Thursday, April 22, 2010

Concerns Over Shipping Lithium Batteries By Air Freight

TIACA Calls for a Review of New Carriage Proposals
Shipping News Feature

US – WORLDWIDE – Proposals by the US Department of Transport’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) together with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for a revision regarding the carriage of batteries containing lithium have come under fire from the International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) who want the authorities to reconsider their stance.

Few people who use, sometimes unknowingly, lithium – ion technology realise the hazards associated with the storage of electricity by this method. Now the amounts of the material being transported, both commercially and within personal electrical equipment, have caused to concern to those in the US responsible for safe carriage regulations. The PHMSA said in October last year that the batteries had been implicated in forty serious air traffic incidents since 1991 and proposed fines of up to half a million dollars plus ten year prison sentences for serious breaches.

Despite strongly advocating safety and security in the supply chain, Daniel Fernandez, Secretary General of TIACA says,

“The proposed new rule would have a significant adverse effect on air cargo operations, and it would be impossible to implement within a 75-day period, as proposed by PHMSA. It would require wholesale changes in air cargo operations and greatly limit the space available for lithium battery shipments. It would also require a complicated lading process under which operators would have to identify and limit any containers with lithium batteries and ensure that they are loaded only in approved locations. This would require a costly and difficult overhauling of cargo loading procedures, which are currently designed to maximize the number of containers that are loaded into available space.”

The change in procedures would require lithium batteries, widely used in consumer electronic products, many emergency medical devices, hybrid and electric vehicles, and other products, to be stowed in a crew-accessible location except if they are shipped in an FAA-approved container or a Class C cargo compartment. TIACA say they are not aware of any such FAA approved container, nor is there sufficient suitable crew accessible space on both passenger and cargo aircraft. Furthermore, while Class C cargo compartments are relatively common on passenger aircraft, that is not the case for many dedicated cargo freighters, and retrofitting aircraft for a Class C compartment would be a costly exercise.

The PHMSA state the proposed changes are intended to enhance safety by ensuring that all lithium batteries are designed to withstand normal transportation conditions and are largely consistent with changes made to the United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (UN Recommendations) and the June 2009 updated International Civil Aviation Organization Technical Instructions on the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air (ICAO Technical Instructions) and respond to recommendations issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Regulations were last introduced on the 1st January 2003, lithium batteries come under IATA Dangerous Goods regulation 49CFR173.185 and need rigid packaging with short circuit protection. Although personal devices often fall under the quantities affected by the regulations this is often not the case with professional quality film and video equipment. The batteries cannot be stored in a discharged condition (they simply die and charge is irrecoverable) yet some of the hazards remain.

A short circuit can lead to an explosion and some cell constructions can lead to a “cascade” effect amplifying the problem. Because of their small size with high voltage capacity, lithium batteries can discharge extremely high currents when shorted out ,producing extreme heat, fire or even a “stun gun” effect. In these circumstances they are also likely to release toxic fumes.

Photo:- Lithium ion Electric Vehicle battery cutaway