An e-bike that was engulfed in flames on a busy Manhattan street earlier this month is one of at least 166 lithium battery fires reported in the last seven months across New York City – four happened in just 24 hours – killing two and injuring 61 people.
The group of lithium battery fires, one in Brooklyn and three in Manhattan, scorched through residential areas in April, leaving behind burnt homes 12 injured people.
The deaths, one in February and another in March, were two men who were burned by a flames that started while their e-bikes were plugged in at home. They both died from the injuries weeks after the incidents.
The grave statistics led the the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) to issue a stark warning to e-bike owners that urges them to stop using an overheating battery immediately and follow the manufacture’s instructions for charging and storing.
Experts are blaming the fires on cheap e-bikes, the volume of delivery drivers using them and overuse of a battery that is damaged.
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New York City has seen more than 100 fires started by e-bikes this year. This is due to damaged or faulty batteries. This incident was captured earlier this month
The e-bike sat engulfed in flames on a busy Manhattan street as pedestrians and cyclists passed
Mike Mike Fritz, co-founder of Human Powered Solutions, a bicycle consulting firm, told DailyMail.com that New York City has become the epicenter of e-bike fires and it is due to a massive influx of delivery personnel using the battery-powered cycles to zip from one drop off to the next. There are at least 65,000 delivery bikers in the city.
Because many are of low-income status, they are unable to afford a new $900 battery or purchases one from third-party sites that are pushing out defective cells and battery management systems that are vital to regulating the function of the battery pack and temperature.
‘A cheap pack is a prominent incident and is the cause of most of the fires,’ Fritz told DailyMail.com.
This year has also surpassed 2021 in battery fires – there were 100 fires all of last year.
E-bikes are the go-to vehicle for delivery workers because it provides them with an added push that does not require them to exert themselves while peddling.
This is obtained through an electrical component on the cycle, which is in turn powered by a lithium battery.
A battery is made up of an anode, cathode, separator, electrolyte and two current collectors – a positive and negative.
The lithium is stored in both the anode and cathode.
The electrolyte carries positively charged lithium ions from the anode to the cathode and vice versa through the separator.
However, when the separator is compromised heat builds up and boils the electrolytes.
Pressure then builds up in the cylinders and when it cannot take anymore, electrolytes leave out in a gas that combusts as soon as it hits the air.
Fritz explains that it is a slow burning fire that quickly turns into a giant blaze.
The fires are not just happening with e-bikes on the go, but are becoming a major problem for those plugged into New York City homes and apartments.
The FDNY issued a warning recently, after it battled four fires in just 24 hours. Pictured right is the damage inside the house after the fire was put out
The fire was started by an e-bike that was allegedly left in the wall charging
The dramatic uptick in e-bike fires is due to a massive influx of delivery personnel using the battery-powered cycles to zip from one drop off to the next. Pictured are a group of charred e-bikes laying on a Brooklyn street. The fire happened in May of this year
‘It is impossible to put out a lithium fire,’ said Fritz. ‘You need to interrupt the cell to cell propagation or just let it run out of fuel.’
‘One precaution is never charge a battery unattended, don’t plug it in and walk away. If a failure occurs you have time to intervene.’
Fritz, who is an advocate for e-bikes, hopes these incidents are not deterring the public from owning an e-bike.
‘This is a serious issue and awareness is the best short term solution,’ he said.
‘There are technical solutions on the horizon, but until they’re here, we have to raise awareness.’