The term “UL 2272 Certified” is probably familiar for anyone who has ever shopped or read reviews for electric scooters, hoverboards, or electric skateboards. While being certified for anything sounds nice, what does this certification really mean? Is this something we should be actively looking for when shopping for such devices? Read on as we look at the history behind the UL 2272 certification, and what companies and products have to go through to earn it.
A bit of history
Hoverboards and electric scooters started flooding the toy market back in 2015. Back then, they were the newest and hottest toys that appealed to both kids and adults. Being unfamiliar but extremely popular proved to be the downfall of these devices: within a year, the growing popularity of hoverboards and scooters came along with increasing reports of these toys spontaneously exploding and catching fire.
The incidents did not involve just small fires, either. In Thanksgiving of 2015, a 12-year-old kid in Louisiana received hoverboard as a gift. After a day of using it without problems, flames started shooting from both ends of the hoverboard while it was plugged in and charging. The fire was so intense and spread so quickly that the family’s entire home was pretty much damaged. Within the same holiday season, a hoverboard caught fire in a shopping mall in Washington, resulting in the whole mall getting evacuated.
Cases of hoverboards catching fire weren’t exclusive to ones that were plugged in. In Alabama, a man named Timothy Cade was riding his hoverboard down the street when it exploded and caught fire right beneath his feet. By January 2016, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission was investigating at least 40 reports of hoverboard fires across 19 states. At around the same time, the UK National Trading Standards body had seized and destroyed up to 32,000 hoverboards in a massive attempt to crack down on substandard and dangerous models.
Why do hoverboards and electric scooters explode?
What was causing the hoverboards and electric scooters to explode anyway? The most obvious culprit was their batteries. All these devices were powered by lithium-ion batteries – essentially bigger versions of the batteries found in most smartphones of that time. Much like any battery, lithium-ion batteries had a positive terminal (cathode), a negative terminal (anode), a polymer separator, and an electrolytic solution. The polymer separator plays a critical role in keeping the cathode and anode from touching.
The problem with poorly made batteries is that the polymer separator is flimsy and can be easily punctured. This is particularly a problem for hoverboards and electric scooters that are in a constant state of motion and have to endure a lot of bumps and vibrations. A damaged separator means that the cathode and anode can come into contact. This essentially described a short circuit – a runaway process that will continue to generate massive amounts of heat.
The heat produces by the short circuit is absorbed by the electrolytic solution. For lithium-ion batteries, this electrolytic solution is organic solvents. These compounds are particularly flammable and volatile under high temperature. When the battery undergoes short circuit, the electrolyte solution continues to heat up and expand until it shatters through the casing of a battery. The result is a huge explosion and a chemical fire that cannot be put out by water and can spread very quickly.
The peculiar thing is that battery fires are nothing new to us. In the early 2000s, a wave of exploding mobile phones was traced to cheaply manufactured batteries. In 2006, Dell had to issue a highly talked about recall of millions of laptop batteries due to the same issue. Of course, almost everyone will remember how Samsung had to recall more than a million units of their Note 7 after reports poured in of the mobile devices catching fire while plugged in.
In all of these cases, the proposed solutions were the same: stricter manufacturing controls and the implementation of industry-wide standards. For a time, the battery problems that plagued hoverboards and electric scooters made it look like the technology was doomed to fail. Fortunately, the UL 2272 certification came to the rescue.
What exactly is UL 2272?
UL 2272 was developed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent American company that acts as a global safety science organization. It was launched in February 2016 and was the first safety certification specifically made for hoverboards. With a UL certification, consumers can be confident that the products they purchase conformed to international fire and safety standards.
UL-certified products will receive a certificate of compliance, and each product will bear the UL Enhanced Mark holographic label. The sticker is very distinct-looking and hard to counterfeit and should be the first thing to look for when shopping for a personal mobility device.
The very first UL 2272 certification was awarded in May 2016 to the N3M320 model of Ninebot, the parent company of Segway. Since then, popular hoverboard brands such as Razor and Epikgo have followed suit.
