What’s causing all the ebike and escooter battery fires?

The Metropolis of New York is grappling with a problem — fire. Specially, escooter and ebike lithium-ion batteries capture fireplace and sometimes explode. And there is no indicator of it ending whenever shortly.

Earlier this year, I wrote an introductory post detailing the charge of lithium-ion battery fires. Today I want to look at New York as a cautionary tale in the battle of working with battery fires as ebikes (and, to a lesser extent, escooters) come to be mainstream. 

I’ll follow up with a 3rd article tomorrow, exploring likely technological remedies to prevent battery fires. 

What brings about battery fires? 

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In the case of ebikes and escooter fires, there are a lot of leads to. To begin with, when we discuss about a lithium-ion ebike or escooter battery, we’re conversing about a bunch of related batteries stored in a plastic circumstance. A large amount of electricity resides in this little place. 

Any just one of the batteries is susceptible to overheating, which can be induced by

  • very poor design and style
  • assembly glitches
  • electrical shorting
  • use of the completely wrong charger
  • overcharging
  • A broken battery management system (BMS) triggers overheating and insufficient cooling 
  • problems to the circumstance. 

The moment a battery overheats, it can lead to a thermal reaction within a battery. This is recognized as a thermal runway event. The response provides more than enough warmth to bring about adjacent battery cells to also catch fire or explode. 

These fires take place amazingly swiftly, and because of to the self-sustaining course of action of thermal runaway, Lithium battery fires are also tough to extinguish. They can leak poisonous chemicals unsafe to persons and animals. 

Substantial batteries these types of as people utilized in Electric powered Autos can reignite several hours or even days soon after the occasion, even right after currently being extinguished. Fortuitously, this is significantly considerably less frequent in ebikes and escooters. 

The issue in New York 

To date this 12 months, 130 described fires involving lithium-ion batteries in electrical bikes and scooters in New York have been documented. Five folks died. Comparatively, this time last year observed only 65 ebike and escooter battery fires.

It is value stressing that these fires make up only a tiny proportion of all blazes in New York. It is also highly likely that the growth in ebikes and escooters residing in the city is dependable for the maximize. 

But the fires are nevertheless a induce for worry, ensuing in residence hurt, injuries, and a lot less regularly, dying. The ferociousness of a lithium-ion battery fires implies a number of vehicles are named, diverting notice away from other unexpected emergency services. 

Additional, the fires are indicative of a more substantial problem struggling with the metropolis. 

New York has around 65,000 delivery staff, lots of of whom use ebikes. Gig economic system staff acquire their ebike to boundaries outside of a each day commute, with all the hazards outsourced to the riders. 

gig economy worker ebike battery
Gig economic climate personnel usually use ebikes not created for rigorous riding, putting force on the battery. Image supply: Joshua Lawrence

Ebikes are ridden for hrs at a pop and in serious weather conditions conditions these as high heat, rain, hurricanes, and snow, all of which can degrade a battery casing, raising the chance of battery destruction. 

For quite a few riders, the only location they cost is at household in their inexpensive apartment. The problem compounds when shipping employees share residences, shop their ebikes within, and all charge their batteries right away. And in a extensive change, a rider may possibly need to have a lot more than one particular battery.

Previously this calendar year, journalist Wilfred Chan frequented an ebike shop in New York geared up with powerboards charging many batteries for supply riders. Workers offered her a charging spot for $50 a thirty day period. 

lithium-ion batteries charging
A catastrophic fireplace in the generating? Image supply: Wilfred Chan

Surprisingly, there have been no fires there to day.  

Is value-efficiency to blame? 

Except for some rental strategies I’ll share with you tomorrow, most riders have to pay back for their very own bikes, batteries, and chargers, earning low-cost or next-hand ebikes, and batteries attractive.

Trustworthy models endure intensive efficiency and safety screening to comply with UL answers UL 2849, the Regular for Electrical Techniques for eBikes. Nonetheless, black market place or low-priced purchases may possibly not incorporate a licensed Battery Administration Program that stops charging when a battery is entire or overheating. 

