Eight fires have been ignited by "small scale" lithium ion e-scooter batteries in Canberra in the past year, with ACT Fire and Rescue expecting the number to rise "as these devices start to age".
The local concern comes after London's assistant commissioner for fire safety has called for an urgent safety review, blaming the purchase of "dangerous products" from online marketplaces as triggering the fires.
The London Fire Brigade recently reported on its website that it had been called to an e-scooter or e-bike battery fire on average every second day.
The major fear of firefighters is where these devices are left to recharge - often in stairwells and fire escapes - and that residents may be trapped when a fire occurs.
"Whilst e-bikes and e-scooters offer a great way round the city, if the batteries become damaged or begin to fail they can start incredibly ferocious fires," the London Fire Brigade said in statements accompanying its latest "chargesafe" program.
"Lithium battery fires can spread quickly out of control, and within minutes have started a large fire.
"When these batteries are charged in communal areas or escape routes, a fire breaking out can quickly block people's ability to escape."
Six weeks ago, a fire in a ground floor Queens e-scooter shop in New York City quickly spread to the apartments above. Four people died in that incident.
The ACT has among the highest saturation levels of e-scooters and e-bikes per capita in Australia.
Fire and Rescue researchers around the country and New Zealand are collaborating on this fast-emerging issue through an "emerging technologies working group".
MORE E-SCOOTER SAFETY NEWS:
It is also supporting a NSW initiative called the Safety of Alternative and Renewable Energy Technologies (SARET) research program which is assessing the "priority questions around lithium-ion battery safety, with the intent to ensure emergency services personnel are equipped and trained to manage these incidents".
"One of the program streams is looking at firefighting methods for small scale LiB [lithium-ion battery] devices including scooter batteries," an ESA spokesperson said.
The SARET program already has identified a key issue of a lack of Australian regulations and standards.
"There is a general lack of guidance and provisions in building codes, standards, and legislation in relation to safety to address the potential risks from these emerging technologies," the researchers said.
The ACT has become the nation's fastest adopter of not just small-scale battery mobility but also electric vehicles and the inherent risk in charging EVs under apartment blocks has now emerged as an issue, with some body corporates banning the installation of recharging wallboxes.
South Korea also has a significant research program underway "focusing on lithium ion battery fire hazard in the built environment and on extinguishing methods and techniques".
Lithium-ion batteries are energy-dense and contain electrolytes that are highly flammable. Fire authorities say non-rechargeable or disposable lithium batteries, or lithium metal batteries should also be treated with caution as they can expel molten flammable metal and emit toxic gasses during a fire.
"Thermal runaway" caused by small lithium ion batteries entering the waste stream were identified as the cause of the multi-million dollar fire which completely gutted the ACT government-owned recycling centre in Hume on Boxing Day last year.
After the investigation, ACT City Services Minister Chris Steel said the ACT Fire & Rescue report specifically pointed the finger at lithium batteries.
"The investigation revealed evidence that the presence of multiple batteries of varying types, identified in the remains of the waste compacter, caused a thermal runaway which ignited the fire," he said.
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