Fire & Rescue, Fire Safety

7 tips to mitigate the risks of lithium-ion battery fires at home

As e-bikes and e-scooter ownership increases in the UK, experts are warning of the fire risk posed by the lithium-ion batteries used in the vehicles and how best to keep safe at home.

In 2019, there were just eight fires recorded in London from e-bikes and e-scooters. In 2021, there were 59. The growing concern in the Capital has even seen privately owned e-vehicles (EVs) banned on London tubes and busses following an incident which saw an e-scooter catch fire in an underground station.

Although lithium-ion batteries have been used for years in household items such as smartphones and electric toothbrushes, over a million e-bikes and scooters are in use across the UK that require a higher charging frequency – causing alarm amongst the wider fire industry.

What is a lithium-ion battery?

Lithium-ion batteries use lithium ions to generate power. With a single cell lithium battery, once the cell has released all of its energy, the battery has finished its life. However, the lithium-ion batteries used in devices such as mobile phones, laptops, power tools and EVs, have a larger number of cells and can be recharged many times.

Being small, lightweight and capable of storing a large amount of energy are just a few of the benefits associated with the use of lithium-ion batteries. However, as they are also volatile under stress, the failure of a lithium battery (usually due to a short circuit or damage from overcharging, overheating, penetration or crushing) makes them a high fire risk. Overheating lithium-ion batteries create fierce fires, releasing toxic smoke, and are now occurring at the rate of at least six a week in the UK, according to The Guardian.

Ferocious fires caused by lithium-ion batteries

In June 2022, it required 60 firefighters to tackle a large blaze at a high-rise building in Shephard’s Bush caused by the failure of an e-bike lithium-ion battery, prompting London Fire Brigade to voice concerns around the “ferocity” of rapid fires caused by batteries and chargers igniting.

Then in October 2022, Hammersmith and Fulham Council called for a ban on “dangerous” e-bike chargers due to the fire risk they pose, arguing that many sold online do not meet the UK’s minimum safety requirements. There are also many safety issues arising from converter kits, which are lithium-ion battery packs designed to convert a standard bike to an e-bike. With rising numbers of these converter kits sold online, which do not meet UK safety regulations, concerns are growing around the increased fire risk.

Due to many fires involving poorly manufactured goods that do not comply with British or European standards, advice from The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is to ensure any e-bikes, e-scooters, chargers and batteries are purchased from reputable retailers.

7 tips to mitigate the risks of lithium-ion battery fires

  1. Use branded, genuine products and charging devices bought from reputable retailers that meet UK safety standards
  2. Never charge electric bikes or e-scooters while you are sleeping or not at home and unplug once it has finished charging
  3. Don’t leave continuously on charge (lithium-ion batteries don’t perform well if constantly charged from 1% to 100% – a good charging range is from 20 to 80%)
  4. Never block escape routes with a e-bike or e-scooter
  5. Never cover the charger as this could lead to it overheating or setting on fire and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  6. Be wary of DIY kits bought online to convert a standard bike into an e-bike
  7. When disposing of a lithium-ion battery or electrical device don’t put into your general rubbish, follow manufacturer’s instructions for disposal

Fire Kills raises awareness of e-vehicle safety in the home

This year’s Fire Kills campaign is also raising awareness on the rise in e-bike, e-scooter and e-vehicle related fires, and the importance of having working smoke alarms installed on every floor of your home. Find out more fire safety tips for keeping protected at home on the Fire Kills website, or follow along with the campaign on social media using the hashtag #ChargeSafe and #FireKills.

Ensure you have working smoke and heat alarms in your home to be alerted to the first signs of fire. For more safety advice on EV fires and keeping safe from lithium-ion battery fires, Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue has further information and guidance.