Bipartisan bill addressing lithium-ion battery fires awaits congressional action
by Dana Forsythe
Washington DC (UPI) Jan 29, 2024
With electric bikes growing in popularity, poorly manufactured lithium-ion batteries and electronics have led to a spate of fires. New congressional legislation aims to fix the problem.
With bipartisan support, members of the House and Senate, including U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., hope to implement safety standards for manufacturing the small but powerful batteries.
According to Torres, deaths associated with e-bike fires have steadily risen since 2019. In an interview with Bronx12 in January, Torres said he was optimistic the bill that provides more safety measures, will move forward.
“I’m confident that we’re going to pass it on a bipartisan basis this year,” he said.
In addition to powering devices like smartphones, laptops and power tools, lithium-ion batteries are in many of the devices used every day, including e-bikes. When these batteries are damaged, they can overheat, catch on fire and potentially lead to explosions.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, e-bike and e-scooter battery fires have been associated with faulty charging equipment, improper charging practices and overloaded electrical circuits.
In December, HR 1797, also known as the “Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-Ion Batteries Act,” was introduced in the House and referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee.
If passed, it would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission “to promulgate a consumer product safety standard with respect to rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in micromobility devices, and for other purposes.”
A companion bill in the Senate, S.1008, was introduced March 28 and referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Gabe Knight, safety policy analyst for Consumer Reports, said that in New York City alone, 267 fires and 18 deaths linked to unsafe lithium-ion batteries in micro mobility devices occurred in 2023.
“Tragically, some of those deaths involved children,” he told UPI. “This marks a significant increase from 2022, in which there were six such deaths in New York City. Nationally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recorded 19 deaths linked to micro mobility fires from Jan. 1, 2021, through Nov. 28, 2022.”
The U.S. e-bike market size was valued at $1.98 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow some 15.6% a year from 2023 to 2030, according to Grandview Research.
The boom results largely from people adopting electric bikes for daily commutes, growing environmental concern for reducing carbon emissions and the increased support by the U.S. government.
By 2030, the global market for e-bokes is projected to reach just under 77.3 million e-bikes by 2030, according to Statista.
Knight said Consumer Reports strongly supports the bill and has urged every member of Congress to join the effort. The bill has has received endorsement from the Fire Department of New York, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, delivery services like GrubHub and Doordash, and organizations like PeopleForBikes.
“Some people see all e-bikes as dangerous and others will understand that some are safer than others, said Brandale Randolph, CEO and founder of the 1854 Cycling Co., an electric bike manufacturer based in Boston.
The company is preparing to deliver the Bowditch e-bike to law enforcement agencies this summer.
“The e-bike fires are very similar to the fires happening with low quality scooters, hoverboards and even fully electric vehicles in that companies are looking for lower-cost ways of making lithium-Ion based storage systems,” Randolph said.
Randolph said his company has transitioned away from lithium-ion batteries and developed “safer higher quality energy systems,” which has priced them out of the retail market.
Kevin Cox, President of Electra Bicycle Co., said his firm has focused on safety and aesthetics with its most recent lines of e-bikes. Electra makes a wide variety of e-bikes from cruisers to commuter models like the Ponto Go!
“Motors and batteries that have undergone testing and meet U.S. and global regulatory standards are a must, as are quality components and safety features,” Cox said. “Consumers must make sure their e-bike or any e-bike they are thinking of purchasing is equipped with a battery that is UL2849 certified.”
UL 2849 is “the standard for electrical systems for e-Bikes, for the electrical system of any powered bicycle sold, distributed, leased or rented in New York City,” according to Consumer Product Safety Commission.
In addition , Cox said, riders should only use the manufacturer’s battery charger that came with their e-bike and store the bike in a cool, dry place when put away for long periods of time.
“While many bikes these days are sold online, it’s essential consumers know whether their local bike shop can provide the necessary support and service for their new purchase,” he said.
“E-bikes are more complex and will require additional servicing to keep them in the best and safest condition. Pay attention to who you buy an e-bike from. This purchase should be no different than any other large purchase one would make.”