The city of Montreal has seen a dramatic increase in the number of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries over the past year. A phenomenon that accounts for the great popularity of electric bicycles and scooters, which are increasingly seen on metropolitan streets.
In his Activity Report 2022, the Montreal Fire Department indicated that 24 of the fires were caused by lithium-ion batteries, but did not provide further details. However, the document points out that “rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which are often found in cell phones, tablets, laptops, electric scooters, etc., can catch fire when abused.”
This is a significant increase compared to 2021, when only 7 fires attributed to lithium-ion batteries were observed. Between 2018 and 2020, 17 such fires were recorded in the territory of the city of Montreal, an average of 5.6 per year.
A similar phenomenon has been observed in many other large North American cities. Last March, New York City announced a plan to combat a significant increase in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries used in “micromobility devices.” In 2020, New York officials listed 44 such fires; In 2022 there will be 220.
Between 2021 and 2022, 10 deaths and 226 injuries were reported in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries in the American metropolis.
Lithium-ion battery explosion in New York
Les feux provoqués par des trottinettes ou des scooters électriques sont en effet spectaculaires et difficiles à combattre. « C’est un feu qui est très difficile à éteindre. Il faut une substance qui va refroidir la batterie, ça ne prend pas juste de l’eau », explique Jacques Bourdeau, ingénieur en sécurité, en entrevue avec La Presse.
Car malgré ses nombreux avantages, la batterie lithium-ion possède un inconvénient de taille : elle a tendance à chauffer, rappelle M. Bourdeau. « Plus la batterie est grosse, plus il y a de risques. »
Si ce type de batterie demeure néanmoins très populaire, c’est qu’elle possède aussi de nombreux atouts. « Elle est très légère, c’est une batterie qui ne pèse rien comparée à la batterie traditionnelle acide-plomb. Elle va aussi garder sa charge très longtemps, même quand elle est inutilisée », note Jacques Bourdeau.
Son domaine idéal [de la batterie lithium-ion], which are small electronic devices. The more we push [pour de plus gros appareils] And there is more danger.
Jacques Bordeaux, safety engineer
In the case of electric cars, Mr. Bordo points out, risk is better managed because the battery cells aren’t necessarily concentrated in one place, unlike a scooter, for example, where everything is stored in one place. is restricted.
According to Jacques Bordo, the risk is high if the lithium-ion battery discharges below a certain threshold. “We shouldn’t go too low,” he said, without specifying where this threshold lies. But the responsibility should rest on the manufacturer, who should have a warning, for example, when the battery of the scooter crosses a critical level.
Although driving an electric scooter is still prohibited in principle in Quebec, this type of vehicle has become more popular in recent years.
A steady fire report
In 2022, the Montreal Fire Department (SIM) recorded 1,303 building fires, including 304 large fires. The balance sheet is slightly higher than in 2021 (1,245 fires, including 278 major), but lower than in 2020 (1,385 fires, including 317 major). 12 people lost their lives in fires in Montreal in 2022, one less than in 2021.
It should be noted that more than 20% of fires were caused by kitchen appliances in the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace and Villere-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension boroughs.
SIM also responded to more than 118 emergency calls, including medical emergencies, triggered alarm systems and fires. In most cases (85%), fires are caused by human error or improper use of equipment. About 40% of fires start in the kitchen, and “one in four fires are caused by combustible materials or objects with open flames,” the report said.