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Should e-bikes have UL certified batteries? |

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Should e-bikes have UL certified batteries?Should e-bikes have UL certified batteries?

If this question seems strange to you, you are not alone. Most of the electrical products in our homes have UL certification, that is, Underwriters Laboratories. What you may not know is that for some products, UL certification is not mandatory; it is optional. In our increasingly unregulated world, many companies view voluntary certification systems as an expense that costs money and slows the path to bringing a new product to market, not to mention stifling innovation (or so they say).

UL certification verifies whether a product meets a standard set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC sets rules for everything from televisions to children’s clothing to bicycle helmets. And as we mentioned in our opening, certification is not mandatory. Companies can choose to ignore the CPSC rules.

UL certification cannot guarantee that a product will never fail, but it does promise that the manufacturer has met the standards set by the CPSC. Seeing the UL certification logo on a product is an ideal way to reassure consumers that the product in question meets an agreed safety threshold.

The cost of e-bike battery UL certification

For a company in a hurry to bring an e-bike battery to market (see Our guide to e-bike batteries For more information, UL certification is a significant expense. The lab that performs the required testing costs between $15,000 and $20,000 and must be equipped with 52 battery packs – a significant expense.

In addition to the financial costs associated with UL certification of e-bikes, the laboratory conducting the testing requires 10 to 12 weeks to complete the testing and produce a report on the results. A three-month lead time may result in missing the required window for timely delivery of batteries to a manufacturer for this year’s selling season.

It’s easy to see that a company focused on the bottom line of sales will see the time and money costs as more than they’re willing to bear.

Can we trust batteries that are not UL certified?

Companies doing business in the United States have a strong incentive to produce safe and reliable products. Your leadership typically knows that a single recall resulting in poor reporting is enough to undo years of reputational work.

We may not think twice about a lithium-ion battery for e-bikes that doesn’t have UL certification, but given the numerous reports that have surfaced in the news about thermal runaway causing chemical fires that are serious to be extinguished and have resulted in several deaths, people are understandably concerned.

Before we continue, let’s take a moment to explain this in a little more detail. Most of the reported fires were caused either by batteries in low-cost e-mobility devices such as hoverboards and scooters, which have batteries commensurate with their cost, or by batteries that were repaired – against the express permission of the manufacturer.

An e-bike battery consists of several cells and these cells look very similar to an AA battery. Every battery has a positive end (called a cathode) and a negative end (called an anode). Batteries generate electricity through a chemical reaction between the cathode and anode.

Inside the cell there is a thin membrane that separates the cathode and anode. But sometimes that membrane breaks down, and when that happens, the materials in the cathode and anode come into contact with each other, causing thermal runaway and a chemical fire that spreads from cell to cell until the entire battery pack burns .

These fires are difficult to extinguish, and therefore fire departments are often left with no choice but to allow the fires to burn themselves out once the public is safe.

Debate in the e-bike industry: UL 2271 or UL 2849?

So it seems like UL certification of e-bike batteries would be a given, right? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. A debate has arisen in the bicycle industry about which of the two different UL regulations the industry should adopt.

UL 2271 would require all e-bike batteries to be certified by a laboratory. That seems easy. However, another regulation, UL 2849, would require that all electronic components of an e-bike be tested together as a system.

For companies like Bosch, Bafang and Brose that manufacture complete systems, this certification would not be a problem. But for a number of manufacturers who might specify a Bafang motor but another company’s battery, this would result in costs that a competitor opting for a Bosch system would not have to bear.

There are strong arguments for both rules. There is no good reason not to have entire systems tested as required by UL 2849. However, the question is not whether both rules should be adopted, but which rule. UL 2271 is the rule that would govern all cheap batteries, which are the cause of most, if not all, fires.

Should e-bike batteries be certified?

If we haven’t made the answer clear, it’s a resounding yes! Yes, of course e-bike batteries should be certified safe by a UL accredited laboratory. None of the well-known manufacturers argues against this.

UL 2849 would not apply to aftermarket batteries, only complete systems. This means that aftermarket batteries would continue to evade certification. Most fires we see are caused by aftermarket batteries due to poor design and/or construction. UL 2271 would apply to all such batteries.

Since the question is whether the industry should adopt UL 2271 or UL 2849, and the fires are caused by faulty batteries, we believe the industry should adopt UL 2271.

However, we do not like the fact that we have to choose between two different rules that should not be incompatible. There should be room for adoption of UL 2271 and UL 2849. We want everyone who rides an e-bike to be confident that their entire e-bike – especially the battery – is safe to use.

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