What do products have to do to get a UL 2272 certification?
Before a product earns a UL 2272 certification, it needs to go through a battery of test that will ensure its safe use even in the roughest conditions.
1. Electrical safety
The hoverboard’s battery goes through several overcharge and over-discharge cycles, on top of normal battery cycles, to ensure the integrity of its electrical system.
2. Mechanical testing
Hoverboards go through an unusual amount of mechanical stress, which may damage the battery over time. Hoverboards are subjected to repeated banging and vibration test to check if parts can loosen and cause battery-related damage. A drop test also checks if the external shell of the hoverboard can get damaged, which may eventually lead to damage in its internal components.
3. Environmental testing
Hoverboards are subjected to the usual environmental factors that they may encounter in the real world such as rain, water splashes, and partial water immersion. They also go through intense thermal cycling. This is done to ensure that the water does not get into the device’s internal circuits.
4. Material and component test
These tests are done to check how the device’s non-metallic components react to heat and flame. A locked rotor test is done to check if the motor can withstand a scenario where the rotor is prevented from moving. Under these conditions, motors tend to overheat.
5. Marking and instruction assessment
Finally, UL checks if the product provides enough documentation to teach the user about safe use and proper battery charging practice. The hoverboard should also bear the markings of the manufacturer’s name, date of manufacture, model or part number, and the device’s electrical rating.
Are all electric scooters and hoverboards available now safe?
Despite the strong recommendation to only buy UL 2272-certified products, the market is still not free from unregulated and untested devices. In August of 2018, an electric scooter caught fire while it was plugged in and was charging for 7 hours. This incident happened in Beijing with a scooter that was just purchased two weeks prior. Fortunately, building staff put out the fire before there was major property damage.
Even scooters from big brand names are not immune to spontaneously catching fire. The famous electric scooter manufacturer Lime made big news when it issued a massive recall of their products due to increasing reports of battery failure. It even happened in Lime’s facility, as one of their rental scooters burst into flames last August.
Sadly, medical emergencies due to hoverboards and electric scooters catching fire continue to happen until today. Most of these can be associated with cheap and low-quality counterfeit products. To stem the flow of these products, UL has been actively working with government and law enforcement agencies such as the US Customs and Border Protection to identify and seize products with counterfeit UL marks.
On the side of the buyers, developing consumer intelligence will probably go a long way towards ensuring that the products being purchased are genuinely UL-certified. Knowing the difference between real UL marks and fake counterparts is a good first step. Consumers must also make sure to buy hoverboards and electric scooters only from reputable retailers.
How can I check if the device I’m looking at is UL certified?
1. Buy from a reputable store
As a good first step, you shouldn’t be shopping for a hoverboard or electric scooter from a shady salesperson who offers prices that seem too good to be true. Buy your device only from a reputable retailer that is authorized to carry the brand of hoverboard or electric scooter you are looking for. These retailers will also provide warranty protection should your product fail within a prescribed period due to manufacturing defects.
2. Look for the UL mark
All products that are UL-certified will bear the holographic UL Certified mark. Each holographic sticker comes with several control numbers that UL uses for traceability. Some counterfeit products come with a fake version of the UL sticker, so you should familiarize yourself with how to spot these before finalizing your purchase.
3. Check the UL Certifications Directory
If you still have doubts, then you can check if the product is listed in UL’s Online Certification Directory. This is a huge list that includes industrial equipment, cybersecurity systems, and other forms of personal mobility. You will need to register for an account in the UL website to search the directory.
Without a doubt, the development of the UL 2272 standard salvaged the technology of personal mobility devices from languishing in its own flames caused by countless battery explosions. What was thought of as extremely dangerous toys have now enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as portable, convenient, and environmentally friendly ways of getting around.
In Singapore, only electric scooters that have UL 2272 certification will be allowed in the streets from 2021 onwards. This is just a single example of how crucial a role UL 2272 will play in the future of personal mobility devices such as scooters and hoverboards. As our standards for transportation slowly migrate towards being more environment-friendly, there is no doubt that these personal mobility devices will continue to become more popular.