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by Wayne MacKay, Electrical Safety First
02 October 2023
Associate Feature: Micromobility: sparking a transport revolution and a new fire risk

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Associate Feature: Micromobility: sparking a transport revolution and a new fire risk

Did you know that a fully charged e-bike battery contains a similar amount of energy to six hand grenades? In the UK this year, lithium-ion battery fires have caused eight deaths, hundreds of injuries, and millions in property damage. In Scotland, these fires have surged five-fold since 2019.

Here, Wayne Mackay, Head of Policy and Public Affairs for Electrical Safety First, explains what the campaigning charity is doing to address the problem ─ and why a Scottish Government-backed awareness campaign is urgently needed.

It is easy to understand why electrically powered micromobility, such as e-bikes and e-scooters, has become so popular. It is considered a ‘greener’ and more economic form of transport, which can also improve health and fitness levels. In fact, micromobility is a key part of Scotland’s net zero transport strategy, with enhanced cycle routes, storage, and other active travel networks, being introduced through the ‘20 Minute Neighbourhood’ initiatives.

E-bikes and e-scooters are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which can take and store far more energy than other types of battery, so a single charge provides much longer use. However, most people are not aware that a fully charged e-bike battery contains a similar amount of energy to six hand grenades, nor that they can be putting their lives at risk when charging them at home.

If overheated ─ through, for example, damage, flawed design, or using a substandard charger ─ lithium-ion batteries can create fierce fires that are not only difficult to extinguish but also release toxic gas. They can occur when just one cell of the battery overheats, creating a domino effect or ‘thermal runaway’, with a fire developing within seconds that can reach a temperature of over 600 degrees centigrade.

A fire in a three-storey block of flats in Elgin last year, was seemingly caused by the lithium-ion batteries in an e-bike, which is thought to have been converted from an ordinary bicycle using an online conversion kit. In addition to losing their home, residents have gone on record to say they believe they are lucky to be alive. E-bike and e-scooter fires have surged five-fold in Scotland since 2019 and will increase as the market for them expands. In 2022, the e-bike market alone was estimated to be worth £300 million, with double-digit growth forecast for 2024. 

To save lives action needs to be taken now. So Electrical Safety First is asking the Scottish Government to back a public awareness campaign on the risks from e-bike and e-scooter batteries, and how to safely buy and use these products. When properly charged, using batteries from a known and trusted source, any fire risk is significantly reduced. Public awareness of these issues is vital, particularly given Scotland’s move towards more sustainable transport. While Electrical Safety First has already run successful media campaigns on battery safety, much more needs to be done and government support is required.

However, the charity has also established a robust legislative plan, developing a Bill which addresses battery safety via three key routes. Firstly, through mandatory third-party safety assessment for e-bikes, e-scooters and lithium-ion batteries entering the UK market. Secondly, through enhanced standards for safe use, charging, and storage of batteries; and thirdly, via responsible battery disposal regulations. While Westminster holds the power to enact such legislation, Electrical Safety First is eager to collaborate with all UK nations to effect much needed change.

The charity has recently released a report ─ Battery Breakdown ─ which takes an in-depth look at the use of lithium-ion batteries powering the micromobility revolution, and offers a series of recommendations to ensure a safe transition to greener transport. Click the link above, or visit:

Electrical Safety First is the campaigning UK charity dedicated to preventing deaths, injuries, and fires, caused by electricity. We are recognised by government and industry as the leading consumer protection and technical authority on electrical safety.

This article is sponsored by Electrical Safety First

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Read the most recent article written by Wayne MacKay, Electrical Safety First - Associate Feature: Enhancing electrical safety for owner-occupiers ─ and buyers.

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