Lithium-Ion Batteries to Blame for E-Bikes Catching Fire
ATLANTA, GA. — Electronic bikes, or e-bikes for short, have become a common sight around big cities like Atlanta. E-bikes offer a convenient, low-cost, and efficient method of getting around in places where vehicular traffic often chokes streets. As their popularity grows and their use increases, the short-comings of e-bikes have begun to unmask themselves. Across the country, e-bikes have caught fire due to the lithium-ion batteries which fuel the e-bike’s motor. Ride.Tech reported recently that electric bicycles had caught fire in Seattle, San Diego, Brooklyn, and elsewhere in the United States. Fortunately, no rider sustained any burns or other injuries. *
Lithium-ion battery fires start as a result of a phenomenon known as a thermal runway. Thermal runway happens when the temperature in the battery cells continues to increase. At the point of critical mass, as described by Ride.Tech, the battery continues to generate heat from chemical reactions that produce oxygen. Consequently, oxygen production generates more heat.
A thermal runway is typically not a problem encountered with e-bikes unless there is damage to the battery cells. The damage to the battery cells could create a short-circuit or occur if the lithium-ion battery overheated while charging. A similar condition is known to exist in the lithium-ion batteries that power Tesla vehicles as well.
E-bike manufacturers understand the problem and have taken steps to prevent fires. In fact, they found that cylindrical battery cells have a higher capacity to contain heat than flatter battery cells. Flatter battery cells destabilize more rapidly than their cylindrical counterparts. A customer looking for a safe e-bike should understand that cylindrical battery cells are expensive to produce. Therefore, cheaper e-bike models could have batteries that might ignite a fire. Furthermore, damage to the battery cells often happens as result of either dropping the bike on the battery pack or as an act of vandalism.
E-bike riders can protect themselves. They should keep a fire extinguisher handy just in case there is a fire, use the correct charger for the battery, and always supervise the e-bike while it is in charge mode.
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