Safety checklist published for the transportation of lithium-ion batteries

Insurers UK P&I Club and TT Club have teamed up with scientific consultants, Brookes Bell, and issued a 21-page white paper highlighting the continuing safety threat created by the transportation of lithium-ion batteries.

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.

The white paper has a call to action demanding shippers present test certificates issued by an independent laboratory when consigning lithium-ion batteries for transport. The report also urges clearer classification for lithium-ion powered electric vehicles (EVs), with specific requirements such as state of charge, battery chemistry, type of battery, capacity and/or details on safety system in place.

Once EVs are caught up in any blaze they act as a serious accelerant. Lithium-ion batteries which catch fire can reach temperatures of more than 2,700 degrees celsius and have been responsible for a spate of serious shipping blazes recently, getting to the point where earlier this year some of the largest car carrier operators in the world started turning away transporting secondhand battery-powered cars.

The white paper published this week also calls for car carrier operators to have better stowage locations and better monitoring of EVs during voyage, with a view to developing early detection, evacuation and/or firefighting procedures.

Mandatory markings of EVs is another suggestion to assist stowage and emergency response.

When shipping Li-ion batteries by air, IATA regulations specify a maximum state of charge (SOC) of 30% of their rated capacity. No such SOC criteria are currently in place for transportation by sea, or other surface modes of transport, the authors of the report point out.

The paper also notes that current regulations do not take into consideration that a significant proportion of batteries are transported immediately after having been used or charged, as is the case for EVs having been driven onto a roro or car carrier.

“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,” commented Stuart Edmonston, loss prevention director at the UK P&I Club

Aware of the rising risks from EV fires, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued a paper in June last year in which it said that fire fighting equipment and measures in existing ships carrying cars needed to be reassessed.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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