Know the hazardous material rules and lithium content when carrying batteries.
Unexpected incidents with batteries in transit have prompted authorities to tighten the rules. The largest changes involve lithium-based batteries governed by UN38.3. This is done to assure safety of those handling batteries and the passengers traveling with them aboard a common carrier.
Data compiled by the FAA from 1991 to 2007 states that 27 percent of all incidents occurred with lithium batteries and 68 percent with other battery chemistries. With lithium batteries, 68 percent failed due to external and internal short circuits, 15 percent during charging and discharging and 7 percent by unintentional activation of devices. The remaining 12 percent had other malfunctions. In another study from 1991 to 2012, the FAA recorded 132 incidents involving batteries leading to smoke, extreme heat, fire or explosion.
Lithium-based batteries are not the only products that pose a risk in transport. According to the FAA, other battery systems are experiencing a larger number of incidents. It is the sheer volume of Li-ion in consumer products and the potential of damage that is getting the attention.
Most countries set strict rules for transporting lead acid batteries. Failure to comply with the regulations is a civil or criminal offense that can result in stiff penalties for the carrier and/or the shipper. The rules are simple, well established and make common sense.
Different rules apply when shipping damaged batteries. A lead acid battery is considered damaged if there is a possibility of leakage due to a crack or if one or more caps are missing. Transportation companies and air carriers may require that the batteries be drained of all acid prior to transport. Place damaged batteries in an acid-resistant container and add soda ash to neutralize any acid that might spill. Separate damaged and intact batteries.
Nickel-based batteries have no transport limitations, however, some of the same precautions apply as for lead acid in terms of packaging to prevent electrical shorts and safeguard against fire. Regulations prohibit storing and transporting smaller battery packs in a metal box. If there is a danger of an electrical short, wrap each battery individually in a plastic bag. When carrying batteries in your pocket, do not mix with coins and house keys.
The largest changes in shipping rules occurred around lithium-based batteries, and with good reasons. Li-ion is the fastest growing battery chemistry and in 2009 3.3 billion Li-ion batteries were transported by air. This is an ongoing concern, and an airline-pilot union has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ban lithium-based batteries on passenger aircraft. From March 1991 to August 2010, batteries and battery-powered devices caused 113 recorded incidents with smoke, fire, extreme heat or explosion on passenger and cargo planes.
The Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) is aware of possible hazards and opposes any revisions in transportation rules, arguing that the restrictions would cost shippers and manufacturers billions of dollars. PRBA is made up of major battery manufacturers, including Energizer, Panasonic, SAFT America, Sanyo and Varta Batteries. These manufacturers do not want to disrupt air shipments, especially batteries for critical medical and military applications. They argue that the batteries causing problems do not meet US hazardous material handling regulations and ask the FAA to enforce stricter manufacturing rules.
Battery manufacturers tell the aviation industry further that, as a result of the well-publicized 2006 recall, a safer generation of Li-ion batteries has emerged. According to U.S. Census Bureau (2010), airfreight transports roughly 364 million cell phones, 142 million cameras and 47 million laptops as part of just-in-time delivery to stores. No deaths and only 26 injuries are attributed to shipping billions of lithium batteries every year.
The estimated failure rate of Li-ion is one per 10 million. Examining the 113 recorded incidents of transporting batteries by air in 19 years reveals that most failures occurred due to inappropriate packaging or handling, causing damage or electrical short. Most incidents happened at airports or in cargo hubs. Problem batteries include primary lithium (lithium-metal), lead, nickel and alkaline systems, and not just lithium-ion, as is often perceived.
Newer consumer products have few surprise failures but in spite of improved battery safety, there are restrictions with lithium-ion batteries on airplanes. Travelers are reminded how many batteries they can carry on board in portable devices and as spare packs.
