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In an attempt to do something about it the startling increase in battery fires From two-wheeled electrical devices this year, the New York City Council has proposed a series of laws that would have the unintended consequence of paralyzing the industry with the right to repair electronic devices, experts and advocates warn.
an invoice is causing particular anxiety in the right-to-repair industry because it would ban the sale of all used lithium-ion batteries assembled or reconditioned from cells from other batteries for any type of electronic device, not just two-wheeler vehicles.
“Ugh,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, chief executive of The Repair Association, when emailed asking about the bill. “I think you see the danger of banning trade in used or refurbished products that happen to contain batteries.”
The Right-to-Repair movement is based on the idea that once you buy it, you have the right to fix it yourself. For consumer electronics in particular, the right to repair and reuse devices is a key component of a more sustainable and green ecosystem. The New York state legislature has recognized this and passed the country’s first electronics repair right law in Junealthough Governor Hochul, who has just been re-elected, has yet to sign it.
This widely held notion that people have the right to fix their own things is at odds with the emerging problem of two-wheeler fires. There have been more than 200 fires from lithium-ion batteries in two-wheeled mobility devices in New York City this year. For convenience, these devices are often referred to as “e-bikes,” but they’re rarely e-bikes. Far more common, they look like converted, souped-up scooters or moped-like rides. In this way, the DIY culture of two-wheeler repair for purely mechanical bicycles conflicts with the very real safety hazard of attempting to repair electronic devices with relatively large batteries made up of flammable chemicals. These fires are incredibly dangerous because they engulf themselves quickly, produce toxic smoke, and cannot be easily extinguished. Six people have died in such fires so far this year.
The problem is that no one knows exactly what is causing these fires. Lithium-ion battery fires can result from poor manufacturing practices, damaged batteries, improper charging, or aftermarket modifications. Each of these causes requires different solutions. Poor charging practices, for example, could require information campaigns and the introduction of safer charging stations across the city. Poor manufacturing practices could require new regulations. And it’s not always retrofitted or modified devices that cause problems. As is well known, Samsung had to Remember the Galaxy Note 7 after a series of battery fires and finally had to stop production of the device.
Determining the exact cause of a lithium-ion battery fire can be very difficult. For example, a battery fire in a Manhattan high-rise that injured dozens was said to have been in the apartment recently someone who runs a workshop for electromobility devices, which neighbors had been complaining about for months. The fire could have been caused by overcharging a particular device, changing the voltage supplied to the motor so a device could run faster which poses a huge risk of fire, or a bad battery (either new or reused). It’s unclear what, if anything, applies to this or any other battery fire in the city this year.
The City Council is therefore striving for a holistic approach by introducing five new bills. Three have to do with information campaigns and reporting requirements for the fire brigade. A fourth requires mobility aids to have certified batteries. But the fifth prohibits “the sale and assembly” of any “second-use lithium-ion battery” in any product. A spokesman for Councilman Gale Brewer’s office, who is the lead sponsor of the bill, did not respond to a motherboard request for comment.
This broad proposal has the right to fix concerned experts. “I see battery reuse as an essential part of a more sustainable transition to more electric vehicles,” said Nathan Proctor, senior director of the US Public Interest Research Group, which leads a Right-to-Repair campaign. “I haven’t seen any evidence that these batteries are any more dangerous, but if they were I would be making safety regulations, but not just jettisoning an important part of a more circular economy.”
Proctor said the legislation could have a particularly profound impact on the electric car industry because battery packs are made up of many different cells. In the auto industry, particularly among hobbyists and recycle specialists, it is common to repair damaged, aging, or malfunctioning batteries by combining cells from multiple batteries. This law, although only in effect in New York City, would complicate that landscape.
Although the bill itself, if enacted into law, would likely have no impact on phones or laptops, which now have custom battery packs rather than a collection of cells, this technical difference is likely to be lost not only to authorized repairers, but to city bureaucrats as well tasked with enforcing them, who can seldom make even the most basic distinctions between an e-bike and an e-moped, one of which is currently illegal and the other not. “The second-hand market for products like cellphones, tablets, Chromebooks, laptops, cameras and anything that has a battery is going to collapse,” Gordon-Byrne said.
Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, pointed out that even a scientist at Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a major battery certification firm that will benefit from this legislation, said so The guard that a blanket ban on battery reuse would probably be an exaggeration. In response to the bill, Weins said he had never heard of repurposed batteries posing a safety risk. “When I’m at recycling conferences, there are workshops that deal with fire. I am not aware of any evidence that reused, repurposed batteries have a higher risk factor than new batteries.”
“This bill is absolutely insane and they shouldn’t be doing it,” Wiens said.