Growing number of battery fires caused by ‘botched conversions’ could slow sector, fears cycling expert

The managing director of a UK bike brand is concerned that ‘botched conversions’ are one of the leading causes of e-bike and e-scooter fires.

Tim Goodall, managing director at Islabikes, also fears that an increasing number of incidents due to illegal imports and unregulated products ‘risks slowing the momentum of the micromobility sector’.

Reacting to a video shared by the London Fire Brigade of an e-scooter battery exploding in a residential property, Goodall said: “In a matter of moments, a faulty lithium battery in an e-bike or e-scooter can cause serious damage and potentially serious injury. In 2023, the London Fire Brigade was called to a fire caused by e-bike or e-scooter every two days.

“As far as we’re aware, the fires are being started by botched conversions, and maybe use batteries that don’t comply with UK regulations. It’s important that consumers do their own research before buying an illegal import. As with any online product, buying the cheapest product available from an unknown brand can come with unexpected risks.”

The video, which can be viewed below, shows the incident which took place at a terraced house on Cecil Road, Harlesden in Brent.

Dell Williams (37) is one of the tenants in the two-storey house and was charging his e-scooter in the kitchen of the property when the fire occurred. Luckily for him, and the other residents, they were not nearby when the incident occurred.

The CCTV footage, captured on two cameras in the hallway and in the kitchen of the property shared by the letting agent, shows how quickly the e-scooter caught alight. Dell attempts to tackle the fire with a fire blanket but is overcome by fumes and exits the property.

Security guard Williams bought the e-scooter from the online marketplace Gumtree, to help him travel around London. He says he was charging the e-scooter in the communal kitchen instead of his room to avoid his dog touching it while it charged.

London Fire Brigade’s deputy commissioner, Dom Ellis, said that while this type of incident is frightening, sadly it is getting more common.

Ellis added: “As the video shows, once a battery starts to go into thermal runaway a fire develops very quickly and can block escape routes. Thermal runaway can lead to the destruction of the battery and a ferocious fire.

“We know prior to ignition thermal runaway can lead to the ejection of a range of gases. The white and grey coloured smoke is not harmless, and the speed at which these incidents develop shouldn’t be ignored.

“Please follow our #ChargeSafe advice and never tackle a fire: get out, stay out and dial 999.”

Incidents such as the aforementioned in London are gaining significant attention online and in the news.

Goodall, an advocate for improvements to infrastructure for micromobility, hopes that an increasing number of fires doesn’t negatively impact the sector.

He said: “We are finally seeing major cities re-evaluate its use of public space and the inefficiency of allocating it to private vehicles, spurring infrastructure developments like bike lines and multi-use paths – an incredibly encouraging and positive development for the emerging sector, which risks being slowed by the unethical practices of a few micromobility players who, evidently, aren’t to be trusted.”

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Goodall also shared some advice for any e-bike and e-scooter users that could help to reduce the risk of a fire when charging a product with lithium battery.

He said: “Purchasing the correct charger from a reputable seller, letting your battery cool before plugging it in and fitting smoke alarms in the area of your home where you charge your e-bike or e-scooter. You should also avoid leaving your e-bike or e-scooter to charge when you aren’t present and aware, such as going out for the day or overnight.

“You might be able to spot the signs of a faulty battery beforehand as well. If your device feels extremely hot to touch – more so than the usual heat generated by a battery in use – then it might be defective. The added heat might also cause it to bulge, leak or swell. Alternatively, you may hear a cracking or hissing noise when using your e-bike or e-scooter or notice a strong or unusual smell.”

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