Human Powered Solutions (HPS) analysis points to e-bikes and micromobility, including e-scooters, as the future of sustainable transportation. We are committed advocates. This also means HPS is dedicated to the safe use and management of lithium-ion battery propulsion systems.
HPS Chief Technology Officer Mike Fritz has written protocols for bike shops about safe charging and storage of the lithium-ion batteries that are the power source for e-bikes, the emerging product category that has taken the American bicycle market and business by storm since the pandemic started in March of 2020.
Mike wrote these protocols for the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) because he and Heather Mason, president of the NBDA, recognized the potential hazard lithium-Ion batteries represent if they are not handled, charged and stored with care.
As Mike has pointed out on numerous occasions, society has learned to safely manage gasoline, and we need to educate retailers and the consuming public about safely managing lithium-ion batteries. The majority of lithium-ion battery propulsion systems are well designed and configured. If managed properly they are perfectly safe. The added factor is the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries, the quality standards applied to the process, and the testing and certification after manufacturing.
Heather Mason has reached out to HPS and Mike Fritz to provide technical expertise and input on the need bike shops have to properly manage lithium-ion batteries beyond the Call2Recycle initiative introduced by PeopleForBikes, including a series of informational and educational NBDA webinars providing the technical detail behind the protocols and best practices for bike shops.
One such webinar is scheduled for Friday, November 4. For more information and to register, visit this page on nbda.com.
Over the last 30 months, the subject of micromobility lithium-ion battery fires has popped up from time to time in the media, on trade websites, and in trade publications. The latest that prompted this article was published by NPR October 30 with the headline “Fires from exploding e-bike batteries multiply in NYC – sometimes fatally.”
HPS analysis indicates there is a safety problem emanating from a breakdown in U.S. regulatory and testing of lithium-ion power systems for e-bikes, and a lack of interest in the whole market and the complete community of interest by not educating beyond specified channels of trade. I will do my best to explain further.
The caption to this picture from the subject article states: “New York City is on track to experience twice as many e-bike-related fires this year compared to last.”
HPS and the NBDA have been and are currently actively engaged with the New York Fire Department, New York City Council, UL, and Energy Storage Safety Products International, in researching and getting educated about the micromobility lithium-ion battery situation in New York City. HPS suggests the rest of the bicycle business should also be actively engaged.
We found early on that the consumer demand for take-out food orders and home delivery has created a gig work force estimated by Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU), the representative association (https://losdeliveristasunidos.org/), to be in excess of 65,000 self-employed workers who ride either an e-bike or an e-scooter.
HPS also found that the self-employed delivery workers are poorly compensated, and often live in high-rise tenements and subsidized NYC housing, often in crowded, extended-family situations. Fear of vandalism and theft force storage and charging of e-bikes and e-scooters into bedrooms and hallways that too often block exits.
These conditions are too often exacerbated by the self-employed gig workers seeking out the lowest cost e-bikes or e-scooters they can purchase, often consumer-direct on the Internet. Replacement batteries and chargers are also too often purchased online because of the low prices offered.
While this hasn’t been proven yet, HPS has a strong belief based on the facts we have found that low-cost (US$800 and below) e-bikes, and low-cost lithium-ion replacement batteries (US$500 and below), are suspect, and can have inherent quality issues. Introducing a battery or charger to a lithium-ion power system that is not properly integrated to that specific system is also inherently dangerous. In addition, refurbished and home-made lithium-ion batteries should never be used.
NBDA has started to publish a series of best practices for bike shops that integrate the protocols mentioned previously with practical business practices, such as asking all suppliers of merchandise and parts for certificates of insurance.
The October 30 NPR article opens with, “Four times a week on average, an e-bike or e-scooter battery catches fire in New York City.” It goes on to report, “Sometimes it does so on the street, but more often it happens when the owner is recharging the lithium ion battery. A mismatched charger won’t always turn off automatically when the battery’s fully charged, and keeps heating up. Or, the highly flammable electrolyte inside the battery’s cells leaks out of its casing and ignites, setting off a chain reaction.”
A lithium-ion battery fire literally destroys the battery, and this picture from the FDNY is captioned: “E-bike batteries are made up of numerous ‘cells,’ each a bit larger than an AA battery. If they are damaged and leak fluid, they can easily combust.” Advocating for testing and certifying to voluntary standards like UL 2849 would be a huge step in establishing a bright line between good and suspect lithium-ion battery propulsion systems.
As of Friday, October 28, the FDNY investigated 174 battery fires, positioning 2022 to double the 104 fires that occurred in 2021, and quadrupling the 44 from 2020.
This important data generated by the FDNY underscores the immediate problem, but does not tell the story behind the data, nor does it recommend lasting solutions. HPS and the NBDA will continue to work for and advocate for fair and equitable answers that guarantee all citizens of New York City will be able to continue safe use of e-bikes and e-scooters for transportation and to make a living.
We are asking the rest of the American bicycle business to join us!
Contact Jay Townley at firstname.lastname@example.org