Government urged to treat e-bike batteries like fireworks

Batteries for e-bikes and e-scooters should be regulated like fireworks and heavy machinery to better ensure their safety, in a move that would mimic New York City, a new report says

The recommendation, in a new report, titled Battery Breakdown, by charity Electrical Safety First, would see batteries for e-bikes and e-scooters need third-party approval before being placed on the UK market – a requirement already introduced in New York City following a spate of fatal fires.

It is hoped the recommendation would help to stem catastrophic battery fires that have ripped through homes and taken people’s lives.

  • Report recommends the UK should mimic New York City to tackle fires
  • The end of self-certification would see e-bike and e-scooter batteries regulated like fireworks and heavy machinery – requiring mandatory third-party approval
  • First-of-its-kind report looks to tackle the issue head on
  • The public risk faulty lithium-ion batteries endangering lives and sector faces future bans

At present, e-bike, e-scooters and the batteries that power them are only required to be self-declared as conforming to safety standards by the manufacturer to meet current regulations, as is the case with many electrical goods.

However, exceptions to self-declaration exist for pyrotechnics, heavy machinery and medical devices.

The implementation of this recommendation would see lithium-ion batteries for e-bikes and e-scooters added to this list of high-risk products, requiring mandatory third-party approval to ensure they meet essential safety standards.

The report comes amidst international concern over fires caused by lithium-ion batteries, with the London Fire Brigade being called to an e-bike or e-scooter fire, on average, every two days.

Fatal consequences to these fires have been reported nationally, with a triple-fatality occurring in Cambridge after an e-bike being charged overnight caught fire.

Lesley Rudd, chief executive of Electrical Safety First, said: “The huge amount of energy that is released over time when a battery bursts into flames is unlike other fires – in a matter of minutes a room can be decimated.  This unique type of fire requires special measures to tackle the increasing problem.”

“The UK should give serious consideration to following in the footsteps of New York City and  better regulate lithium-ion batteries. We need to get on top of this issue now to prevent more lives being lost. There are too many reckless operators in this space, such as third-party sellers on online marketplaces, who are risking the lives of the public and giving responsible manufacturers of these products a bad name.”

When thermal runaway occurs a large amount of energy is released over a longer period of time, mimicking an out-of-control explosive firework.

HERO SON ALERTS FAMILY TO E-BIKE FIRE

Andrew Beaton’s family experienced the devastation of an e-bike fire after his son’s bike went up in smoke whilst it was charging underneath their staircase.

“If it wasn’t for my son, we wouldn’t be here,” commented Andrew Beaton from Lancaster. “He was up to get a drink at night and shouted to us after seeing the e-bike on fire. I sprinted downstairs, swung open the front door and threw the bike outside. In that moment, all the batteries fell out and were exploding like hand grenades.”

“I was fearing for my wife and kids, as the bike was charging under the stairs and had set them alight. I started frantically throwing water on the stairs so they could get down. Within four minutes everything was gone.”

“I bought the e-bike online as a Christmas present for my son and now it will be costing us upwards of £50,000 in damages. I urge anyone thinking of buying these e-bikes not to – it’s not worth your life.”

ESF’s report also looks at the design flaws of many e-scooters and suggests ways to enhance their safety over time, to better protect the battery from damage.

A technical impression illustrates these changes, including larger wheels to lessen impact from kerbs and potholes, as well as the battery being moved from under the foot plate, where it is exposed to impact damage from the ground and exposed to water ingress.

An increased foot plate height of 150mm is also recommended to minimise impact damage.

 

Ways in which e-scooters to evolve in their design to reduce impact damage. Credit - Electrical Safety First

EXPLOSIVE VIDEO FOOTAGE DEMONSTRATES THERMAL RUNAWAY

A shocking new video released with the report shows how ferocious one of these lithium-ion battery fires can be. In a highly controlled environment at a test lab, Electrical Safety First conducted a ‘nail penetration test’ to simulate perforation and damage to a battery cell in order to trigger a process called ‘thermal runaway’.

The process results in temperatures exceeding 600 degrees Celsius. This heat propagates rapidly to adjacent cells, resulting in a fire that quickly increases in intensity. Many of these battery fires re-ignite, as seen in the video, sending flames and sparks in all directions.

Other recommendations in the report include:  

  • The banning of universal chargers, to prevent dangerously compatible charging arrangements and damage, and the better regulation of non-proprietary charging systems.
  • The introduction of a British standard for conversion kits for e-bikes, which currently does not exist.
  • Mandatory reporting of e-bike and e-scooter fires in Home Office data in a major overhaul to modernise fire incident reporting across the UK.
  • A Government backed nationwide campaign on e-bike and e-scooter safety, including safe charging.
  • The immediate regulation of online marketplaces, where many substandard and dangerous e-bike and e-scooters are purchased, to make them take reasonable steps to prevent or delist unsafe products sold via their platforms.

Lesley Rudd added: “People’s lives are being destroyed by substandard and faulty batteries, as well as incompatible chargers. There is no one silver bullet solution to tackle this issue, but we cannot bury our heads in the sand. We must address the situation before more lives are lost, with tighter rules to make sure only safe products enter our market.”

The report considers the bans and rule changes already being implemented across Europe, including a ban on rental e-scooters in Paris, and train companies across the UK banning e-scooters on services due to safety concerns. It suggests that without better regulation, e-bikes and e-scooters could risk an outright ban in the future.

Electrical Safety First has also released an animation explaining thermal runaway, so government and the public understand how lithium-ion battery fires are a different proposition to normal fires, in that they are far more ferocious and cannot be stopped using conventional means once the chemical reaction has started.