that everyone’s calls “hoverboards” don’t actually hover.  The problem is that many of last year’s most popular gifts were catching on fire.

In Louisiana a hoverboard burned down a home a few weeks ago, another in the same state during the same week. A gyro board caused significant damage to a New York home a few days ago. A hoverboard caught fire at a mall in Washington this week, forcing shoppers to evacuate. The threat is significant enough to force major airlines to ban them altogether.

But what is actually causing the fires? In the New York and Louisiana fires, the boards were recharging. In the Washington mall, the boards were unplugged.  There have been many reports of scooters bursting into flames whilst in use. Plugged in or not, the main issue is with the quality of the components, namely the lithium batteries inside. The batteries are almost always in one of the foot rests, they work the same way as the batteries in our smartphones and laptops.  They are just a lot more prone to defects.

Jay Whitacre, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said the problem is not hoverboards themselves, but the quality of the batteries. They are cheap, it makes sense.  This is a hot product (no pun intended), the reputable models are pretty expensive, the most affordable brands are often using cheaper components to lure shoppers that don’t want to spend a lot of money. Predictably, many cheaper brands are flooding the market with shoddy scooters made from cheaper parts.

“There are lots of Chinese factories making Lithium batteries, and the reality is that the quality of these batteries is not as good as top tier brands such as LG or Samsung,” Whitacre says. With these cheap batteries, a lot of things can cause fires. For one, they can often bang into things, often at high speeds and with a lot of force, makes the batteries susceptible to damage. It’s not just the nature of a cheap battery, it’s the nature of lithium batteries. When a lithium battery punctures, the following happens:

In a cheap battery, Whitacre says, the separator between each batteries cathode and anode, which are what the current flows through may become misaligned. Image the following; The anode is at one end of the battery, the cathode at the other and the separator is, between them. Its job is to keep them separate so nothing short circuits.

An issue in cheaper batteries is there could be holes in the separator due to impurities in metal particles that can puncture the cathode/anode separator. In either case, the damage can cause a short circuit. “If there are inherent defects in the cell, it will go off at some point, small defects in the manufacturing process can lead to the plus-minus sides shorting with each other after a small amount of use. When this happens, especially with the batteries being charged, a lot of heat is generated, this can lead to electrolyte boiling, the cell casing rupturing, and then a significant fire.” Whitacre explains.  That fire can be hard to contain. All lithium batteries contain highly flammable electrolytes which burn “hard and fast” when air hits them. When hot, common cathode materials turn into extra oxygen sources. “This stokes the fire even more,” Whitacre says.

This, however, is old news: Lithium batteries have often caused explosions, in smartphones, laptops, aeroplanes, cars etc. the list goes on. Lithium batteries are great because they’re small but hold a lot of energy, so electronics companies are obviously going to use them. But packing all that power can come at a price, that risk specifically being fire. That’s why long-range, high-powered electric cars, like the Tesla, have very advanced cooling fans and heatsink systems. The fan is a key component inside the vehicle that keeps the battery cells running at a safe temperature.  The batteries in hoverboards may not be the only problem, though. It’s less common, but defective chargers could also cause problems with any electric device. “If there is not a proper shelter to the cells, and the charger is faulty, the cells can be harshly overcharged,” Whitacre states. “In cases of harsh overcharging, even flawlessly made cells will ultimately fail; though a fire is not always the consequence in this case. The cell may just pop its gas vent and dry out.”

So what can a customer do if they really have their mind set on one of these fun toys? Conventional wisdom would say they should just stick with prime brands, but this is where things get complicated, because this product class is totally new, and no examples of quality have emerged. A greater price should be a pointer of better quality, but companies such as IO Hawk and Phunkeeduck, that make more-expensive devices, aren’t exactly perennial tech powerhouses.

Despite how much you’re spending, it’s almost futile to tell what kind of fire hazard lurks inside any scooter. The scariest part is that you may not find out until it’s too late.

“There is no way of knowing when purchasing, since the catastrophic defeat likely will not show until the battery has been fully charged and discharged several times, this charging and discharging mechanically exercises the guts of the battery cell and typically gives the ultimate trigger for the failure,” Whitacre explains.

If all of this hasn’t dispersed your excitement for a hoverboard, then at very least, you should know how to put out a fire—keep a fire extinguisher or bucket of water handy, friends.

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