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The Truth About FDNY-Approved E-Bike Charging Containers

FDNY Responds to fire in e-bike shop.

You may have heard about a pending bill in the New York City Council that would require e-bike based businesses to provide bike operators with fireproof containers. The bill, Int. No. 950, was a response to the growing incidence of e-bike battery fires caused by unsafe charging conditions. Int. No. 950 would require businesses that rely on e-bikes to provide FDNY-approved containers to their operators. This article reveals the truth about FDNY-approved e-bike charging containers.

Why This Bill Is Important

Because of its size and density, New York City supports by far the largest fleet of e-bikes in commercial use. They’re used to deliver everything from a tube of toothpaste to a ten-course meal to New York’s nearly 8.5 million residents. Operators of these e-bikes are often low-paid contract workers who must squeeze every penny out of their vehicle. They may be using old, damaged, or cheaply-made batteries, which carries a significant risk for battery fires.

Indeed, the incidence of battery fires has grown every year in NYC. There were 267 in 2023 — about 20% more than in 2022. Deaths from battery fires rose threefold, from six in 2022 to 18 in 2023. The vast majority of these resulted from bad e-bike batteries or chargers.

Lithium-ion battery fires by year. Data source: FDNY. Compiled by The Gothamist.

Recent legislation has been directed at purging the city of defective or poorly-made batteries. However, since delivery bike operators need to minimize their expenses in order to make a living, the “bad battery” problem persists.

What This Bill Would Do

Int. No. 950 is a short bill, and the language is to the point. “This bill would require all businesses that use bicycles for commercial purposes to provide their motor-assisted bicycle operators with fireproof or fire-resistant containers suitable for charging removable storage batteries used to power these bicycles.”

Clear enough, right? Companies that use e-bikes, such as delivery apps,  must provide their drivers with “fireproof or fire-resistant containers” to be used while charging their bike batteries. This puts the onus on the companies to supply some kind of safe charging container. Yet how will they know what containers are safe? After all, if enforcement officers deem a container unsafe, the company is on the hook, potentially to the tune of a major fine and the cost of replacing it across their fleet.

Drilling down, we find this: “The fire department shall promulgate rules for determining whether a container is fireproof or fire resistant pursuant to this subdivision.” Now we’re getting to the crux of the question, “Which charging containers are approved by FDNY?”

We’ve got some bad news. (But don’t worry: good news is on the way.)

There Is No Such Thing as an FDNY-Approved Charging Container

So here's the truth about FDNY-approved e-bike charging containers: there’s no such thing. If this bill passes, FDNY would be responsible for publishing a standard that e-bike battery charging containers need to meet order to satisfy the law. Only then will we know the answer to the question, “Which charging containers are FDNY-approved?”

In cases like these, it’s very common for an agency to look toward a trusted third-party certification provider, such as UL Solutions (formerly Underwriter Laboratories.) FDNY will likely require a charging container to carry a UL Certification Mark designating a standard that the product must meet.

A fire broke out at an e-bike shop in Manhattan on June 20, 2023. (FDNY / Twitter)

What Will an FDNY-Approved Certification Look Like?

The transcript of the hearing for this bill gives us a glimpse into what the pertinent UL Certification Mark might look like. Robert Slone, Chief Scientist for UL Solutions, provides a clue. He says, “UL Solutions is very supportive of requirements for businesses to supply their workers who use e-bikes with storage containers for their e-bike’s removable battery. We would further recommend directing FDNY to require such storage containers be certified to relevant voluntary consensus standards as the standards become available.”

That’s the confirmation we’ve been looking for. The standard that FDNY will likely adopt to satisfy this law will likely come from UL.

As it happens, a test standard for such products is currently in the development process. UL 1487 will be the new battery container test standard, and it will have several ratings for manufacturers of containment products to test against. These ratings are for three types of battery containing products: 1) those designed for permanent commercial installations; 2) portable commercial use (for transporting batteries); and 3) residential use. It’s that last one that is the most pertinent to the new NYC bill, and it’s likely the reason you’re reading this.

Why This New Standard Is Important

The law mandating use of these containers is vital because it boosts the standard of care for storage and charging of e-bikes in the most vulnerable environments. Therefore, the test standard that certifies battery fire containing equipment for this law is equally important.

