Rewriting the rules on Lithium Batteries

The United Nations Dangerous Goods Sub-Committee and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Panel continue to focus on new lithium battery transport regulations.

George A. Kerchner is Executive Director of the PRBA — The Rechargeable Battery Association. He has extensive experience with US and international hazardous materials and dangerous goods transportation regulations. He also represents the organization and other battery trade associations at domestic and international transportation forums such as the United Nations Subcommittee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, the ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The UN Sub-Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods formally decided in December 2016 that a new dangerous goods classification system for lithium batteries was warranted in light of the evolution of the various lithium battery chemistries and the different hazards posed by the different chemistries and battery form factors.

More importantly, the hazards associated with lithium batteries in transport are now better understood than when the applicable dangerous goods regulations and packing instruction were first developed in the mid- 1990s.

The dangerous goods regulations that govern the transport of lithium batteries and products containing them have evolved into a complex set of regulatory requirements that challenge even the most experienced regulators and dangerous goods professionals.

The work of the UN’s lithium battery informal working group will ultimately lead to a complete rewriting of the lithium battery dangerous goods regulations, classification criteria, and supporting UN38.3 test standard.

For example, it is entirely possible a new regulatory scheme will be developed with new UN numbers assigned to different battery chemistries based on how they perform under specified test conditions. This is likely a four-to-six-year project.

The ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel is taking a slightly different approach with lithium batteries and is in the process of developing an unprecedented packaging standard that will ultimately be required for lithium batteries shipped by air.

The stated purpose of the standard is to provide a test method to demonstrate and document the mitigation of potential hazards from lithium batteries when transported as cargo on aircraft.

It will address the hazards that may arise from a failure of an individual lithium cell by containing the hazards within the package used for shipping.

Mitigating the consequences of a failure within the package is intended to prevent fire and pressure pulses that may compromise fire suppression systems within the cargo compartment of an aircraft.

A final version of the standard is expected to be published in late 2018.

George A. Kerchner will be chairing a Lithium Battery Regulations Masterclass at the 2017 TIACA Executive Summit, joined by Katherine Rooney PhD, Chief, Cargo Safety Section, ICAO, and Sam Elkind, Corporate Regulated Goods Manager, UPS.

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