TT Talk - Batteries again - this time Lithium ion batteries

We return to the topic of batteries, that was addressed from two different angles in TT Talk Editions 124, 24 Dec 2009 (nickel metal-hydride batteries) and 128, 12 Mar 2010 (recycled batteries).

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a warning to all US airline and charter operators to use special precautions when transporting lithium batteries on cargo aircraft. The warning reflects increasing concerns following a United Parcel Service cargo jet that crashed in Dubai after a fire broke out in the cargo compartment. The jet was carrying a large quantity of lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are commonly used in handheld communication and entertainment devices. The FAA's alert was intended to highlight the threat of batteries overheating and igniting causing a runaway fire. The bulletin also pointed out that fire suppression materials currently used on cargo aircraft are ineffective in dealing with fires caused by lithium batteries. The majority of cargo jets do not have advanced fire suppression systems in their main cargo holds.

The warning fell short of ordering packaging, handling and paperwork changes, but the agency recommended better identification and tracking of lithium battery shipments along with paying special attention to ensuring 'careful handling' of such goods. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) is considering additional actions to reduce air cargo hazards. It is perhaps concerning that industry groups remain opposed to more stringent rules covering packaging, size of battery shipments and training for workers handling lithium battery shipments due to the cost of special packaging and installation of advanced fire suppression systems on aircraft.

For full details of the FAA alert see:

Of course, the experience encountered in air traffic is echoed in road, rail and sea transport. The Club has repeatedly called for increased rigour in relation to such dangerous goods and believes that safety in relation to a known danger should take clear precedence over cost. It is possibly also worth commenting that if fire suppression is viewed as ineffective for cargo aircraft, it is negligible for other modes of transport and generally reliant on more traditional fire fighting methodologies. The Club has previously drawn attention to the FireFoe product (see TT Talk Edition 115, 27 Jan 2009) that could successfully be applied to situations such as highlighted here.

For now the Club recommends that logistics operators and freight forwarders ensure the utmost safety is taken in account when transporting lithium batteries, particularly for airfreight shipments. In general, it is also recommended to ensure that packages or containers are segregated to the extent that if there is a fire it will not develop beyond the area of the batteries.

Staff Author

TT Club