E-scooter users more careful with batteries

On Oct 12, an electric bicycle that was left to charge overnight outside a Housing Board flat in Bukit Batok East Avenue 5 caught fire at 3.50am. It spread to the flat of the e-bike owner, leaving the living room charred. SCDF had to rescue a residen
On Oct 12, an electric bicycle that was left to charge overnight outside a Housing Board flat in Bukit Batok East Avenue 5 caught fire at 3.50am. It spread to the flat of the e-bike owner, leaving the living room charred. SCDF had to rescue a resident and four others from the neighbouring unit, including a five-day-old baby.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

When his e-scooter battery exploded with a bang, Mr Shah Rizal Abdul Razak was in the same room and had little time to react.

Within seconds, it was engulfed in flames.

The 34-year-old civil servant only had time to get out of the four-room Housing Board flat in Woodlands before the fire spread to the rest of the house.

When the fire was finally put out by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), he found that his furniture was destroyed and the walls and ceiling were blackened.

All sparked by an electric scooter he had paid $1,200 for.

The incident on Sept 22 this year taught him an important lesson.

"Now, I won't charge (a device) if I am not going to be around, and I will not leave anything to charge overnight," he said.

He is also unlikely to make use of such personal mobility devices again unless a more stable battery is introduced.

Fires caused by batteries, such as in Mr Rizal's case, have been on the rise despite an overall drop in the total number of fires.

There have been 13 such fires this year, up from eight last year.

  • More cases of burning batteries

  • There have been 13 cases of batteries catching fire this year, an increase from eight such cases last year.

    The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said cases of battery fires continued to rise despite an overall drop in the total number of fires.

    On Oct 12, an electric bicycle that was left to charge overnight outside a Housing Board flat in Bukit Batok East Avenue 5 caught fire.

    It spread to the flat of the e-bike owner, leaving the living room charred.

    SCDF had to rescue a resident and four others from the neighbouring unit, including a five-day-old baby.

    There were two other cases of battery fire last month.

    An electric scooter caught fire in Braddell Heights estate on Sept 22, with sparks from the flame shooting two storeys high, according to eyewitnesses.

    That same day, an e-scooter battery exploded in a Woodlands flat, sparking a fire that engulfed the four-room home that Mr Shah Rizal Abdul Razak shared with his wife and four cats.

    Mr Rizal managed to escape despite being in the room where the explosion occurred.

Mr Tommy Tsang, 51, a broadcast engineer, said he makes sure that he buys only chargers and devices that are safe. While they may cost more, the safety and peace of mind they give him make a higher price tag more than worth it, he said. He always checks the safety features and prefers devices that have a cut-off function when fully charged.

Additionally, the e-bike rider said he charges his vehicle outside his home and ensures that the chargers and batteries are well ventilated and kept cool.

He also checks to make sure the wires are insulated and that there is no rain or block-washing occurring while he charges his e-bike.

Beyond personal mobility devices, people are more careful about how they charge their phones and laptops too.

Ms Mervelle Lek, 23, a fresh graduate, said she makes sure that charging cables are not broken and the wires are not exposed.

She is also careful about where she leaves the device to charge - avoiding materials or surfaces that could cause it to overheat, such as on beds or carpets.

Associate Professor Soh Chew Beng, deputy director of the Electrical Power Engineering programme at the Singapore Institute of Technology, said that battery fires are often caused by two basic types of failures.

One is predictable failure, where there is a design flaw that leads to overheating to the point where the shell is unable to contain the spontaneous reaction.

The second is more random - there is no obvious design flaw, but a possible stress event happens during charging or vibration is generated at the source.

Prof Soh said that such fires can be prevented.

If a battery overheats, hisses or bulges, immediately move the device away from flammable materials and place it on a non-combustible surface away from electrical supply.

If possible, remove the battery and put it outdoors to burn out.

He said that while batteries are generally safe, buying from quality-controlled, reputable brands will help. SCDF's battery fire advisory recommends that users avoid overcharging the battery, especially leaving it to charge overnight.

Some models do not have a power cut-off function to prevent overcharging, which could spark a fire. Such fires have the propensity to spread easily, particularly when there are combustible materials around, said SCDF.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'E-scooter users more careful with batteries'. Print Edition | Subscribe