Lithium batteries are the hottest dangerous (DGR) goods topic in air cargo due to the threat they pose to safety.
Just over six months ago, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) prohibited the carriage as cargo of lithium ion batteries (UN 3480 only) on passenger aircraft.
Other changes, include the requirement UN 3480 be shipped at no more than 30 per cent state of charge and restricting shippers consigning as cargo, the small lithium ion and lithium metal cells and batteries to not more than one package per consignment for packages largely excepted from the regulations.
The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) head of DGR and assistant director for cargo safety and standards, Dave Brennan (pictured below) believes a period of consolidation is now needed to allow time for the effectiveness of the last round of regulatory changes to be assessed.
He says: “These changes had a significant impact on shippers’ logistics processes, so we believe more time is required to identify if the changes have solved some of the safety concerns or whether more changes are warranted.”
But does Brennan feel there are more safety regulations that could be introduced to improve the safety of shipping lithium batteries?
He explains: “We believe there are opportunities to look at additional risk mitigation measures. One that the IATA Dangerous Goods Board is considering is to limit which other dangerous goods can be placed in the same package with lithium batteries and also to limit shippers from placing packages containing lithium batteries next to packages containing certain other dangerous goods in an overpack.
“The idea here being if there was to be a fire involving the lithium batteries we should not have other dangerous goods such as flammable liquids or flammable gases right next to the package containing the lithium batteries.”
Brennan says there is also work ongoing through the SAE G-27 Committee to develop a packaging performance standard and the broad objective is to have packaging that has been demonstrated to contain a fire involving lithium batteries.
He notes the G-27 Committee started work in early 2016 and the original plan was to have the packaging performance standard completed and approved by the end of 2016, but that date has slipped and the target is now late in the first quarter of 2017.
Brennan adds: “Potentially the standard will allow lithium ion batteries and possibly lithium metal batteries as cargo back onto passenger aircraft, although this remains to be seen.”
IATA, airlines and the battery industry believe governments need to do much more to address safety at the point of origin.
Brennan says the work to date has been focused on air transport and the regulations on what can be shipped by air, however, given lithium batteries may be manufactured in one State, but placed into air transport in a different State, the air transport system and regulators cannot solve all the safety issues.
He says: “The safety of lithium batteries in transport, and the safety of consumers must be addressed across governments and across States. Lithium battery safety must involve enforcement of appropriate manufacturing standards in the State of manufacture as well as other authorities such as Customs, consumer safety and of course transport, including aviation, road and sea.”
Brennan believes cooperation between jurisdictions to address situations where lithium batteries are manufactured in one country and driven to another is essential. “There must be cooperation between States to ensure the regulations are properly enforced and non-compliances are addressed,” he says.
IATA, the Global Shippers’ Forum, The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), the Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) and RECHARGE – the Advanced Rechargeable & Lithium Batteries Association have written to governments in a number of States requesting ministers take urgent action to improve cross and inter-governmental action to address non-compliance.
Brennan says States have a “duty of care to their citizens” to ensure relevant laws and regulations on lithium battery safety are subject to “proper oversight” and where necessary – enforcement.
He also says there should be appropriate penalty action on rogue producers who flout regulation to address non-compliance and where it is identified shippers are knowingly shipping counterfeit lithium batteries, or avoiding compliance with the regulations, then the penalties applied should be “very severe” and “made public”.
Prohibition of shipping lithium batteries is also impacting authentic manufacturers and exporters. Brennan says it has had a “significant” impact on the ability of shippers of genuine products to get their products to customers: “There are parts of the world such as New Zealand and Australia where there are also no options to be able to get lithium ion batteries by air.
“This has meant that manufacturers and shippers have had to completely redesign their logistics system to instead move to sea freight and then establish local centres to store products.
“The challenge with this is where in airfreight you can ship a single package, in sea freight the standard shipping unit is a container. Shippers of small numbers of packages are then having to wait for months until the freight forwarder has sufficient freight to fill an entire container.”
But Brennan says lithium batteries are different to other DGR goods, as they are manufactured and shipped in very significant numbers – estimating a mind-boggling eight billion lithium cells will be manufactured in 2016.