There is a popular misconception, reinforced by unscrupulous manufacturers of “safety equipment”, that you can simply use fire resistant or fireproof materials to contain a battery in thermal runaway. Mitigating thermal runaway in lithium-ion batteries is far more complex than that. For instance, batteries at this scale produce enormous volumes of flammable gas, which require specialized venting such that the gas neither ignites, preventing “flash over fire,” or over-pressurizes the container. (Vent too slowly and the container will burst or explode; vent too quickly and the gas will ignite.)

As a result of this misconception, there are many cheap products on the market that provide false hope to well-meaning consumers. A standardized test, such as UL 1487, to certify a fire containment product based on performance and understanding of the risk profile, will allow users of e-bikes – and the FDNY – to make informed choices.

Inexpensive battery container under thermal runaway. Test by CellBlock FCS.
Inexpensive battery container under thermal runaway. Test by CellBlock FCS.

FDNY Approval and CellBlock

While it’s true that there are no FDNY-approved charging products on the market, it’s also true that CellBlock FCS is uniquely poised to be among the first brands to receive FDNY approval for our charging containers under this new law. Why is that?

We are Intimate With the Standard

It seems likely that FDNY will require UL 1487 certification for charging containers, and CellBlock is intimate with this evolving standard. That’s because our CTO, Dylan Vandemark, is on the committee creating the standard. Vandemark, an acknowledged expert in thermal runaway mitigation, was asked to participate in the creation of this standard, and he has brought to the task a singular focus on saving lives and property.

(If you’re wondering whether the standard can be “gamed” for the benefit of a single company, the answer is no: a certification by UL means that a product has passed a stringent test, regardless of its provenance. Vandemark’s involvement simply means that CellBlock is in a position to design and manufacture products that will meet the UL standard as it develops.)

We Know the FDNY Process

CellBlock has worked with the FDNY before, so we have firsthand experience with their process. Our Safe Charge Rack is the very first FDNY-allowed solution for charging multiple micromobility devices in a limited space, receiving an exemption from the distance requirement in fire code 309.3. So when it comes to earning approval for a charging container, we are poised to navigate the intricacies of FDNY’s approval process.

In short, when FDNY does “promulgate rules for determining whether a container is fireproof or fire resistant,” CellBlock is already there, with products that are certain to meet the department’s stringent standards.

CellBlock’s E-bike Charging Solutions

Our e-bike charging solutions come in two flavors: the Safe Charge Sleeve E Series for individual batteries, and the Safe Charge Rack for multiple batteries.

Safe Charge Rack

CellBlock’s Safe Charge Battery Rack allows safe adjacent charging of micromobility batteries

CellBlock’s practical, durable Safe Charge battery racks have been engineered to comply with fire codes and exceed fire marshal expectations of safety. The powder-coated steel and aluminum construction features a steel divider between each battery, and the brilliantly simple CellBlockEX deployment system dispenses fire suppression media when exposed to high heat. Propagation is effectively halted, preventing the spread of fire to adjacent batteries.

Find out more.

Safe Charge Sleeve E Series

Safe Charge Sleeve E-Series
Safe Charge Sleeve E-Series

This pioneering e-bike battery charging container has been subject to third-party testing and found to provide total containment in batteries up to 800Wh – well within the range of most e-bike batteries.

Features:

  • Durable exterior silicone coating
  • Easy-to-use Velcro-and-buckle closure
  • Available in three sizes
  • Rated for temperatures over 1823 °F (1000 °C)
  • Custom engineered organic vapor filters for mitigation of pressure and explosions
  • Multi-layered FireShield® composite made by CellBlock
  • Kevlar-reinforced blast-proof seams
  • Third-party testing using batteries at 100% state-of-charge, demonstrating full containment of fire, explosions and projectiles.


Find out more.

Safe Charge Sleeve E Series

FDNY Approval Is On the Way, and CellBlock Will Be There

FDNY can be expected to promulgate their rules about charging containers within the next few months. Those rules are likely to specify that charging containers must meet the standards set forth in UL 1487 in order to meet with FDNY approval. When that happens, CellBlock will be ready to go, with our best-in-class charging containers. And that's the truth about FDNY-approved e-bike charging containers.

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