Since January 2008, people can no longer pack spare lithium batteries in checked baggage, but airlines allow them as carry-on. The passenger cabin enables better safety monitoring with access to fire extinguishers should a battery disintegrate than is possible in the cargo bay. In one incident, a coffee pot served as the extinguishing device for a flaming laptop battery on board a plane. This would be impossible in the sealed cargo bay below.
In terms of transportation, lithium-based batteries are divided into non-rechargeable lithium-metal batteries and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries found in mobile phones and laptops. Airlines allow both types as carry-on, either installed or carried as spare packs, as long as they don’t exceed the following limitation of lithium or equivalent content of:
The lithium content of the primary lithium batteries is often printed on the label. Li-ion, on the other hand, has no metallic lithium and uses the equivalent lithium content (ELC) instead. To calculate the ELC, multiply the rated capacity (Ah) times 0.3. As an example, a 1Ah cell has 0.3 grams of lithium. The 8-gram ELC places the upper limit with a 100Wh battery pack.
A laptop battery commonly uses 2Ah cells containing 0.6 grams of ELC each. The battery pack may have eight cells (4 in series; 2 in parallel), which brings the ELC to 4.8 grams, well below the 8-gram limit allowed in a single pack. To derive the watt-hour, multiply the battery voltage by the ampere-hours (Ah). The battery in question has a voltage of 14.40V (4 x 3.6V) and a rating of 4Ah (2 x 2Ah). In summary, 14.4V x 4Ah = 57.6Wh, or roughly 60Wh.
While regulations limit the Li-ion battery to no larger than 100Wh, each passenger and travel companion is allowed to carry spare packs of up to 25 grams of ELC, or 300Wh. The airlines recommend placing each battery in a clear plastic bag or covering the contacts with a tape to prevent an electric short. Although current rules forbid passengers from carrying lithium-ion batteries in checked luggage, devices with non-removable batteries, such as the iPhone, iPad and certain brand of laptops, are exempt from the rules. Out of sight – out of mind.
Anyone shipping lithium-ion batteries in bulk must meet transportation regulations and this applies to domestic and international shipments by land, sea and air. Lithium-ion cells whose equivalent lithium content exceeds 1.5 grams or 8 grams per battery pack (100Wh) must be shipped as “Class 9 miscellaneous hazardous material.”
Film crews often carry larger batteries for professional video cameras, and these are handled as Class 9 hazardous material. If a shipment in the US contains more than 24 lithium cells or 12 lithium-ion packs, special markings and appropriate shipping documents are required. Each package must be clearly marked to inform the airline that lithium batteries are involved. Open cells and packs must be separated to prevent electrical short. The packages must be strong to allow stacking. (See BU-704a: Shipping Lithium-based Batteries by Air.)
Passengers often put the safety of aircraft at risk by checking in or bringing on board undeclared items, including lithium-based batteries. The Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA) remind travelers to declare potentially dangerous goods. If uncertain what items are banned, check dangerous goods under CASA. Figure 1 illustrates banned items.
Figure 1: Consumer goods that are not allowed on an aricraft. If uncertain what items are banned, check “dangerous goods” under CASA or other websites.
Source: Daily Telegraph
Mishaps remind travelers of the importance to observe safety bylaws. In 2014, the captain of the Boeing 737 aircraft declared “Mayday” after observing heavy white smoke billowing from the cargo hold of the plane during an external pre-flight inspection. Emergency crew uncovered 28 batteries in a checked transit case, 6–8 of which had been destroyed by fire. The report said that an electrical short in a battery started the fire after the passenger declared that no batteries were in the transit case. Under civil aviation laws, passengers failing to declare dangerous goods face penalties of up to seven years in prison. Figure 2 illustrates the remains of the charred content.
Figure 2: Exploded transit case. CASA examines the remains of checked luggage after a battery caught fire before take-off. The dangerous goods were not declared. Shipping of lithium-based batteries is regulated under UN 38.3.
Source: Daily Telegraph
Last Updated 2015-12-10
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