ACCC Lithium Battery Report Branded Inadequate and Underwhelming

Canberra, ACT

Nationally consistent controls and systems for the sale, testing and disposal of lithium-ion batteries are needed to address the “limited but increasing number” of fires started by these batteries, according to a recently-released report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The Lithium-ion Batteries and Consumer Product Safety Report delivers six recommendations for improved battery safety – including standardised national regulatory frameworks, increased consumer education and working with online sales platforms – following a 10-month ACCC investigation into the issue.

However, the report has this week been criticised by representatives of the bicycle and broader micromobility sector, who say it passes the buck to State government and lacks the urgency needed to address the issues.

They include prominent and straight-talking micromobility consultant Stephen Coulter, who labelled its recommendations as “underwhelming and amount to motherhood and apple pie when solutions are available”.

“We believe that after such an extensive inquiry and 68 submissions from experts and interested parties, more concrete recommendations could have been made,” according to the founder of Zipidi, a consultancy providing smart transport guidance for cities and private operators.

“The response seems to lack depth and specificity despite the availability of viable solutions. We believe that even an AI model like Chat GPT could generate similar recommendations in seconds.”

Bicycle Industries Australia general manager Peter Bourke said the ACCC report’s recommendations lacked the urgency needed to get ahead of Australia’s rapidly growing and advancing lithium-ion market.
Peter, who is also executive officer of WeRide Australia, said it is likely to take years for State and Territory governments to implement consistent regulations, testing and transportation of batteries, while controls and assistance are needed quickly to address the dangers and assist the sector.

“There hasn’t been the necessary leadership and the ACCC has just kicked the can down the road,” he stated.

“By effectively passing the responsibility to the States, the Federal Government has delayed achieving a uniform outcome for battery security and user safety.”

“With the bicycle and scooter sectors, the greatest issue is the importation of non-compliant product, which this report doesn’t directly address. There’s minimal focus on non-compliant product with current legislation, that will continue to be a problem until the Federal Government and the State and Territory jurisdictions choose to enforce the existing legislation.

“While we do not want governments to have knee-jerk reactions that have restrictive and negative impacts on the sector, we did expect the Government to acknowledge the need to look at ensuring the current regulations to ensure they meet the needs of the industry and community, while achieving safe outcomes for manufacturers, importers, retailers and users.

“By effectively passing the responsibility to the States, the Federal Government has delayed achieving a uniform outcome for battery security and user safety.”

“The focus on collecting data is reinventing the wheel. There are already international best practice standards.”

While the ACCC report acknowledges the prevalence of lower-quality products and poor battery charging practices as key factors in lithium-ion battery safety, Peter expressed disappointment it did not go further to prescribe solutions.

“They want to collect data and educate consumers but there’s nothing to stop the cheap product coming into the country, and the cheap product is where a lot of the problems lie,” he added.

“In addition, the focus on collecting data is reinventing the wheel. There are already international best practice standards.

“In the e-bike battery market, we’re operating off a 15-year-old European standard. Technology has evolved dramatically since the 2009 European standard was written.

“This report obviously needed to cover batteries for all industries but there is a lot of product that is well behind best practice around the world because of our outdated standards and legislation.”

New battery regulations came into force in Europe in August, ensuring new batteries have a low carbon footprint, use minimal harmful substances, need less raw materials from non-EU countries, and are collected, reused and recycled to a high degree within the continent.

Peter said one of the priorities should be greater liaison with fire emergency authorities in each State and territory to compile more comprehensive statistic and about fires involving lithium-ion batteries.

Stephen suggested some of his own recommended solutions, including the establishment of Australian battery testing laboratories, and also advocated a replication of the EU Battery Directive enacted by the European Union parliament in July 2023. The directive provides specific steps for regulating lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries and addresses sustainability, cradle-to-grave carbon footprints, recycling, labelling requirements and a digital passport for each battery.

Measured ACCC Response

While the ACCC report notes a six-fold increase in the number of media reports relating to Lithium-ion battery incidents between February 2021 and February 2023, the document takes a more measured approach to the scale of the issue.

It advocates for “targeted and proportionate responses to risks”, informed by the improved collection of relevant data that is then reported consistently and appropriately shared between industry, emergency services and regulatory stakeholders.

The report revealed there had been 23 recalls from January 2017 to December 2022 involving Li-ion batteries and products containing them, affecting around 89,000 products on the market.

While the document does identify specific product categories relating to those recalls or incident numbers – and does not highlight particular issues or recommendations for e-mobility devices – four of the six case studies outlined in the report involve e-bikes or e-scooters.

Six Recommendations

Four out of the report’s six recommendations advocate unified efforts by government throughout Australia.

“The ACCC considers the most significant challenges arising from the current regulatory framework are the lack of uniform state and territory compulsory recall powers and lack of regulatory coverage for extra-low-voltage products (which includes a significant proportion of Li-ion battery products),” it says.

The recommendations are:

  • Recommendation 1 (Incident data): Commonwealth, State, and Territory governments should improve, expand and standardise data collection practices around the hazards posed by consumer electrical products, including Li-ion batteries. Wherever practicable and to the extent permitted by law, Li-ion incident data should be regularly shared among stakeholders to facilitate a better understanding of emerging risks and hazards.
  • Recommendation 2 (Consumer safety): Consumers should have clear and accessible educational resources on Li-ion battery safety.
  • Recommendation 3 (Disposal and end-of-life): The Australian Government and industry should continue to develop infrastructure, regulation and supporting policies to enable the safe and efficient collection and recycling of Li-ion batteries.
  • Recommendation 4 (Regulatory landscape): State and territory governments should build a fit-for-purpose, nationally consistent regulatory framework for electrical consumer products, supported by the Australian Government.
  • Recommendation 5 (Regulations): State and Territory electrical safety regulators should introduce, administer and enforce clear requirements for the testing, labelling transportation and storage of Li-ion batteries and products containing Li-ion batteries. These requirements should be consistent across all jurisdictions.
  • Recommendation 6 (Online platforms): Regulators including the ACCC and State and Territory Australian Consumer Law and electrical safety regulators, continue to work with online platforms regarding risks and hazards arising from products containing Li-ion batteries being sold online.

Leave a Comment