E-bike and e-scooter battery fires on the rise, causing serious safety concerns

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Battery fires in electric mobility devices under the spotlight

The increased reliance on lithium-ion batteries in devices such as e-bikes and e-scooters, is resulting in a growing safety concern.

Despite their many benefits, including improved mobility, efficiency, and environmental impact, these energy-dense batteries also present a significant safety risk, according to Jim Pauley, president and CEO of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Pauley’s comments, originally published in an opinion piece for CNN, shed light on the escalating problem of lithium-ion battery fires.

The increasing threat of battery fires

According to Pauley, these batteries can cause exceptional damage if they catch fire. Fires initiated by lithium-ion batteries, particularly in e-bikes and e-scooters, are fed by a process known as ‘thermal runaway’.

These fires release toxic fumes and often require large amounts of water to extinguish.

What’s more, such battery fires can reignite days or weeks later, due to energy trapped within the damaged battery cells.

The New York Fire Department reported over 100 lithium-ion battery fires this year alone, causing 13 fatalities.

The gravity of the situation was recently highlighted by a devastating fire in an e-bike repair shop in Manhattan, leading to four deaths.

Tackling battery fires and ensuring safety

Addressing these safety challenges, Pauley suggests, requires a comprehensive approach: “Solving complex fire and life safety problems demands a comprehensive approach that includes regulatory action for using and enforcing codes and standards, well-trained and resourced first responders, and public education on the threat and actions that can be taken to avoid harm.”

According to him, regulations should limit the number of devices in various occupancies, establish guidelines for safe device disposal, and require batteries to bear the mark of an accredited testing laboratory.

He points out that New York City now requires e-mobility devices’ battery packs to be certified by an accredited testing laboratory.

Pauley also stressed the importance of training fire departments and first responders to safely handle lithium-ion battery fires: “The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) actively supports national campaigns like the annual Safety Stand Down initiative, which focused on lithium-ion batteries last month as a way to increase firefighter health and safety.”

He also emphasised the need for consumer awareness about potential hazards and the importance of using devices, batteries, and charging equipment that have been tested and labelled by a nationally recognised lab.

The role of lithium-ion batteries in our future

Lithium-ion batteries undeniably bring many advantages to society. However, their associated risks need to be managed. Pauley believes that by working together within the fire and life safety ecosystem framework, we can enjoy the benefits of these batteries without compromising safety.

IFSJ Comment

Pauley’s article highlights a significant, growing risk associated with our shift towards environmentally friendly, electric-powered mobility options.

It underscores the importance of robust safety measures and regulations, effective emergency response training, and public education to mitigate the risks associated with lithium-ion battery fires.

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