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Should you Buy an E-Bike/E-Scooter in 2022?

Problem Description


The proliferation of alternative, more environmentally friendly modes of transport has become a priority in modern society considering the escalating cost of fuel. This has resulted in a rapid uptake of Electric Vehicles (EVs) comprising cars, bikes and scooters.

fire engineer scooter

Overshadowing all of the hype behind going green, fire engineers around the world are scrambling to understand how much more of a fire risk having EVs in your homes and businesses presents.


This post provides a short summary on whether it's a good idea to buy an e-scooter or e-bike today by weighing up the pros and cons.


Benefits


With the current cost of new electric cars remaining a barrier for entry to many, the rapidly dropping prices of e-bikes and e-scooters makes them an attractive option for those looking to dip their toes into the EV market. A quick Google search shows that I could buy one today for less than $1000.


Along with being affordable, they make commuting a lot less labor-intensive which may be appealing to the masses. And as a cake-topper, when you're ready to re-energise your vehicle, you just plug it into the wall socket and put your mind at ease knowing that it'll cost a few dollars to put it back to a full charge.


In South Australia, there are currently no registration requirements for e-scooters and e-bikes and maintenance on these things are almost non-existent beyond new tyres every so often and a check on brakes.


Environmental Drawback


With the sunshine and rainbows out of the way, onto the reasons why you shouldn't buy an e-scooter/e-bike. Whilst it is environmentally friendly to use one of these vehicles as your preferred mode of transport, there is the unsolved problem of what happens when these things eventually get thrown out or salvaged.

battery fire safety engineer

The CSIRO paint a bleak situation for lithium battery recycling stating:

"Only 10 per cent of Australia's lithium-ion battery waste was recycled in 2021, compared with 99 per cent of lead acid battery waste"

Where does the rest of this waste go? You guessed it: Landfill. It can cause fires (more on this in a sec) but more importantly, it can contribute to environmental contamination which is very counterproductive to the environmentally-friendly cause you signed up for when you bought one.


The recycling issue should progressively die down when more on-shore lithium battery recycling facilities are constructed.


Lack of Regulation


Given that e-scooters and e-bikes are so new in Australia, there is very little that governs how they're designed and built. What this means is that manufacturers are allowed (more or less) to cut as many corners as they can to save on costs and increase their margins.

worker industrial fire engineers

How does that affect you? Given the general non-servicable nature of e-scooters and e-bikes, if a manufacturer decides to skimp on the quality of the charging infrastructure or the batteries, you'll very quickly find yourself in possession of a very heavy manual scooter/bike with no recourse except to buy another one.


The risk of it malfunctioning and causing electric shock to users is also of major concern too. There are headlines popping up almost daily which raise these types of issues to prompt regulators to step up.


This shortcutting during the design and manufacturing phase can also have catastrophic consequences when it comes to fire risk as well (It's the next part, I swear!)


Hottest Drawback!


Lithium batteries are also not as well understood from a fire perspective when compared to other more conventional battery technologies. There have been a spate of fires across the world with e-scooters/e-bikes at their center. To name a few recent events:

The unfortunate truth is that the race for profits is clouding the focus of manufacturers which should be centered around safety.


What causes these fires? There can be a number of things which can cause an e-bike/e-scooter fire:

  • Over-voltage

  • Over-current

  • Mechanical damage rupturing battery cells

  • External heat sources

All of these issues generally result in the same sort of phenomenon called Thermal Runaway. To spare the technical jargon, the problematic battery cell heats up then it propagates that heat to its neighboring cells and so on until it reaches a point where it catches fire and spreads to other areas of the building.

house fire engineers

Whilst it's understood that homes and businesses have fuel and ignition sources everywhere, lithium battery fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish since they produce their own heat and also their own gases to sustain combustion. Don't believe me? The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) released the following in 2021:

TL;DR:

"Once the fire has been extinguished, the problem remains that electric vehicle fires can reignite hours, days or even weeks after the initial event, and they can do so many times, making disposal and storage of a fire-damaged vehicle a challenge."

A noteworthy quote from another blog:

"Firefighters needed four hours to douse the flames, in part because the lithium ion battery kept reigniting. When the blaze was finally over, about 30,000 gallons of water had been poured on it - what the department normally uses in a month."

Conclusion


Whilst we advocate for constant innovation and advancement of technologies for the betterment of society, we do not recommend hopping on e-scooter/e-bike bandwagon just yet. At least not until the issues pertaining to fire safety are somewhat more understood and the design/manufacture of these are more regulated in industry.


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