Electrical safety experts have warned hundreds of UK e-scooter and e=bike owners could be courting disaster by using knock off products that could explode at any moment.
When they do overheat, the lithium battery powdered machines can burn uncontrollably at over 600C with devastating consequences.
In 2021 the residents of a small Tel Aviv apartment block were woken up at 2am to an enormous bang and the smell of smoke.
Fearing they had been hit by a rocket from Gazan militants who had been bombarding the city during Operation Protective Edge, the residents ran to the stairwell to take cover when they noticed the source of the fire was actually coming from inside the building.
‘We smelt something acrid, like burning plastic and then we heard the screams’ recalls Eitan Goldstein.
Smoke begins pouring out of the e-scooter – seconds later it was ablaze
A second camera showed how the kitchen filled with smoke. Its owner, who bought it off Gumtree, admits he is lucky to be alive
‘We knocked on the door of the apartment where the screams were coming from and a man opened up and explained what had happened.
‘The e-bike lithium battery had been plugged in overnight to charge and it exploded, the apartment was ruined.’
E-bikes and scooters have exploded in popularity in recent years and despite the majority of them not being road legal in the UK have come to be associated with a greener way of travelling.
However, as their use has risen the dangers of the technology has also become apparent with the lithium batteries propensity to suddenly and violently combust leading authorities like Transport for London to ban them from their services altogether.
In the first five months of 2023 alone, the London Fire Brigade has been called out to a fire caused by these lithium batteries overheating once every two days on average.
Earlier this month, a 37-year-old security guard from London was lucky to escape with his life after the e-scooter bought on Gumtree exploded while he charged it overnight -engulfing his Brent flat in flames.
In January, an e-bike left charging overnight ignited at the home of Rab Shearer, 60, in Litherland, Merseyside. Mr Shearer was killed in the blaze while his son Gary, 23, died in hospital two weeks later after trying in vain to save him.
On New Year’s Day, Sofia Duarte, 21, was asleep at her home in Old Kent Road, south London, when a modified electric bike in her flat exploded.
The ‘fun-loving’ daughter of Portuguese immigrants, who enjoyed dancing, spending time with friends and travelling, is believed to be the first person to be killed in London due to an e-bike fire.
Mobile phone footage from a passer-by showed fireballs emerging fromt he shattered windows, as people in the street screamed.
While her flatmates leapt from the second-storey window, Ms Duarte – who was disorientated and had worked a nightshift – attempted to flee using the stairwell.
Her friend Alda Simoes, 45, said: ‘Sofia was confused and instead of going throught he window, she went through the door.
‘The fire brigade were there within a couple of minutes but there was nothing they could do. The bikes were at the entrance.
‘Some of the neighbours were trying to break down the door because they knew Sofia was inside but they couldn’t go past the fire. She was there for I don’t know how long.’
Sales of e-bikes in the UK have soared to 160,000 over the past year and are the choice transport method for many workers in the gig economy, particularly low-paid commuter and food deliverers.
Sofia Duarte, 21, died in a flat fire caused by a converted e-bike battery which burst into flames
Gary Shearer (right) has been named locally as the son of Rab Shearer (left) who died in a house fire in Litherland earlier this month
An e-bike from a high street brand will typically cost between £1,000 and £3,000 or a regular bike can be modified using a kit for around £400. While these products meet safety standards, far cheaper imports are available online and often have few safety check.
But why do e-scooter and bike batteries degrade in such a volatile way and what – if anything- can be done to mitigate the risk of owning these vehicles.
Giuseppe Capanna is a product safety engineer at electricalsafetyfirst which has been investigating the spate of e-vehicle fires across the UK.
As part of his research, he and his team have painstakingly conducted hundreds of tests on appliances currently being sold in stores and online to see if they meet safety standards – specifically the 60335-2-14 household appliance standard which all appliances must pass
He told MailOnline in just one day his team found 50 or so e-scooter chargers that didn’t meet these standards and were therefore dangerous.
He said: ‘The biggest problem we’re finding is substandard products from online marketplaces.
‘There are standards these products have to hit and we’re not seeing that a lot of them meet them.’
Due to their popularity, the market for e-vehicles is huge.
Both Amazon and eBay have entire sections dedicated to the gadgets with the average e-scooter selling for £230 and a charging cable for under £20.
It is this proliferation, Mr Capanna argues, that is behind the increase in fires.
Research into charging cables by electricalsafetyfirst revealed countless faulty appliances
Cheap chargers can overload lithium batteries causing them to explode
He continued: ‘We’ve seen a lot more fires as there is a lot more of the product around – but the reality is, if it was a proper e-scooter made correctly and tested correctly it wouldn’t be unsafe. We don’t see this issue with cars for example.
‘That’s because these cars are bought from reputable retailers.
‘With e-vehicles people can easily buy them from online retailers and be completely unaware they don’t meet any of the safety standards.’
And when these scooters don’t meet the standards, the effects can be disastrous.
Explaining how the lithium batteries caught fire, Mr Capanna stressed that once the element of control had been removed from the lithium batteries, they were essentially ticking time bombs.
He said: ‘If it’s a substandard scooter the battery can be damaged easily which means it’s more likely to catch fire. They hold an enormous amount of energy in a very small space and they’re separated by a very thin layer that keeps the two things apart. If you crush or pierce one of these batteries they just explode.
‘Imagine a dam with a reservoir. It’s holding back all that water and is useful as long as you can control it.
‘If that wall collapses it’s pandemonium. It’s the same with the batteries, as long as the electricity comes through in a controlled manner it isn’t an issue.
‘If that’s breached you’ll have an explosion.
‘That can happen either by damage to the battery or overcharging, which can happen if you use an incompatible charger.
‘When they catch fire you’re in trouble as they burn at around 600C and even higher than that. They’re glowing red hot and they melt everything around them. The chemical reaction in the battery creates its own oxygen which makes them very hard to put out.’
Electric scooters can sell online for as little as £200 but some could be dangerous
Experts have warned against buying replacement chargers for devices that aren’t compatible
MailOnline approached Amazon and eBay for more information on how their stable of e-bike and scooter suppliers are vetted.
As spokesman for eBay said: ‘We work constantly to keep our users safe, it’s our top priority. Products such as e-scooters are required to have a CE/UKCA certification. We have implemented measures aimed at identifying products that are non-CE/UKCA compliant and end listings offering such non-compliant products.
‘We also use block filter algorithms that aim to prevent unsafe products from being listed, which blocked 4.8 million listings in 2022. If an unsafe product does make it on to site, we remove it swiftly and alert buyers who had purchased one of the items within the last 90 days.’