According to David TenHouten, VP, of auto engineering at micromobility corporation Chicken, there is also an challenge of how significantly an operator pushes the boundaries in just the protected mobile parameters. 

Sellers can drive items suitable to the edge, or you can be a tiny conservative. Fundamentally, if you’re a lot more aggressive, you can get much more efficiency out of the cells and drive them farther and get a minor farther range, but you are receiving into the chance boundaries at the edges. 

The trouble compounds with age as “these batteries are not having any young. They’re truly just obtaining a good deal more mature incredibly speedily.” 

Charlie Welch, CEO of Zapbatt, stresses that the issue is that brands established specs for their cells that you’re intended to observe fairly strictly. 

Normally with ebikes and escooters, everybody rides them like they stole them. It places the mobile in a worst-scenario circumstance each individual working day, like someone jumps on it, guns at entire electricity, then later puts it in a warehouse, entirely charged, and allows it sit there all night. Which from a cell standpoint is where it doesn’t want to be.

Worse, riders may perhaps incorrectly transform a standard bicycle to an ebike or follow a YouTube tutorial to maximize battery ability or pace

Sadly, low-cost ebikes and repurposed bikes and chargers aren’t the only culprits. 

In 2015, Pedego recalled each design they at any time marketed because of to battery hearth possible. 

a Specialized ebike lithium-ion
Specialized  has faced battery pack recalled because of the lithium-ion vulnerabilities

Specialised Bicycle Factors has recalled electric mountain bike battery packs a number of times because of to hearth hazards. 

Santa Cruz Bicycles issued a recall discover for Heckler 9 electric bikes bought concerning January and March 2022.

I spoke to Jim “Jimmy Mac” McIlvain, a writer, editor, and bicycle pro tracking ebike fires. He notes that:

“Established firms like Specialized, Santa Cruz, and Pedego stand driving their goods. But the selection of e-bike corporations offering to US people is very well more than 181 brands! Brand names you likely have never read of.

If just one of individuals brands ignites a catastrophic residence or forest fire, they will basically vanish, leaving no recourse for the client or municipality.”

To date, there is no evidence that hearth brigades are monitoring the make of ebike batteries or fees that catch hearth.

According to McIlvain, neither he nor his wife would cost their ebikes within their residence, noting, “And if a battery ended up to be dropped or weakened, we would never ever use it once again.”

So what is New York Metropolis carrying out about the dilemma?

Interior-metropolis citizens experience the rewards of the advantage of gig financial system riders. Nevertheless the city has manufactured no effort to present infrastructure like charging stations and protected areas for storage. 

Rather, a whole lot of discuss fails to get to the heart of the issue and admit that micromobility as a motion is expanding fast with no sign of abating. 

The New York Housing Authority not too long ago announced a proposed modify to govt housing rules that citizens and their guests could not preserve or charge ebikes or ebike batteries in residences or typical areas. This has the possible for illicit underground storage schemes (indeed, with batteries all charging right away) — this would make my head spin. 

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTC) is considering a ban on ebikes and escooters. This is inspite of the truth there have to date been no relating fires in the transportation community. 

Apparently, New York Councilwoman Gale Brewer proposes laws to ban next-use or refurbished batteries. 

This won’t do much to quit the fires brought about by new shop-bought ebikes. She also indicates that shipping and delivery posters and shipping applications should really make riders conscious of opportunity battery risks. She also sees a want for fireproof storage locations with charging ports (not guaranteed who will pay out for that). 

Brewer’s most attention-grabbing plan is to phone Congress to convene a hearing to press for federal legislation to maintain battery producers accountable. 

McIlvain thinks that it is inevitable that the authorities will have to have to phase in, noting that “the toaster in my kitchen, the nightlight in the hallway, and all the power tools in the garage have to have to meet a federally regarded protection regular, so why really do not ebikes?”

What is apparent is that micromoblity is fast gaining momentum, and this is a complicated problem that involves a complex solution encompassing manufacturers, riders, shipping and delivery providers, and town officials. 




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