An expert in lithium-ion batteries has called for a public education campaign on the fire risk of batteries in e-bikes and e-scooters, which last year took at least nine lives in the United Kingdom.

The most important messages, said Paul Christensen, a University of Newcastle professor of electrochemistry who has worked with Fire Scotland, are around charging. “Do not charge your electric scooter, electric bike, or skateboard, indoors. If you have to charge it indoors, don’t charge it in an emergency escape route. Don’t charge it where there’s any other kind of fire load, like paper or wood. Don’t charge it at night. Don’t charge it when you’re out.”

Lithium-ion batteries are now ubiquitous in our lives. We carry them in our pockets, inside mobile phones or vapes. They power the ever-increasing number of EVs on our streets. Vast banks of the cells are planned as part of what are called battery energy storage sites, incorporated into the national grid to allow the temporary storage of renewable energy. Some of these are in huge developments – like one proposed at Cochno Road, against which a local campaign is growing.

These batteries are considered vital elements in the decarbonisation of our global energy system that is essential to save the planet from runaway climate change. Global demand for Li-ion batteries is expected to soar over the next decade, with the amount of energy required from them increasing almost sevenfold between 2022 and 2030.

Some have even started to call lithium “white oil”.

But the energy density of these batteries means they come with a certain risk of fire and explosion.

“The problem,” said Prof Christensen, is that they’ve penetrated all levels of our society so fast it’s far outstripped our knowledge of the risks and hazards.”

He compared it with the danger of an airline terrorist attack – the incidence is rare, but the impact is devastating, so safety must be rigorous.

“We go through rigorous security at airports and, as a result, the probability of a terrorist attack is small, but the hazard is huge. It’s the same with lithium-ion batteries. The probability of a fire or explosion is very low, but we need to make people aware of the risks because the hazard should a battery fail can be very severe indeed.”

“This is because  a lithium-ion battery has a huge amount of energy in a very small space, and,  if that energy gets out in an uncontrolled fashion, you’re in trouble."

Particularly dangerous, partly because they are so frequently mishandled, are the batteries used in e-bikes and e-scooters A Scottish grandmother, living in London, lost her husband to an e-scooter fire. Though the fire crew had been called to the site within minutes, it took over three hours to get the blaze under control.

The Herald: Elgin e-bike fire, 2022Elgin e-bike fire, 2022 (Image: Raymond Miller)

In Elgin, in 2022, the family home of Karen McPhail, Raymond Miller and their son Liam was gutted by a fire started by an electric bike battery.

Mr Miller recalled, last week, how he was woken by smoke alarm and shouting from the residents at 2.10 am, along with news that a room below was on fire. He grabbed a top and went, shoeless, downstairs to see what was happening, before racing back upstairs to get his son who was still upstairs sleeping.  

He said: “I remember being outside in the street as the roof of the house engulfed into a big flame and thinking, 'It's going to be ok because the fire brigade will do their thing and save all our belongings.' But the fire gutted our place. We lost almost everything we owned: clothes, personal and sentimental stuff, everything of Liam's." 

“We are still slowly recovering from it. For months all of us had many sleepless nights and still do."  

The fire had been started by a battery that had been used to convert a normal bike, which had exploded and gone up in flames.

The Herald: Liam Miller, Karen McPhail and Raymond MillerLiam Miller, Karen McPhail and Raymond Miller (Image: Raymond Miller)

Nevertheless, Prof Christensen, who published his first scientific paper on these batteries in 1985 and worked with Nissan when they were building their first battery plant,  said he was “a big fan of lithium-ion batteries”. 

“I believe very strongly,” he said, “that lithium batteries don’t die; they’re murdered. In other words, there’s always the human factor. In most cases where we’ve seen a failure, it’s because the battery has been abused or there’s a poor design. There’s always a human factor involved.”


Cochno Road battery storage: Community fights green project

Cochno Road druid stone at centre of battery storage battle

He is not alone in having called on the government to raise public awareness. Last autumn, Electrical Safety First called upon the Scottish Government “to mitigate the risks from e-micro mobility products by pursuing a consumer awareness campaign to ensure that the public is adequately educated on best practice when handling these products”.

Fires in electric cars and buses have, Prof Christensen said, in fact been relatively few.

Some insurance data suggests 25 fires for every 100,000 electric cars, compared 1,529 per 100,000 petrol cars.

Prof Christensen also referred to statistics produced by, which compiled data from between 2010 and 2020 which suggested that “there is a 0.0012% of a passenger electric vehicle battery catching fire”. Their analysis of other reports found  “a 0.1% chance of an internal combustion engine vehicle catching fire”.

