One of the nasty results of the Covid lockdowns was the meteoric growth of electric bikes. I thought, great. Let’s take the only means of exercise for some people and power it with a battery and motor to take away physical propulsion via the human body. Would you like to see a graphical representation of exponential growth? The following chart satisfies your craving to show e-bike fires in New York City alone.
In an article published by The Wall Street Journal last week, New York Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh is quoted, “These are incredibly dangerous devices if they are unregulated or used improperly.” These pyrotechnic gems spontaneously ignite while charging in homes with a high potential to trap occupants as they engulf the home with fire and toxic gases in minutes. If occupants can escape, get out, and let the house burn to the ground because that ABC fire extinguisher in the closet has no chance against a battery fire.
Lithium batteries are not merely dangerous fire hazards; they spew dozens of toxins when burned. Thermal runaways lead to battery fires that produce acids with aggressive, destructive penetration of tissues, including sulfur oxide, hydrofluoric acid, nitric oxide, and hydrochloric acid.
The image below is a clip from a video showing a thermal runaway, which is more like a four-sided hyper-volumetric blow torch. The narrator says lawmakers are “trying to find a way to stop the bikes from exploding.” Now that is special. Are they the same lawmakers banning the internal combustion engine in favor of electric vehicles? If they’re not smart enough to ban them, as an owner, I would charge them outside, locked to a tree that needs to be cut down. They are considering safety certifications, but that may increase the price. Horrors! I broke into a belly laugh when that came out of my laptop speakers.
Where is the EPA?
As I read and watched this stuff I thought, how is the EPA reacting to these toxin bombs? Get this – in two search engines, Google and Ecosia, there are zero suggestions for “battery fires EPA.” I guess they are too busy monitoring duck ponds on private land. It matters because e-mobility is the rage, and they don’t want to look at the downside.
Battery fire studies were conducted in China and by the US DOE, via the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI), via the University of Texas-Austin and Sandia Lab. Here are some findings from the 2019 OSTI studies:
- Thermal runaways of lithium-ion batteries have occurred in consumer products, e-mobility vehicles, electric vehicles, and energy storage applications.
- In 2017, an explosion of a train car in Houston, Texas, was attributed to lithium-ion batteries being transported to a recycling facility. The explosion was so violent that windows broke on buildings 500 feet away.
- In 2017, a containerized lithium-ion ESS burned at a utility plant near Brussels, Belgium. The ESS in Belgium was equipped with fire detection and suppression, which failed to extinguish the fire.
- In April 2019, a 2 MW ESS [grid-scale storage] system at a solar facility in Surprise, AZ, exploded, resulting in 8 firefighters being injured. It was reported that the explosion caused both chemical skin and inhalation burns.
Here is a brief description of a runaway from the OSTI/UT paper:
In a thermal runaway event, a series of exothermic reactions increases the cell temperature, resulting in the interna generation of gases. These gases build within the cell and can ultimately lead to the rupture of the cell and the release of the gases. The gas mixture generated and released is flammable, consisting of various combinations of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and various hydrocarbons, including methane and propane. Ignition of these gases results in fire and explosion scenarios that post a significant risk to surrounding life and property.
I.e., the battery has everything it needs to burn uncontrolled without oxygen. In my interview with storage expert Doug Houseman a couple of years ago, he said the only way to put out a Li-ion battery is to take away the heat with massive amounts of water – like dunk the EV in a tank of water as is required in Switzerland, per Doug.
Li-Ion Batteries v Nuclear Power
The runaway also reminds me of something else – blistering in nuclear fuel, except blistering is normal for commercial nuclear fuel and is harmless. There is no thermal runaway —Au contraire. Pressurized water reactors are self-moderating.
Remember the Ford F-150 lightning that would power your home? They’ve been recalled and halting production for battery problems due to a battery fire on February 4, 2023.
Exactly a year ago, a ship carrying 4,000 luxury and exotic automobiles, including Porsches, Bentleys, Audis, and Lamborghinis, caught fire with inextinguishable electric batteries. The crew abandoned the ship, and it sank in the Atlantic.
The rush to Li-ion batteries (yes, yes, yes) and condemnation of nuclear power (no, no, no) is pure mob think. It’s crazy to me.
At Michaels, we’re required to take tons of cyber security training and one theme sticks: “stop and think,” before clicking ransomware links, etc. I don’t see this with dangerous Li-ion batteries. It’s 100% go!
We Need Anxious Leaders
On that note, I’ll close with this Time book review article, ‘Happy Talk’ and the Dangers of Groupthink, written by none other than Cass Sunstein, Obama’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He was the keynote at the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference a few years ago – a major climate change guy. The book is, Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter. I’m trying, one Rant at a time. Read the article, at least.