Scooters, electric bicycles... fire risks at high speed!

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Stéphanie Obadia

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12506 Last modified by the author on 02/02/2023 - 12:26
Scooters, electric bicycles... fire risks at high speed!

Domestic fires have multiplied since the arrival of scooters, bicycles, motorized hoverboards... The risk is growing and could become problematic according to experts.

A charging electric scooter and the battery exploding: this is the hypothesis favored by the investigators to explain the fire which cost the life of a mother in Loiret, in France, in May 2022. Same at the end of December, in Puteaux where the fire spreads over the three floors of a residential building. The same goes for a bicycle that caused a fire in a house in May in Seine Maritime (La-Chapelle-sur-Dun) or even for an electric car that exploded in Vannes in January 2023. Cases are also increasing everywhere in the world. 'foreign. Their common points: lithium batteries. Unfortunately, these examples are not isolated cases. If no figures are really available on this type of fire today - the phenomenon of carbon-free mobility being still recent - the National Observatory for Electrical Safety, ONSE, estimates that between 20 and 35% of fires in dwelling would be mainly from an electrical source due to the components of the installation or the connected equipment (and 1/3 to unsuitable behaviour). No precise figures, therefore, but one certainty: fires caused by lithium batteries in motorized personal transport vehicles (EDPM) are on the rise. Whether scooters, scooters, Segways, skateboards and electric scooters, hoverboards and monowheels. “With changes in mobility, bicycles, scooters, long rails, etc. have developed, without the infrastructures and bicycle rooms having evolved,” emphasizes Jean-Baptiste Thevenot, in charge of mobility at A4MT. . “Individuals do not leave their scooters or bicycles in the dedicated premises or car parks for fear of having them stolen or simply because the infrastructure is not suitable. They then take them up to their apartment, which is not without danger,” he continues. The risk of fire is indeed real, in particular during their recharging time or when they are stored in a closed place (home or garage). The fire brigade, contacted on the subject did not wish to speak "for the moment" even if they nevertheless consider that "the subject is indeed very interesting" , and that they "keep a close eye on the dangers posed by this type of fire .

Lithium ion batteries

The danger comes from lithium batteries. Unusual and/or excessive conditions of use (overload, short-circuit, presence of an external heat source, etc.) can cause sudden increases in temperature that can lead to fires, explosions or electrolyte leaks ( toxic, flammable and corrosive product, in liquid and gaseous form that should not be breathed). The vapors generated and mixed with the air can then form an explosive atmosphere, regardless of the electrical state of charge of the battery. And therefore a potential explosion. Note however that a battery, even unconnected, can catch fire. And that the risk is real when it is charged: the more the battery is charged, the stronger the power of the fire will be.

“To say that a lithium-ion battery is a dangerous product is a truism,” says David Turmel, director of operations at Corepile, an eco-organization that collects and recycles batteries and small batteries. “There have already been cases of tablets catching fire on airplanes. It's necessary to be vigilant. In our warehouses, the batteries once recovered are all dischargedand stored in specific rooms with thermal cameras and fire detectors. We are equipped to manage the risks”. Dangerous therefore, especially since once on fire, controlling the fire is complicated. "Metal fires, including lithium (an alkali metal), cannot be extinguished with water but with specific class D extinguishers, the battery must first be cooled to stop the fire", explains Jean-Charles du Bellay, fire expert and head of the Department at the FFB. Air transport regulators and the main shipping companies have also enacted very strict rules concerning the transport of these batteries. This is not the case for the moment for housing, offices, public buildings… The subject does not seem to have yet been raised within the Ministry of Ecological Transition in charge of transport. For Jean-Charles Du Bellay, “the administration should look into the subject. For example, by imposing the reloading of EDPMs in a collective 2H firebreak room”.

