e-bikes are great to reduce emissions but they keep catching on fire

At least 19 people have been killed and hundreds injured in New York City alone over the past three years due to fires caused by lithium-ion batteries that power e-bikes and e-scooters, highlighting serious safety risks related to these products.

E-bikes have soared in popularity due to their convenience and ability to assist riders up hills and on longer trips. But the batteries that power the vehicles – especially low-quality, uncertified ones – have proven dangerously volatile. Many e-bike and e-scooter batteries are imported from China with little oversight and do not meet U.S. safety standards.

E-Bike Fires Have Claimed the Lives of 13 People in NY Alone in 2023

In a January 2022 incident, a 21-year-old woman in London died after her e-bike battery caught fire. The London Fire Brigade has responded to e-bike or e-scooter battery fires almost twice a day this year. While reputable brands have not been implicated, shoddily installed aftermarket batteries have caused several fires.

In New York City, faulty lithium-ion batteries have claimed 13 lives thus far in 2023 compared to six deaths these same incidents caused last year. Most recently on April 19, 2022, a battery fire in an e-bike repair shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side spread to apartments above, killing four people, including a 71-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman.

Also read: How to Invest in Clean Energy in 2023 – Beginner’s Guide

The fires have disproportionately impacted low-income delivery workers who rely on e-bikes to make a living but cannot afford the higher-quality, certified batteries that cost over $1,000. Many settle for cheap, uncertified batteries that sell for a fraction of the cost but are prone to overheating and catching fire.

The New York City Fire Department advises only using batteries certified by UL Solutions, a global safety certification company. The city council recently banned the sale of uncertified e-bikes, scooters, and batteries. However, this does little to help the many New Yorkers already using uncertified equipment that they cannot afford to replace.

E-Bike Ownership and Sales Are Expanding and Fire Statistics Could Get Out of Hand

Advocacy groups are calling on the gig economy companies that rely on delivery workers, like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub, to provide financial assistance for workers to buy certified equipment. However, the companies’ contributions to date have been minimal.

Solutions under consideration include battery swap programs to exchange uncertified batteries for certified ones, though this faces technical hurdles. Small charging hubs in high-traffic areas are another proposal, though resistance from wealthy residents has stalled progress.

Unless decisive action is taken, fires caused by unstable lithium-ion e-bike batteries will continue to kill and injure innocent citizens across the globe.

The New York City Fire Department commissioner Laura Kavanagh has implored the U.S. government to promote stricter regulations and oversee imported batteries more closely. Until there are affordable certified batteries widely available and education around safe battery use, fires will persist.

Also read: Paris Votes to Ban E-Scooters in Huge Blow to Industry

The deadliness of these fires is what has scared authorities the most. In this regard, Kavanagh stated: “The volume of fire created by these lithium-ion batteries is incredibly deadly … We’ve said this over and over: it can make it nearly impossible to get out in time.”

According to data from Statista, the size of the global market for electric bikes is expected to more than double from 2021 to 2027, moving from $26.7 billion to $53.5 billion. This implies a tremendous increase in the number of bike riders, stores, and units out there and it increases the odds that the faulty battery problem can get out of hand.

In the United Kingdom, around 1 in 20 people currently own an e-bike while usage among owners is reportedly high with over 90% of them reporting that they have used the product as a mean of transportation every single week at least once.