However, his assessment of e-bikes and e-scooters was not nearly so reassuring. “There have been very few deaths involving electric car fires. However, in the UK in the last few years, we’ve had 16 deaths at least down to electric scooters and e-bikes.”

With the surge in popularity of e-bikes and scooters, has come such a rise in the number of fires that some have called them the new “chip pan” fire. Government data collated from 38 fire and rescue services shows that across the UK there were 227 such fires in 2022 and 338 in 2023. 

“That’s lives wrecked every single day,” Prof Christensen. “There are people dying. Every one of those fires, every one of those deaths and injuries can be prevented by a simple education campaign.”

READ MORE: Surge in e-bike and e-scooter battery fires prompts warning to consumers

Part of the problem is that, though an e-scooter battery may be small in appearance, it can produce huge volumes of explosive and toxic gas, which can explode in people’s homes.

Prof Christensen warned: “If you hear anything like a loud popping, a screaming, or if you see any gas whatsoever, do not attempt to deal wtih it yourself. Get out. Alert everybody else to get out and phone the fire service. If that gas ignites immediately you get rocket-like flames. If it doesn’t ignite immediately it can then explode. By the time the fire brigade arrives you’ve got a full house-fire. Within five minutes.”

A key issue with e-bikes and e-scooters, he said, is that “inexperienced manufacturers" have jumped in "because there is lots of money in the market".

Lithium-ion battery fires are also a peril in recycling facilities, where, in this country, there were 700 such fires in the last year, starting from small batteries discarded as waste.

Vapes too are an issue. He said: “You’ve got illegal vapes being seized by our border agency because they are dangerous and we have no control over the quality of those. Some vapes have gone off in people’s pockets etc.”

But it is large-scale battery energy storage sites (BESS), where such cells are packed together, that are causing the public some of the greatest concern. Groups like Save Our Countryside – Cochno Road are asking just how safe those batteries proposed for their doorstep will be.

READ MORE: Cochno Road battery storage: Community fights battery storage project


The Herald: A battery energy storage siteA battery energy storage site

Prof Christensen, however, was reassuring about the safety of the vast majority of such sites.  68 battery energy storage installations, he noted,  have gone up in flames since 2010, most of them in the last four years. "That represents a tiny percentage in terms of the number of battery energy storage containers there are in the world. And in no case did the fire spread beyond the containers.”

He works with battery energy storage system developers and believes such sites are a necessary element in the global decarbonisation of our energy systems.

“They are fantastic at storing renewable energy. The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, so you can’t feed it directly into the grid, so you store the energy for when it’s needed. Lithium batteries are brilliant for that.”

He didn’t, however, always work with such companies, and previously worked with groups in opposition to what he thought were bad developments. “I then realised that I am not against lithium-ion batteries or BESS, and my time would be far better spent working with the developers to make sure they’re safe.”

What he now considers important is that the developers are thorough in their consulting of the local community, as well as fire service and local authorities. “Every single stakeholder - the members of the public, council officials, planning council officials, developers of BESS, the marine industry, our politicians - needs to understand the safety issues around these cells."

Prof Christensen is keen to put the battery risk – and how we react to it – into context. “We’ve got gas in our homes and we've seen homes almost disappear because of gas explosions. It’s rare but it happens. We have learned to manage the risk.”

Part of the problem, he said, is the speed at which they have entered our lives. “They have appeared almost from nowhere to everywhere in a very short time. I don’t think there is any other kind of invention with so much energy associated with it, that has done that in such a time.

He added: "If you start educating people you avert that fear and get them to learn how to deal with them. We’ve done that with gas boilers, petrol and diesel cars, AC voltage in our homes. We are taught about the dangers and that’s what we need with lithium-ion batteries.”

“We used to have these public information films, the Green Cross Code Man for instance,  and that's what we need, and not just this country – across all countries. Everyone is experiencing the same kind of problems.”


Cathy Barlow, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s (SFRS) deputy head of prevention, protection and preparedness,  said: “We are working hard with key stakeholders and partners to understand the risks that lithium-ion batteries (LIB) and Battery Energy Storage sites present to communities across Scotland by creating a bespoke working group.

“We would urge users of LIB technology to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when charging these types of batteries and use the correct charger

“When replacement batteries or chargers are required, ensure that they are of the correct type and meet the safety standards for the equipment.

“It is important that LIBs are frequently checked for damage, particularly when used in mobile equipment such as scooters and bikes. Any damage should result in the battery being replaced and removed from service.”

“It is also important to dispose of these LIBs correctly at the end of their life and not include them in household refuse.”