Exploding cell phones, grounded airplanes, and hoverboards catching fire are just a few catastrophes caused by the wrath of lithium batteries.
Lithium batteries are small compact devices that are immensely useful due to lithium being the least-dense element thus allowing more power to be packed in such a confined space compared to any other type of battery. With great power comes great responsibility as they are also dangerous goods much similar to that of propane or gasoline.
Lithium batteries are broken down into two categories, Lithium metal batteries (primary) and lithium-ion batteries (secondary).
Lithium metal batteries are usually non-rechargeable, contain lithium metal, and are composed of a higher energy density as opposed to other non-rechargeable batteries. They are found in calculators, pacemakers, watchers, & car key fobs, to name a few.
Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable, contain no metallic lithium, and are found in consumer products ranging from e-bikes, laptops, tablets, to mobile cell phones and power tools.
With lithium being such a highly reactive substance, it shouldn’t be a surprise that serious issues can arise from even the most minuscule defect. There are very thin separators that are responsible for dividing the elements of the battery and keeping them apart. If the battery possess a faulty separator, a short-circuit can be produced. A short-circuit translates to over heating which can lead to combustion.
If this occurs any neighboring batteries can begin to overheat causing a chain reaction resulting in all hell breaking loose. On account of their volatility, handling and transporting lithium batteries should always be approached with extreme care and caution.
It is, in fact, the volatility that has forced the U.S Department of Transportation to issue “new standards to strengthen safety conditions for the shipment of lithium cells and batteries” says DOT.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) was also obligated to modernize their Dangerous Goods Regulations in relation to specifically shipping lithium batteries by updating the requirements ensuring safety and protection. IATA previously improved their guidelines just over a year ago just further proving the constant need for revolutionizing measures taken to reduce as much risk as possible.
The most important changes & updates that were made are as followed:
- Labelling requirement – The number of shipment items not subject to labelling requirements according to Pi 967 and PI 970 (max. 2 batteries / 4 cells) is limited to 2 per shipment. This affects lithium-ion and lithium-metal batteries integrated into a device. They require a label even where not more than 2 batteries or 4 cells per shipment are contained per shipment item (not subject to labelling), but more than 2 shipment items per shipment are shipped.
- In principle, every packaging item containing lithium batteries (UN 3090, UN 3480) must bear a ‘Cargo Aircraft Only’ label, in addition to all other required marks and/or labels.
- Instructions for shipment of Section II lithium batteries – Since 1 January 2017, the Dangerous Goods Regulations (Section 1.6.2) contains an exact definition of ‘sufficient instructions’ as required in the packaging requirements for persons who prepare or provide lithium batteries for shipment.
- Changes in labelling and documentation – Since 1 January 2017, the previous Class 9 lithium battery label and lithium battery handling label (Section II) have been replaced by new Class 9 labels. There is a transitional period until 31 December 2018. Simultaneously, since the beginning of the year transport documentation for lithium batteries is no longer required.
Packaging Lithium Batteries:
Accurately labeling lithium batteries is crucial. Another factor that is as equally important, if not more, would be safely packaging and securing the batteries for shipment. IATA gave a brief description of what goes into making sure lithium batteries are correctly packaged to minimize the possibility of an accident occurring in their Lithium Battery Guidance Document.
Preventing battery terminals from coming into contact with other batteries, metal objects, or conductive services is vital. Separating the batteries to prevent short-circuits by utilizing strong durable outer packaging is required for maximum protection. An example of correctly adhering to the requirements is shown:
As previously mentioned, care and caution needs to go into properly transporting lithium batteries due to the fact that unnecessary risks are created when done hastily. Transportation companies that have years of experience shipping dangerous goods, such as DGD Hazmat, are always your best bet to confidently get the batteries to their destination safely. Why gamble the wellbeing of yourself and the wellbeing of others by not taking the necessary precautions?