Micro-Mobility: The New York City Battery Boom

Micro-mobility is booming in popularity in New York City. Problem is, something else is booming and that’s the lithium-ion batteries powering these devices. Last year, in NYC alone, there were 216 fires involving batteries, with 147 injuries and six deaths — up from 104 fires in 2021, accounting for 79 injuries and four deaths.


FDNY Captain Michael Kozo recently stated that “Fires caused by lithium-ion batteries have increased dramatically in New York City with deadly consequences.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams reiterated that statement with, “Uncertified lithium-ion batteries at the heart of this problem.”

While NYC faces challenges from these fires, there are no plans to get rid of these electrified modes of transport as they are providing a way for many people to make a living. E-bikes and scooters can be seen buzzing around the busy streets of NYC en masse, which includes more than 60,000 app-based food delivery workers. This trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down, as the online grocery sector has a projected growth rate of $740.88 billion from 2022 to 2027.

Safety First in NYC

The NYC Council created and passed a series of bills in July of 2021 to expand electric bicycle and scooter use in the city. The bills outlined rules for e-bike and e-scooter use, such as speed limits and helmet use rules. A new permit system was also created for companies to operate shared e-scooters.

NYC Mayor Eric Adams unveiled a NYC Streets Plan allocating $904 million to build 250 miles of protected bike lanes by the end of 2026. In addition, the mayor has pledged to strengthen 20 miles of these bike lanes with concrete barriers.

New battery technologies are being designed for the e-mobility sector, including what’s known as micro-mobility, which includes electric bikes and scooters using smaller batteries such as this one from ZapBatt. Source: ZapBatt

The mayor also recently signed several bills into law mandating the certification of electric mobility devices rented, sold, or leased within the city and released NYC’s Micro-mobility Action Plan.

Why Are So Many Batteries Catching on Fire

Like anything, when there is a rise of popularity and use of something, it provides a good means to examine vulnerabilities. This is the case with micro-mobility fires in NYC. Many reasons can be attributed to lithium-ion batteries catching on fire.

  • Certification is an important factor in ensuring the safety of micro-mobility users, as many individuals cannot afford the high cost of quality e-bikes and often adopt unsafe or unproven technologies. At a minimum, battery cells used in e-bikes should have UL 1642, IEC 62133-2 and DOT/UN 38.3 certification marks. The battery packs should also have environmental certifications such as UL 2271, IEC 607300-1 and EN 50604-1. Even with these basic certifications, real-world environmental conditions can still lead to lithium-ion battery fires.
  • The widespread use of standard lithium-ion batteries to power micro-mobility vehicles such as e-scooters and e-bikes contributes to the problem of battery fires, as this technology has a history of thermal runaway incidents and fires. These battery fires can also occur if not properly managed at the end of their lifecycle at recycling centers.
  • Batteries can degrade over time, especially in the busy streets of NYC, where they can get “beat up” in day-to-day use along with varying temperatures that can be extreme. There are limits to the usable cycle lifes with lithium-ion batteries, and pushing that boundary without proper maintenance and care can increase fire risk.
  • Delivery workers often have 12-16 hour days but are limited with batteries only lasting 5-7 hours. This induces the need to battery swap. Not only can this cause physical damage to the battery, it can also be dangerous if the battery’s voltage, capacity, or chemistry does not match the bike’s requirements and can lead to short-circuiting. It also exposes parts of the battery electronics to things like salt spray during the winter.
  • Many battery fires occur during overnight charging, as overcharging can lead to a buildup of heat and pressure within the battery, resulting in swelling, leakage and explosion.

Different Battery Chemistry on the Horizon

Lithium-ion battery chemistries face fire challenges for many reasons, but some alternatives are on the horizon. Long used in industrial and military applications, lithium-titanate (LTO) battery chemistry is carbon-free and is immune from lithium deposition and dendrites, making it fire-resistant and capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, as well as resisting fires from battery damage. It is also the only battery chemistry in the world that can “self-heal”, preventing any thermal events under extreme conditions. There are many advantages to using LTO batteries for micro-mobility.

Quick Charging: LTO batteries can be charged 10X faster than standard lithium-ion chemistries without degrading its life-time or forming dendrites. This benefits those who use electric personal mobility devices more than a few hours a day, especially in NYC, where users need to quickly charge between rides. This eliminates the need for dangerous battery swapping that could damage batteries.

Durable: LTO batteries can be charged and discharged up to 15,000 cycles before they need to be replaced, equating to a twenty-plus year lifespan. These batteries can also withstand punctures, short-circuits, and physical damage without sparking a fire.

Fire Resistant: Due to the core properties of the lithium titanium nano crystal, LTO batteries will not go into thermal runaway from overcharging compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries. This matters in a densely populated area like NYC, where many batteries are charged indoors.

AI Friendly: LTO allows more freedom to optimize with AI because it can move energy in and out so quickly without degrading its cycle life. An LTO battery can be optimized over time from AI given the environment it is put in. For example, an LTO battery in NYC can optimize how it performs as seasons and temperatures change.

Thermally Adaptive: LTO batteries continue to work in a wide variety of temperatures, making them ideal for a city like New York that can experience different climate conditions.

Replaceable: LTO can adapt to a variety of vehicles and voltages that allow for an easy swap from any lithium-ion battery without changing hardware in the operated device. This can be an off-the-shelf option for quick adoption.

Tested and Proven: LTO isn’t a “new” chemistry but rather a reworked one. The Department of Defense has been using LTO for years, but with newly integrated software and hardware options along with AI, this chemistry is the ultimate weapon to keep micro-mobility safe and convenient.

LTO Ready for Market

As micro-mobility gains popularity globally, NYC is a useful example of what to embrace and what to avoid. By demonstrating how to manage and proactively address the growth of this sector effectively, the city highlights the significance of being prepared and taking measures to prevent potential hazards such as fires.

This micro-mobility ride isn’t going to stop. It’s time for a safer battery and LTO is ready to ride.

Charlie Welch is the CEO and Co-founder of ZapBatt, a battery provider for various markets, including mobility, small infrastructure, and consumer products. As an aerospace engineer, Welch was a lead researcher at defense and technology companies testing, and optimizing a variety of battery chemistries. Amiad Zionpur is the COO of ZapBatt and has been involved in the micro-mobility space for many years. He served as a senior leader at Zagster,  a leading fleet management and bike-sharing startup to brands such as Spin, Link and Uber. He also an advisor to multiple startups within micro-mobility in the U.S. and beyond.