E-Bikes & Growing Concerns About Fire Risks

1,190 views

Electronic Bikes (ebikes) are an increasingly popular consumer product, designed to assist cyclists by applying electrical energy to the cadence of pedaling- thus helping people up hills or on longer rides with a motor assist that adds to the power produced by turning the pedals with your feet.  These ebikes are increasingly popular- and municipalities all over the Lower Mainland are trying to shift commuters out of vehicles and onto mass transit and bicycles to alleviate some of the worst impacts of climate change (amongst other good reasons, such as the benefits of exercise and fresh air). Various levels of government are incentivizing the purchase of ebikes with rebates to further drive uptake in this burgeoning industry.  The goal of this is certainly commendable, especially when it comes to lessening our dependance on commuter vehicles on a day to day basis, something that will reduce our individual carbon emissions and thus our impact on our ecology.

That said, there is growing awareness of the downsides of this new technology- the most notable being the risk of fire from these devices.

Most ebikes are powered by batteries using lithium ion.  Other devices we use daily, such as our electric vehicles, cell phones and other “smart” devices utilize lithium ion batteries.  As noted by the Vancouver Fire Services (their notice which can be used as a poster in your properties can be found here) lithium ion batteries are the “number 1 cause of fire deaths in Vancouver” (as of June 2022).

The growing risk associated with these devices is very much highlighted by a recent fire in New York City which resulted in the deaths of 4 individuals and which is written about in the most recent issue of The Atlantic which has been archived here.

Though we’ve yet to see any action from insurers on this point other than raising awareness (such as in this bulletin from BFL Canada), it’s very possible that they eventually *require* certain steps to be taken to mitigate against their own risk.  It would be far better to be proactive in implementing measures to encourage residents to first and foremost only purchase bikes and batteries from reputable and certified installers, but to also implement best practices when it comes to charging.

More and more Strata Councils are asking about how to mitigate the risk from these devices.  Some common sense steps that can be taken including prohibiting devices that do not have UL (or the Canadian Equivalents, cUL or ULC) certification.  You can read more about UL certification here.  We do not profess to be experts in this area, but based on the advice of experts it seems obvious that many (if not most) of these fires are the result of inexpensive off-shore brands that do not bother to obtain UL certification.  UL Certification provides comfort and peace of mind that the underlying technology, most notably the control systems for the batteries contained within these devices, maintain basic safety standards based on a rigorous and thorough review by an independent body.  Prohibiting devices without these certifications is a sort of “least intrusive” step Strata Councils could take to mitigate the risk.  Another step which is becoming increasingly common is to prohibit these devices being left to charge overnight (when they can heat up without notice and eventually catch fire).  Enforcement is a practical challenge with both of these measures (who will inspect bikes and chargers to ensure they’re certified?  Who will patrol bike rooms at night to make sure nothing is plugged in?  These are open questions) but all the same Councils could consider implementing these bylaws to discourage the use of uncertified equipment and deter overnight charging, both of which increase the risk of fire.

This is a developing area and the increased adoption of ebikes will only lead to further increased risk, especially as the market is something of a “wild west” right now with thousands of new entrants all competing with each other for market share.  Implementing some common sense Rules can yield a material reduction in risk for Strata Corporations.


With the assistance of others, we’ve put together this list of commonly asked questions about the underlying reasons for this risk and other best practices you can consider when devising Rules appropriate for your property.

What causes E-Bike batteries to catch on fire and how can I prevent this from happening?

Electric bicycle (e-bike) batteries can catch fire due to various factors, but the most common causes include:

Overcharging: Overcharging the battery can lead to overheating and potentially cause a fire. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for charging duration and use the correct charger specifically designed for your e-bike battery.

Physical damage: Physical damage to the battery, such as punctures or impacts, can cause internal short circuits and thermal runaway, leading to a fire hazard. Handle the battery with care and avoid subjecting it to rough treatment.

