The hoverboard is the hottest item on the holiday gift list this year, but is it hot enough to catch fire? Several reports give varied accounts of explosions which have occurred from multiple users. Fire officials have now issued a warning declaring hoverboards and other motorized scooters like them have the potential to cause fires. The perceived danger is significant enough that major airlines have banned the little vehicles altogether.
An exploding hoverboard burned down a house in Louisiana and another combusted in the same state, in Washington one caught fire in a mall which forced shoppers to evacuate and in New York one caused significant damage to a home. An 11-year-old boy received one of the souped-up scooters as a birthday gift in October. Less than a month later, the motorized toy ignited without warning, destroying everything in its path. Kevin Frazier, a Montgomery fire official, said:
It is important to only purchase a hoverboard that has been certified by a recognized testing lab such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Both the scooter and box should have the logo imprinted on it.
According to Jay Whitacre, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, the problem is not the motorized equipment, it is mostly with the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries inside of the self-balancing scooter. The batteries inside many of the scooters are cheap due to the more affordable brands using cheaper mechanisms to satisfy consumers who cannot afford the reputable models. The less-expensive brands are more prone to defects. These are the boards that are hot enough to catch fire this Christmas. Whitacre said:
There are a lot of factories in China that now make Li-ion batteries, and the reality is that the quality and consistency of these batteries is typically not as good as what is found in top-tier producers such as LG or Samsung. These are known as ‘low cost li-ion batteries’ by most in the industry—they are not knockoffs or copies, but are instead just mass-manufactured cells.
The scooter’s batteries work the same way as the lithium-ion batteries in laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Lithium-ion batteries are great but have also long led to explosions. They are small in size but pack a lot of energy. All this power does not come void of risks, especially fires. The batteries in hoverboards may not be the only problem; although less common, a defective charger could also cause problems with any electronic device.
Regardless of the potential to explode many consumers have their hearts set on the motorized scooter which is hot enough to catch fire. Although a hefty price tag does not always indicate a higher quality model, it is important to perform the proper research and stick with top-tier brands. It is nearly impossible to determine what kind of fire hazard lurks, if any, inside any scooter, but the scariest part is the user may not find out until it is too late.
If the warnings of an explosion do not deter lovers of this hot commodity, consumers should, at least, know how to put out a lithium-ion battery fire. This type of fire can be handled like any other combustible fire; for best results a foam extinguisher, CO2, ABC dry chemical, powdered graphite, copper powder or sodium carbonate should be used. When encountering a fire with a lithium-metal battery, only use a Class D extinguisher because water reacts with the lithium metal and will make the fire worse.
Hoverboards have quickly become a truly “hot” holiday gift item. Federal safety regulators said they are stepping up their investigation of the self-balancing electronic scooters due to the recent wave of reports involving fires and explosions. The hoverboard is definitely sizzling for the holidays and reportedly, can get hot enough to catch fire this Christmas.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Fox 5: Man’s new hoverboard catches fire
Wired: Why Hoverboards Keep Exploding
Battery University: BU-304a: Safety Concerns with Li-ion
All Images Courtesy of Hoverboard Press Kit