The following is a transcript of remarks from Mike Fritz, chief technology officer for Human Powered Solutions, to the Consumer Product Safety Commission as part of the July hearing on battery safety related to e-bikes:
My name is Mike Fritz. I am the chief technology officer for Human Powered Solutions. We are a consultancy specializing in the micromobility industry, with specific focus on bicycles and electric bicycles.
Human Powered Solutions is currently on retainer to the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA). We advise the NBDA on many issues associated with bikes and e-bikes, not the least of which is the battery fire issue that is the focus of this meeting.
A brief overview of my credentials. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Marquette University in 1973, and a Master of Engineering Management from Northwestern University in 1985.
I have spent the bulk of my professional career in the bike and e-bike industries. I joined the Schwinn Bicycle Company immediately after college in 1973, holding positions in machine design, product safety, research and development, and engineering management. Upon leaving Schwinn in 1990, I worked in engineering management and product development capacities at Huffy Bicycles, Brunswick Bicycles, and Pacific Cycles. In 1998, I was hired by Lee Iacocca as VP of Engineering and Product Development, and charged with the responsibility of developing and sourcing electric bicycles for his nascent company, EV Global Motors.
During my tenure at EV Global Motors, Mr. Iacocca was persuaded to try lithium-ion batteries as the energy supply for the e-bikes we were developing. This was in the year 2000. I knew relatively little about lithium-ion battery chemistry at that time, so of course I supported and implemented Mr. Iacocca’s decision. After receiving reports of battery fires in our e-bikes, in cooperation with CPSC we launched a product recall to retrieve those batteries from our customers. Through investigation, we learned that the cause of these failures was the fact that we were using high-energy density, low-power density cells in an application that required high-energy density, high-power density cell attributes. High-energy, low-power density batteries are great for cell phones and laptops but are dangerous in mobility applications where power is critical to function and performance. We found that we were significantly overstressing the batteries, leading to thermal runaway and catastrophic failure. Fortunately, there were no injuries or deaths associated with this situation.
But this experience led to my devoting a considerable portion of my subsequent career to the safe adaptation of this marvelous technology in micromobility applications.
The advent of high-energy, high-power density lithium-ion battery chemistry adaptable to the form factor commonly used in electric mobility applications is the energy storage breakthrough that has led to the development and rapid proliferation of electric mobility devices. Lithium-ion batteries enable the storage of sufficient energy and the delivery of sufficient power to make electric cars and micromobility devices practical and useful for any number of transportation missions.
However, lithium-ion batteries, like any energy-dense storage medium, carry risks associated with the uncontrolled release of the energy they hold. Gasoline is an excellent analogy. Careless storage, use, or handling of gasoline can result in tragic consequences. But we have learned how to safely utilize the latent energy in gasoline. Since the onset of practical automobiles, and until just recently, gasoline has been the energy storage media of choice for most of our mobility needs. We have learned how to benefit from gasoline in a multitude of applications.
Fortunately, we have developed a comparable level of competence with respect to our management of the energy contained in these lithium-ion batteries. We know how to engineer, manufacture, assemble, and integrate these batteries into our mobility devices. Properly designed, produced, and used lithium-ion battery packs are safe and reliable for this incredibly important application, with a very low probability of catastrophic failure. When they do fail, it is usually due to misuse, damage, or other factors that are out of our control.
However, this remaining probability of failure is sufficient to require protocols, policies, procedures, infrastructure, training, and education to ensure the safety of the supply chain, including retailers. Compliance standards, testing, and certification are essential to both retailers and consumer safety, including warnings, owner’s manuals, and education. As the Fire Department of New York already knows and is advocating – lithium-ion battery fires have “changed the game” relative to how the professionals fight lithium-ion battery source fires.
Since leaving EV Global Motors, I have acted in engineering management roles for several electric bike companies including American Electric Cycles & Fitness, Ultra Motor, and Pedego. I have acted as a consultant to e-bike battery pack manufacturers including Taiwan-based TD High Tech Energy Corporation, China-based Phylion Battery Company, and DLG Battery Company.
My responsibilities associated with these companies oftentimes involved investigating lithium-ion battery pack failures resulting in catastrophic fires. I have seen, up-close and personal, the aftermath of these failures. I have participated in battery fire analysis at world-class engineering laboratories including Exponent and National Bureau of Standards.
Fortunately, the companies with which I have been associated produce high-quality battery products. However, as noted above, even the best battery packs can fail under certain circumstances, usually out of the control of the pack makers. These failures have been rare, and closely analyzed.
I have been particularly focused on the fires occurring in New York City. I attended the symposium sponsored by FDNY in September 2022. I witnessed the failures induced by FDNY to graphically demonstrate the destructive power of the uncontrolled, spontaneous release of the energy contained in an e-mobility battery pack. I have had numerous conversations and a follow-up meeting with FDNY since. I have volunteered my services as a liaison between FDNY and the e-bike industry given my experience and network within the industry.
Those of us in the e-bike industry that recognize and embrace our responsibility to provide quality products have an excellent track record of providing safe products to our customers. Batteries used in quality products rarely fail catastrophically.
Unfortunately, not everyone in this business brings the diligence and care necessary to develop safe, lithium-ion battery-powered micromobility products.
It is my opinion that the battery fire issue in New York City is the result of distributors importing and selling cheap electric bicycles that use poorly engineered, poorly constructed lithium-ion battery packs utilizing sub-standard, defective battery cells. Further, these packs are utilized under harsh service conditions, abused by using mismatched battery chargers, and are serviced by individuals not qualified to perform such service.
Looking in retrospect, we have failed to implement appropriate mandatory standards, use and safety protocols, and broad-based education for our constituencies necessary to ensure the safe and reliable utilization of this remarkable energy storage technology.
This lack of oversight has allowed the introduction of dangerous e-mobility products into our streams of commerce. We have failed to implement controls to block the importation of substandard battery products by unscrupulous distributors more interested in profits than consumer safety. We have failed to design and implement a distribution infrastructure that can mitigate and contain the effects manifest when one of these packs fails.
I clearly have a vested interest in the widespread adoption of e-bikes. I have devoted the bulk of my career to the development and refinement of these marvelous machines.
Society in general also has a vested interest in the adoption of these clean and efficient vehicles as we combat our current climate change crisis. E-bikes can and will make a difference as we move from cars to e-bikes for personal, short-range transportation needs.
But the situation in New York threatens to slow the adoption of light electric transportation and delay the benefits associated with their widespread usage. This situation involves a very small segment of this industry. But negative news coverage of the tragic consequences of the failures of substandard battery packs is creating concern in the minds of our prospective customers, which is certainly understandable! What consumer wants to buy a product that threatens the safety of their home and loved ones?
Action is required now. The only effective short-term solution to the battery fire issue is to purge these poor-quality, dangerous packs from circulation and use in NYC and elsewhere.
Beyond immediate action, Human Powered Solutions will continue to support the National Bicycle Dealers Association with its efforts to raise awareness of these issues and its work to develop and circulate best practices for dealing with lithium-ion batteries in their retail outlets. We will continue to support the NBDA as it lobbies for the development, promulgation, and enforcement of appropriate standards. We will continue to support the NBDA as it further lobbies for revision of our current ‘di minimis’ rules as they relate to the ability to import products that represent a substantial hazard to American micromobility consumers.
I am available for questions and further discussion.
Contact Mike Fritz: firstname.lastname@example.org