Manufacturing defects: In rare cases, manufacturing defects in the battery or its components can increase the risk of fire. These defects could include issues with the battery cells, connectors, or internal circuitry. Choosing reputable manufacturers and purchasing quality batteries can help minimize this risk.

Extreme temperatures: Exposure to extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can impact the performance and safety of e-bike batteries. High temperatures can cause the battery to overheat, while extremely low temperatures can reduce battery efficiency. Avoid leaving your e-bike in direct sunlight or in extremely cold conditions for prolonged periods.

 

To prevent e-bike battery fires, consider the following safety measures:

Use the right charger: Always use the charger provided by the e-bike manufacturer or a compatible charger recommended by them. Avoid using third-party or generic chargers that may not have undergone proper testing or meet safety standards.

Follow charging guidelines: Adhere to the recommended charging duration and avoid overcharging the battery. Once the battery is fully charged, disconnect it from the charger.

Inspect the battery regularly: Periodically inspect the battery for any physical damage, such as dents, punctures, or swelling. If you notice any signs of damage or abnormalities, stop using the battery and consult a professional for inspection or replacement.

Store the battery correctly: When not in use, store the battery in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. Avoid storing it near flammable materials.

Avoid extreme temperatures: Whenever possible, keep your e-bike and its battery in a moderate temperature range. Avoid exposing the battery to extreme heat or cold for extended periods.

Consider a fire-resistant bag: Some e-bike owners choose to store their batteries in fire-resistant bags as an extra safety measure. These bags are designed to contain and mitigate the effects of a battery fire.

Remember, while these measures can help reduce the risk of fire, it is essential to prioritize your safety. If you suspect any issues with your e-bike battery, such as overheating, unusual odors, or smoke, discontinue use immediately, move away from flammable objects, and contact emergency services if necessary.

 

How do I know if the manufacturer of my E-Bike battery is reputable?

Determining the reputation of an electric bicycle (e-bike) battery manufacturer requires some research and consideration. Here are a few steps you can take to assess the reputation of an e-bike battery manufacturer:

Research the Brand: Start by researching the brand of your e-bike battery. Look for information about the company’s history, their experience in the industry, and their overall reputation. Consider factors such as the number of years they have been in operation, their track record, and any notable achievements or awards they may have received.

Check Customer Reviews: Look for customer reviews and feedback about the specific e-bike battery or batteries produced by the manufacturer. Online marketplaces, e-bike forums, and social media platforms can be valuable sources of information. Read both positive and negative reviews to gain a comprehensive understanding of the customer experience and satisfaction with the brand’s batteries.

Evaluate Safety Certifications: Reputable e-bike battery manufacturers typically ensure their products comply with safety certifications and standards. Check if the manufacturer’s batteries have certifications such as UN/DOT 38.3, IEC 62133, UL 1642, or other relevant certifications based on your specific region or application. Certification marks and labels on the battery or the manufacturer’s website can indicate their commitment to safety.

Look for Warranty and Support: A reputable manufacturer stands behind their products and offers warranties or guarantees for their e-bike batteries. Check if the manufacturer provides a warranty period, the terms and conditions of the warranty, and the availability of customer support or after-sales service. A solid warranty can be an indicator of a manufacturer’s confidence in their product’s quality and reliability.

Seek Recommendations: Seek recommendations from e-bike enthusiasts, owners, or experts within the e-bike community. Engage in e-bike forums or social media groups related to e-bike ownership and inquire about the experiences of others with different battery manufacturers. Their insights and recommendations can help you gauge the reputation of various manufacturers in the market.

Consider Brand Reputation: Consider the overall reputation and standing of the e-bike brand itself. Established and reputable e-bike manufacturers often partner with reliable battery manufacturers. If your e-bike brand is well-known and respected, it is likely that they have collaborated with reputable battery manufacturers.

By combining these research methods, you can gain a better understanding of the reputation of an e-bike battery manufacturer. Remember to consider factors such as safety certifications, customer reviews, warranty and support, and recommendations from trusted sources to make an informed decision about the manufacturer’s reputation and the quality of their e-bike batteries.