Bike Europe, a publication claimed to be the “leading trade journal for the bicycle, e-bike market” recently published a courageous story on the dangers of Lithium-Ion batteries used in the majority of electric bikes (e-bikes). The publication had a fire safety engineer and battery safety professional examine the aftermath of a fire ignited by an unattended charging battery in a bicycle shop (video footage of the shop fire has been removed). His observations are frightening.
The expert is quoted as saying that Lithium-Ion batteries are, “rather unreliable, rather explosive. You are never sure if or when they will explode. And when they do, you have a big problem.” While the expert has an obvious conflict of interest (he owns a consulting business called Fire Safety Engineering Support), he supports his statements with references to numerous e-bike shop fires. Well documented fires have plagued e-bike shops in America as well, including incidents in Solana Beach, California (click here to see the video), Dunedin, Florida, Seattle, Washington, Arlington, Virginia, Crown Heights, New York and Crazy Lenny’s E-Bikes in Madison, Wisconsin.
Put it in a box
This safety consultant made recommendations for bike shops that apply to any e-bike owner. He suggests the use of a battery storage container with a certified lithium extinguishing system or a storage room equipped with an integrated automatic extinguishing system that would include a heat/smoke detector. Problem is, his recommended products are designed (and priced) for industrial use.
Luna, a company that converts bicycles to electric-motorized bicycles and offers conversion kits (for do-it-yourselfers), sells a recommissioned ammunition box for $34.00 that they call the Luna Charge Safe Box. The company says. “You cannot be too safe when it comes to lithium batteries. Wherever there is energy density there is the possibility of fire.” The company claims the Safe Box will “contain a lithium fire.” My only reservation is that there is no mention on the Luna website of third-party testing.
Throw it on the barbie
ElectricBike-Blog, who take a rather outlaw approach to e-bike use, recommends a very ingenious DIY workaround of charging e-bike batteries in a wood stove. Electricbike.com has an extensive article on Lithium-Ion batteries where they recommend charging batteries in a barbecue grill.
The battery safety professional also recommends that stored e-bike batteries be charged to no more than 30% capacity. He also explains that a dropped or damaged battery can sustain internal damage, making it more susceptible to catch fire.
Tips riders can use today
Until a company offers an e-bike-specific, certified, consumer-level, battery storage container, there are valuable tips e-bike owners need to adopt today to protect themselves:
1. Never leave a battery charging unattended. Day or night.
2. Don’t leave batteries on a charger once they are charged.
3. Don’t charge batteries near combustible or explosive materials.
4. Don’t charge a battery in a confined space like a motorhome, RV, boat, automobile, van or shed.
5. Never charge a battery that has been dropped, damaged or dinged.
6. Never charge a battery in a hallway entry/exit.
7. Never modify a battery.
8. Use only batteries recommended and approved by your bike’s manufacturer. Same with the battery charger.
9. Charge batteries on wire shelving with rollers. This allows an overheating or flaming battery to be quickly rolled away from structures.
10. If your e-bike makes a weird noise, feels hot, emits smoke or seems to be straining, stop riding. Do not load it in a car or put in the garage. Call 911. Any of these warning signs could mean a fire is eminent.
11. Look for the UL 2849 certified sticker on your next e-bike purchase.
It can happen here
E-bikes, when used properly, can reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, increase parking availability and reduce transportation costs. Plus, try to ride one without smiling. Riding an e-bike is the most fun you’ll experience since you learned how to ride a bike. But unless the potential dangers are clearly explained, as Bike Europe did, the growth of e-bike use in the United States is likely to stall when avoidable tragedy strikes more homes and businesses.