E-Bikes & E-Scooters-Fire Threats from Battery Failures
On October 1, 1908, the first production automobile made available to middle class America was the model we all know today as the Model T Ford. Once Henry Ford made the Model T available its popularity took off in a hurry, and in such a short time, Ford had made over 15 million Model T Ford vehicles by 1927. Fast forward to July 1, 2003, Tesla Inc came into the publics eye and introduced America to the all-electric automobile. Tesla is a well-known household brand in modern America as is “EV” or electric vehicle technology. You can’t go down the road to get gas or milk without seeing an all-electric car, SUV, or truck these days. Battery Power is dominating the world backed by the big push to move away from conventional fossil fuels like petroleum. In inner cities and more urban landscapes where cars and trucks have difficulty getting around, folks have turned to EV’s on a smaller scale, E-bikes and E-scooters. Much like all consumables there is always the threat of fire, however, in the case of e-bikes and e-scooters, that treat is exponentially more likely to be realized for a variety of reasons.
Popularity has grown over the battery powered e-bikes and e-scooters worldwide. Much like everything that hits the market so fast and in such quantity, there is typically little to no standards or regulations to govern the products being massed produced, much less updated fire protection code to stay in lock step with the new technology and the new threats of fire that it brings to the equation. The electric scooters and bikes are being powered by lithium-ion batteries. These batteries can offer more power and last longer between charges. Where a lithium-ion battery becomes a threat is when it experiences a reaction known as thermal runaway. “Thermal runaway can be caused by, overheating, damage, prolonged access to moisture and over charging. Since scooters are mostly stored outdoors, they are often exposed to extreme temperatures and excess moisture. Due to the nature of their use, they are often susceptible to physical damage. Rental scooter companies often pay the public to charge the scooters, and they are often charged improperly and in large quantities. The close proximity of the scooters increases the chances of one battery failure causing multiple battery failures in the vicinity. It is also common for these scooters to be charged in egress paths and under stairs in residential occupancies which would prevent egress for people in the building and prevent the fire department from entering the building.” (Jeff Dunkel-NFSA) The FDNY has reported that they have experienced this situation on several occasion over the past two years.
The FDNY has reported that in New York City alone, fire department officials have documented that e-scooters and e-bikes have sparked more than 160 fires in 2022. That is a 50 percent increase over the 104 e-bike/scooter fires the FDNY reported on in 2021 which killed four people. The death rate for 2022 when the FDNY report came out, was five killed by e-bike/scooter fires, one of the 5 killed was a eight-year-old little girl. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) reported on a study that was conducted on e-bikes/scooters and their popularity. “According to the market research firm Allied Market Research, the global micro mobility market is expected to grow from about $40 billion today to $215 billion by 2030, with much of that growth attributed to the boom in battery-powered electric devices. By next year, roughly 40 million e-bikes are expected to be zipping down city streets worldwide. An incredible transformation of personal electrified transportation technology has taken place around the globe and its showing no signs of slowing down.” (NFPA.org)
With no signs of slowing down, the electric micro mobility market is in need of standards for better fire protection. When all of the hoverboards started to catch on fire in 2016, the UL standard, 2272 was released. UL 2272 is simply a means of mandating the certification of electrical systems found in personal electric micro mobility devices. In 2020 a more specific e-bike, e-scooter standard was introduced, UL 2849. The UL 2849 standard ensures, among other things, that a device’s battery management system is able to monitor and prevent problems like overheating. The hope is that the new proposed changes to NFPA 1 Fire Code will move the needle further on getting more fire protection standards on e-bikes and e-scooters. The changes proposed for the 2024 edition of NFPA 1 would include enhanced safety requirements whenever more than five electric mobility devices are being charged. In addition, part of those requirements would be ensuring the devices and their charging equipment is UL listed.
Electric mobility technology is here to stay. It is up to us, the consumer, to be responsible when purchasing a bike or scooter and ensure they have been made to the highest standard possible. The result of failing to do this in an effort to save a buck, could be deadly. Keep fire prevention in mind, especially when utilizing this newer cutting edge technology.