NYC holds hearing about e-bike lithium-ion battery fire safety

The New York City Council held an oversight hearing on Monday about e-bike safety, just over a week after a fire in Manhattan sparked by an e-bike battery left dozens injured and prompted a dramatic FDNY rescue.

The grassroots organization Concerned Citizens for Battery Swapping says there have been more than 60 New York City building fires connected to lithium-ion batteries so far in 2022. The FDNY puts the number at nearly 200 and says battery fires have also claimed six lives citywide this year.

"When it starts to go into what we call thermal runaway, we have a tremendous amount of heat that's generated, it's not safely able to be dissipated," FDNY Assistant Chief Tom Currao told FOX 5 NY. "It causes a chain reaction where we literally have a very fast fire and with explosive force."

RELATED:  Why fires caused by batteries are a big concern in NYC

E-bikes have become popular in recent years because they’re affordable, easy to use and don’t take up too much space. However, the batteries used to charge them can easily ignite if they overheat or are not charged properly.

"You can almost describe them as explosive fires — they come without warning," FDNY Chief Fire Marshal Dan Flynn said. "When they do go on fire, it ignites all of the combustibles in the area around them."

Many buildings have prohibited e-bikes. Some New Yorkers are calling for a swap to LFP battery packs, which they say are proven to be more sustainable, safer to be stored inside and less likely to catch fire.

Elected officials plan to introduce legislation that would require the fire department to create educational campaigns about fire risks posed by e-bikes.

Bright flames from a lithium-ion battery fire

A lithium-ion battery fire. (FDNY Image)

Why Can Batteries Catch Fire?

The batteries' electrolyte — a solution that lets electrical current flow — is flammable, explained Massachusetts Institute of Technology materials chemistry professor Dr. Donald Sadoway. The substance was chosen for its ability to handle the voltage involved, but fires can happen if the batteries are overcharged, overheated, defective or damaged, for instance.

RELATED:  Battery triggers fire at bike shop in Queens

Bright flames from a lithium-ion battery fire

A lithium-ion battery fire. (FDNY Image)

Over the years, problems have periodically triggered fires involving laptops, cellphones, hoverboards, electric vehicles, airplanes and battery-power storage installations. A U.N. aviation agency said in 2016 that lithium-ion batteries shouldn't be shipped on passenger planes.

Battery industry group leader James Greenberger noted that other energy sources aren't trouble-free, and he said there's nothing inherently unsafe about the batteries. But he said the industry is concerned about the fires lately in New York and worries that they could scare off consumers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bright flames from a lithium-ion battery fire

A lithium-ion battery fire. (FDNY Image)