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It’s currently a hot topic in the logistics world but what is it that makes lithium batteries unstable? And what do the regulations say about transporting them? Mike Wingrove, Logistics Manager at Winchester Supply, provides the answers.

Earlier this month, the risks posed by lithium batteries hit the headlines again with reports of an Australian man suffering severe burns after his iPhone exploded.

Lithium-ion batteries have been banned as cargo on passenger flights with the U.N. Panel recommending the strictest rules yet for transporting them as air cargo. This is a big deal. The global battery industry is huge – worth an estimated $12 billion in revenue. Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly being used in everything from mobile phones to electronic devices to workplace equipment.

However, with the UN recently designating them as Dangerous Goods and governing the transportation of them, it is no surprise that the transport industry is thinking very carefully about how to navigate the risks associated with shipping lithium to avoid further restrictions.

What’s the big deal with lithium batteries?

Lithium batteries are different to normal batteries because of their high charge density (and higher cost). The main risk associated with them is that of rapid-discharge. This can occur because they provide extremely high currents and when short-circuited, can discharge very quickly resulting in overheating, rupture and even explosion.

This risk is increasing due to two key factors. The first being the growing occurrence of disreputable Chinese suppliers that are not declaring shipments as dangerous goods, and the even more frightening rumour that Chinese manufacturers are changing their battery supplier after a product has been certified as safe within their products.

The second factor is simply that there are more of them out there. Since the early 1990s the demand for lithium batteries has been growing and with the combined recipe of the cost-per-unit decreasing and the demand for products using lithium batteries increasing (including electric vehicles) this looks set to continue. And with more lithium batteries out in the world, more incidents are bound to occur. In addition, damaged batteries unfortunately do not become apparent until it is too late.

What do the regulations say?

Since January 2013 strict regulations for transporting lithium batteries were introduced by the IATA – you can read the guidelines here. The UK will not accept lithium batteries unless they are included with the equipment they power. So, sending batteries on their own is a no-go.

The latest update from The ICAO Council confirmed that lithium-ion batteries were prohibited as cargo on passenger aircrafts (effective 1 April 2016). This does not apply when lithium batteries are contained within equipment, however, it does specify that batteries are to be shipped at a charge of no more than 30% of their rated capacity.

How should companies react?

If you are purchasing lithium-ion batteries, or equipment containing them, you should always work with an experienced logistics provider and only purchase from reputable suppliers. The regulations in place specify not only testing and compliance protocols, but also shipping, labeling and loading instructions. To get it wrong is more than a risk to your logistics costs (ie you may face fines and delivery hold-ups) it could mean a much higher risk to human lives if the batteries become unstable.

If you want to find out more about purchasing and shipping lithium-ion  batteries, our team is up-to-date on the latest regulations and only supply fully approved products. Contact us for a chat.

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