Scooters and bicycles first concerned

Lithium-ion batteries generally burn out if improperly charged; excessive battery demand; swelling and rupture of the battery due to poor design, manufacture or charging or physical damage which causes uncontrolled contact between the internal parts of the battery... All equipped products are therefore more or less affected by this danger, but even more so scooters, hoverboards, even electric bicycles. “More exposed to shocks than cars, the batteries of these machines are more likely to be damaged and catch fire,” adds Jean-Pascal Berthelot. "In addition to hardware and overheating problems, the danger can also come from manufacturing quality, non-compliance with standards, lack of waterproofing and water infiltration, unauthorized charging via power strips or connections that can cause overheating or faulty electrical installations in buildings and infrastructures,” continues David Turmel. Indeed, if the batteries of bicycles and scooters are normally all equipped with a battery management system (BMS) for voltage monitoring, temperature measurement, etc., only the most qualitative products have sophisticated BMS which monitor also the temperature of the pack and will trigger a cut-out in the event of overheating.

Cars are not necessarily outdone either, especially since some users plug the sockets in directly without adapters! "Car batteries have already ignited, especially for rapid recharging (10-20 min), particularly following an accumulation of power" , explains Jean-Charles du Bellay. "On a slow load, the probability remains very low, however" . It is essential to have at least one reinforced socket for recharging electric car batteries.

85% of non-compliant electrical installations over 15 years old

Another influential element: the non-compliance of electrical installations. Indeed, connecting a battery to non-compliant installations only increases the risk of explosion, short circuit and fire. Which is not reassuring, knowing that 85% of electrical installations over 15 years old have at least one electrical anomaly (faulty earth connection, outdated or unsuitable electrical installation devices,risk of direct contact with live parts or anomaly on the overcurrent protection device (source ONSE)).

"All these installations over 15 years old must be checked by a qualified installer with the key to carrying out compliance work if necessary", continues Renaud Tamberi, general manager of Consuel, the national safety committee for users of the electricity and Patrick Aubelis, director general of ONSE. This is far from being the case because “if these installations have to be checked, 80% of the occupants feel safe even though technically they are not” .

What solutions?

Before any measures, it is recommended to check that the EDPMs are in conformity with the CE marking and not to modify their power. Also, it is advisable to use a suitable charger, or even an adapter, not to use multi-sockets for the power supply of the chargers, to avoid overloads and therefore not to exceed the maximum charging currents authorized by the manufacturer. , plug into a device with an earthed socket, have the electrical installation checked by a qualified professional, never charge the battery without supervision, install a smoke detector, remove all flammable objects from around of the machine. And if the machine has suffered a major shock, have it checked by a professional. Even better, it is preferable not to bring the batteries home but to store them in the dedicated room.

Several solutions are possible such as installing smoke alarm devices (DAAF) connected to the box that can send SMS; the mandatory sprinkler system in car parks or in bicycle rooms or even the strengthening of fire safety in these premises: "today there are more fire constraints for garbage can premises than for bicycles" , indicates Jean-Baptiste Thevenot . Finally, manufacturers are working on new variants of lithium-ion batteries such as those made of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePo4) which is less likely to ignite.

Adapt infrastructure and electrical installations?

New uses due to carbon-free mobility call into question current facilities (infrastructure, parking, facilities, etc.). The regulations are also changing in this direction (see box); bike-boxes or bike spaces in car parks with charging terminals are thus emerging in certain towns in order to store your bike, or lockers with charging are installed in order to store and charge batteries in complete safety. "This new mobility is not ready to stop," says Jean Baptiste Thevenot. “This is why we must adapt the infrastructure and offer secure parking and bicycle storage. We are also pushing the ByCycle initiative in order to support real estate companies in securing these places, offering better signage, or even events around repairs or even learning to ride a bike... In short, to make individuals want to 'use these spaces'.

Cycling regulations in France 

Since 2012, each recent condominium must provide a bicycle room so that residents can park their two-wheelers in asecure. Since December 26, 2022, condominiums that have parking spaces for cars must also offer secure bicycle storage and include one location per accommodation in the latter, with a number of spaces defined according to the importance of the building (at least one space per accommodation for studios to two-room apartments and two spaces for three-room apartments and more). Little forgotten, the case of condominiums without parking space where no obligation is recorded.

An article written by Stéphanie Obadia, Director of Construction21

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