An Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigation into the fire risk of lithium batteries has sparked a deeper review into e-bike batteries by Bicycle Industries Australia.
BIA gained a deadline extension for its submission on the ACCC’s issues paper on ways to reduce the “significant” fire and safety risks associated with lithium-ion batteries, so it could give the issue the considerable attention it deserves, the association’s general manager, Peter Bourke, said.
He said BIA is on track to have its submission ready before its new deadline at the start of next week, one week after the general deadline for input.
At the same time, BIA has started preparing its own working paper on the fire risk of e-bike lithium-ion batteries, because of the serious safety concerns and the massive implications the review and any consequent regulatory changes could have for the bicycle industry.
The association has already begun working with key members of the industry and is planning to hold a forum this month to help prepare the submission and the working paper.
“As an industry, we need to ensure all information and understanding of the entire supply chain can be brought together, in a process that gets the best outcome for everybody.”
Peter said while the forum, on a date to be confirmed, will be invite only to assist with a quick response to the ACCC investigation, other industry members will have further opportunity for input.
“Even with an extension, we probably don’t have time to do address the issue fully, so the BIA will now focus on a working paper about how the industry will address the issue of lithium-ion batteries.
“This will take a fair bit of time to ensure all experts are brought together for an appropriate submission specific to the bicycle sector.
“As an industry, we need to ensure all information and understanding of the entire supply chain can be brought together, in a process that gets the best outcome for everybody.
“We want to ensure any submission we put in won’t have a negative impact on any element of the supply chain, whether it’s a manufacturer, the logistics, retailers or consumers.”
Peter said the ACCC investigation and BIA’s own working paper could bring major benefits for the bike industry, including better quality control of e-bike batteries and chargers.
“It’s an opportunity to look at poor quality products on the market, to improve those products or lessen the possibility of a consumer having a negative experience through poor quality and a fire,” he said.
“There have been enough e-bike battery fires for us to be concerned but from all reports, they have all been low quality, non-brand-name batteries that have burned.
“The feedback we’ve had is there are zero reports of a fire caused by a reputable brand but the disclaimer is the brands have not been reported for a number of fires involving e-bikes.
“It’s only 18 months since they started recording lithium-ion batteries as a source of a fire and quite often the reports don’t go as far as determining the quality and origin of that battery.”
The ACCC issues paper recognises battery quality in a list of contributing factors, including:
- Manufacturing defects
- Aftermarket chargers that are incompatible with the device or non-compliant
- Overcharging – where devices are left on charge and the battery does not protect against overcharging
- Overheating – when a device is stored in a hot or poorly ventilated environment
- Puncture – when the barrier breaks between the liquid electrolyte and the electrodes, causing the device to short-circuit
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said: “Lithium-ion batteries are extremely volatile and we are very concerned about the growing number of fires and injuries linked to them.
“We are particularly worried as these rechargeable batteries have rapidly become regular household items, as they are contained in mobile phones, laptops, power tools, e-bikes and e-scooters.
“During the past five years, we have received over 200 product safety reports about products with lithium-ion batteries, including more than 20 product recalls in Australia, most of which related to consumer products such as laptops and loudspeakers.
“Unfortunately, fires linked to lithium-ion batteries tend to escalate quickly and are very difficult to extinguish, which means there is a high risk of property damage or injuries. That’s why it is critical to find out as much as we can about lithium-ion batteries now, so that we can recommend ways to tackle these issues and reduce the risks.”
“E-Bikes are going to be such a significant part of the market, there’s a lot of concern that regulators might put onerous burdens on the industry.”
The ACCC is also seeking input on alternative risk mitigation strategies, including whether regulatory options or regulatory framework changes are needed to address the risks.
Peter said one of the greatest threats to the bike industry as a result of the ACCC investigation was the risk that any amendments to regulation could “come down hard on all e-bike batteries, even though it’s unlikely there will be a fire started by a reputable brand”.
“If those regulations significantly increase compliance costs, it might significantly increase the cost for consumers or the ability of the industry to innovate. Increasing barriers to consumers having access to good quality product is one of the things we’re concerned about,” he said.
“Initial feedback from the industry shows it’s a topic of high concern. E-Bikes are going to be such a significant part of the market, there’s a lot of concern that regulators might put onerous burdens on the industry.
“A large number of people wanted to talk to me about this at the Tour Down Under.”
However, Peter said the industry could also benefit from improved knowledge about battery chargers.
“We have instances where we know a charger has started the flame but in the majority of cases they were not the charger that originally came with the battery, so there could be compatibility problems,” he said.
“We are working with insurers and if we can show after-market purchases of non-reputable chargers has caused the problems, we can start to communicate to consumers this is something that increases the risk.
“Information is critical for us. If we have an education process in place, that will assist us with insurance, as well as regulators.”
BIA is aiming to have its working paper completed by the end of February and has been talking with key brands including Yamaha, Bosch, Shimano, Specialised Trek and Pon.
“Our investigations will take a fair bit of time to ensure all experts are brought together for an appropriate submission specific to the bicycle sector,” he said.
“One of the challenges we face is the leading brands, even in Australia, are often experts in retailing but there’s very little manufacturing of batteries in Australia.
“We’re going through the supply chains of the brands to work with their manufactures, who operate off-shore.
The ACCC is seeking submissions from a range of stakeholders including consumers, consumer safety advocates, industry associations, regulators, fire authorities and industry suppliers.
Join the conversation
What are you hoping will come from the ACCC review and Bicycle Industries Australia’s working paper?