The Rise & Risk of E-bikes
From the Summer 2023 issue of the CCI South Alberta CCI Review
Lithium-ion Batteries in Electric Bikes
Electric bicycle sales have significantly increased in the past few years as commuters face challenges. Increased gas prices, commuting costs, and avoiding vehicle traffic are just some of the many reasons why individuals have chosen e-bikes as their mode of transportation. The hike in these purchases have also highlighted the risks associated with them -including, but not limited to, battery fires or explosions.
NPR.org notes that “four times a week on average, an e-bike or e-scooter battery catches fire in New York City.” This alarming statistic is reason enough to understand the risk and potential solutions that can be implemented to protect against personal injury and property damage when using e-bikes.
Lithium-ion Battery Fires
Lithium-Ion batteries are not just found in e-bikes, they are used in phones, laptops or powertools. They are widely popular because of the inherent benefits associated with them. These batteries are rechargable, store a high amount of energy in a small space and can last a relatively long period of time without the need for constant recharging. However, when the battery does run out or in the alternative, proper protections are not built-in, a failing battery can overheat, eject gas, projectiles, and result in flames causing a fast spreading fire. Lithiumion batteries are generally composed of several individual cells packed together which contain a highly combustible electrolyte fluid that can ignite when damaged or exposed to extreme temperatures. These fires or explosions can occur in a matter of seconds, and without prior warning.
Ideally, the individual cells found in lithium-ion batteries should be designed with certain safety measures to prevent overheating. This includes: Battery Management System (BMS) – prevents batteries from over-charging.
Pressure-sensitive vent holes – when there is a risk of overpressure, the vent holes will release the extra pressure and prevent other cells from catching fire.
Separator fuse – made of polyolefin material which melts when the battery is overheated and stops the transport of energy within the battery itself, essentially “shuts down” the battery. Positive Temperature Coefficient – protects the battery from current surges.
Common causes of lithium battery combustion include:
- Manufacturing and/or design flaws
- Use of low quality components, missing protection features
- Physical damage to the battery
- Exposure to extremely warm, cold, or wet conditions
- Improper use or using the wrong charger or power adapter.
What to Do in the Event of an E-bike Fire
If you own an e-bike that catches fire or are involved in a fire caused by someone else’s e-bike, it is best to evacuate the area and call 911 immediately. Although it may be tempting to try to put out the fire yourself, lithium battery fires are highly dangerous and very difficult to extinguish. The best course of action is to protect your own safety and allow the fire department to handle the fire.hubinternational.com
Tips for Preventing Fires
These same steps can also be applied to any device powered by a lithium battery to reduce the risk of batteries failing.
- Purchase certified equipment (i.e. UL, FCC, ROHS, etc) batteries which have gone through rigorous testing and have proper protections in place.
- Avoid purchasing used batteries or chargers. Do not use aftermarket batteries or chargers.
- Read the owner’s manual and strictly adhere to manufacturer precautions and instructions for storing, charging, use, etc.
- Always use the battery charger, cord, and power adapter provided by the manufacturer.
- Do not use power patch leads or extension cords; only plug the charger directly into the wall main supply.
- Avoid leaving your battery unattended during charging, and do not leave it charging overnight. Disconnect the battery right away once it is fully charged.
- Keep the battery away from flammable materials such as combustible walls/floors/ceilings, upholstery, or clothing while it’s charging or in use. This will not prevent the battery from catching fire but it may stop the spread of the fire and minimize property damage or personal injury.
- Keep batteries and devices at room temperature. Extreme hot or cold temperatures can harm the battery. Do not place them in direct sunlight.
- Do not block exits with an e-bike.
- If a battery overheats or you notice an odor, a change in shape or color, leaking, or odd noises, stop using it immediately.
- Routinely check batteries for damage or any other abnormal conditions, especially before charging and after any accidental drops.
- Replace batteries when they are close to the end of their charging cycles (typically 250-400 cycles or 1.5 to 2 years; refer to manufacturer for life cycle).
Lithium-ion batteries in e-bikes can be dangerous, but they don’t have to be. When used correctly and according to manufacturer’s instructions, they can help alleviate some of the concerns that commuters have. Always purchase certified, tested, batteries and utilize the tips listed above to help mitigate potential fires.
DISCLAIMER: Neither Hub International Limited nor any of its affiliated companies is a law or accounting firm, and therefore they cannot provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is provided for general information only, and is not intended to constitute legal or tax advice as to an organization’s specific circumstances. It is based on Hub International’s understanding of the law as it exists on the date of this publication. Subsequent developments may result in this information becoming outdated or incorrect and Hub International does not have an obligation to update this information. You should consult an attorney, accountant, or other legal or tax professional regarding the application of the general information provided here to your organization’s specific situation in light of your organization’s particular needs.
By Jason Stallard, HUB International Insurance Brokers
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