Lithium-ion battery transport causing more catastrophic transport events

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by Emily Atkins

The increasing demand for electric-powered vehicles and devices is posing a risk for transportation.

TT Club, UK P&I Club and technical and scientific consultancy Brookes Bell have published a paper highlighting the dangers inherent in the transport of lithium-ion batteries, particularly by sea.

Recently, serious and sometimes catastrophic incidents involving lithium-ion batteries have become more commonplace, with fires reported in all modes of transport – ocean, air and land – as well as in warehouses and where such consignments are at rest,” said Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT’s risk management director.

The boom in ‘green power’ for a wide range of portable devices such as mobile phones, mobility aids and recreation, manufacturing and power storage, through to larger products, such as electric vehicles, will result in the production and transport of these batteries rising exponentially in the coming years.

The paper outlines many of the numerous challenges facing the transport industry and raises awareness of the potentially catastrophic situation that can be caused by battery failure. TT Club said the paper was produced to correct the widely held perception in the maritime community that risks in the supply chain of such products are relatively small.

As loss prevention director of the UK P&I Club, Stuart Edmonston is no stranger to the damage ship fires can cause. “The consequences of battery failure and the resultant thermal runaway must be clearly understood and the correct procedures for handling them adhered to throughout their lifespan.  The dangers can exist no matter the status of the battery; charged, semi-charged, used, second-hand or scrap, and whether present in devices and vehicles or packaged separately.”

The paper includes details of the background science behind lithium-ion batteries and the dangers associated with transporting them and why they arise, such as insufficient testing and incorrect declaration. The paper also provides a review of current dangerous goods (DG) regulatory provisions, focusing on the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, with recommendations for change or further work. The final section of the paper discusses the current state of the firefighting provision and changes that could be implemented.

The authors also offer guidelines to help pre-empt dangerous incidents by correct classification and declaration, safe and effective packaging, mandatory markings and labelling, uniformity of regulations regarding testing and suitable storage environments while batteries are awaiting transport.

“While increased industry awareness is crucial and technology to monitor and restrict fires is advancing, the increased capacities of batteries and the expected rise in trade volumes means regulations are potentially not fit for purpose, having been slow to catch up,” said Karwei So, managing scientist at Brookes Bell.

“The joint paper outlines initial ‘calls to action’ in a number of respects, impacting not simply those tasked with moving this commodity and their regulators, but most importantly any industries involved in manufacturing or using this increasingly crucial power source, who enter the goods or related products into the freight supply chain.”