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New regulations reduce battery transport risks

New regulations reduce battery transport risks
Jean-Louis Evans, Managing Director at TUV SUD Product Service, discusses new regulations to cover the transportation of batteries by air, land and sea.

While bad press surrounding the volatility of lithium-ion batteries has meant that some consumers and manufacturers question their long-term viability, an air crash in September last year left transport companies nervous about carrying them. After UPS flight 006 crashed in Dubai, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) advised operators that the plane's cargo included lithium-ion batteries and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) issued a guidance document on their carriage. It also recommended that airlines adopt new procedures to reduce the risk of onboard fire posed by them. 

A subsequent airborne fire and loss of another freighter over the East China Sea, which was carrying Li-ion batteries, has further heightened concerns, although the cause of the fires on both aircraft has not yet been proven. Needless to say, transport companies are increasingly nervous about carrying lithium-ion batteries. To combat such views, new regulations from The United Nations (UN) Manual of Tests and Criteria now cover transport by air, land and sea.

The revised Fifth Edition of the UN's regulations came into effect last year (2010) and includes test procedures for dangerous goods as classified by the UN's Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. It is sub-section UN38.3 which contains the revised provisions for the testing and classification of lithium-ion metal and lithium-ion batteries. 

The Fifth Edition also now covers larger batteries and cells due to the increasing prevalence of electric vehicles and their power packs. Under the rules for transportation companies to accept lithium-ion batteries, tests must be conducted for each battery type, involving various states of charge (discharged, charged, first charge cycle and 50th charge cycle). Five out of eight tests are mandatory and apply to all cells and batteries, while the other three depend on what is being tested - a cell, battery or a rechargeable battery. 

To create a method for ageing the battery and thereby replicate its real lifetime usage, tests must be completed in a specific order. Most importantly, the entire sequence of tests must also be repeated if any of the five mandatory tests fail. Each test stage is passed if there is no change to the cell or battery's integrity such as leakage, decomposition or explosion. 

Repeating the tests
Going back to square one is not just down to ensuring that the battery is aged correctly, but also if you fix one problem, that adaption may then affect the results of the other tests within the earlier test sequence. Of course, the consequences of failing part of the test sequence is that the manufacturer will have to pay for new tests and supply new product samples, and there will be a delay in getting products to market. 

The following tests must be performed in this order:
  • Test_1:_Simulation of low pressure conditions for air transport.
  • Test_2:_Thermal tests to simulate extreme temperature changes.
  • Test_3:_Simulation of vibration during transportation.
  • Test_4:_Simulation of possible shocks during transportation.
  • Test_5:_Simulation of an external short circuit.
  • Test_6:_Simulation of the kind of impact that might be expected in transportation.
  • Test_7:_Test the ability of the rechargeable battery to withstand overcharge.
  • Test_8: Forced discharge, which evaluates a cell's ability to withstand a forced discharge.

Lithium-ion battery and cell packaging must also be tested before batteries and cells can be given the green light to be shipped in large volumes, which, of course, allows manufacturers to benefit from increased economies of scale. Class 9 of the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria defines the packaging specification for cells that have a watt hour rating of more than 20Wh or batteries with a rating over 100Wh. This includes markings, labelling, and shipping documentation requirements. Lithium-ion cells and batteries that have a watt hour rating of less than 20Wh or 100Wh respectively are exempt from these Dangerous Goods regulations. However, how they are packaged and documented still needs to meet section UN38.3.

To ensure safety during transportation, the analysis of packaging integrity includes drop, stacking and topple tests. Most packaging is also required to meet specific performance tests dependent on the design-type of the packaging. Batteries under 100Wh, for example, are required to be:
  • Packed in strong outer packaging with the maximum weight of the packaged batteries not being more than 10kg when transported on aircraft.
  • Completely enclosed by the inner packaging. Each package must also be able to withstand a 1.2 meter drop test without any damage to the battery and without shifting or release of the contents.

Whether they are considered dangerous goods or not, all lithium-ion batteries also have strict labelling and documentation requirements. These are quite complex and require that packages are marked with:
  • Consignee name and address;
  • Correct shipping name;
  • Details about any handling requirements;
  • Shipper's name and address;
  • UN number;
  • UN packaging specification, and
  • lWhat the contents are - each package must therefore have a lithium-ion battery handling label.

Those batteries listed as dangerous goods must also be accompanied by a Dangerous Goods Transport Document, which is a declaration from the manufacturer that what the transport company is conveying complies with the safety regulations.
Even though lithium-ion batteries are increasingly used to support our hunger for the latest technologies, their chemistry remains quite volatile. UN38.3 should help to ensure that this chemistry is treated with respect, and that lithium-ion batteries and cells, and the handlers of these products, remain safe as more are transported across air, sea and land, hopefully making transport companies less nervous about carrying the lithium-ion batteries upon which we depend.
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