Whitepaper highlights safety risks of battery transportation

Insurers TT Club and UK P&I Club have teamed up with scientific consultants Brookes Bell to issue a whitepaper highlighting the continuing safety threat created by the transportation of lithium-ion batteries.

The document aims to bring greater awareness of the dangers inherent in the transport of lithium-ion batteries, particularly by sea. The increased demand for ‘green power’ for a wide range of portable devices such as mobile phones, mobility aids and recreation, manufacturing and power storage, through to larger products, such as electric vehicles will likely result in the production and transport of these batteries rising exponentially in the coming years.

The whitepaper outlines many of the numerous challenges facing the transport industry and raises awareness of the potentially catastrophic situation that can be caused by battery failure, thus in part correcting the widely held perception in the maritime community that risks in the supply chain of such products are relatively small.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT’s risk management director, said: “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.”

Stuart Edmonston, loss prevention director of the UK P&I Club, added: “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.”

The topics covered in the whitepaper include details of the background science behind lithium-ion batteries, the dangers associated with transporting them and why they arise, such as insufficient testing and incorrect declaration. The paper also provides a review of current dangerous goods regulatory provisions, focusing on the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code, with recommendations for change or further work. The final section of the paper discusses the current state of the firefighting provision and changes that could be implemented.

Speaking of the growing risk, Karwei So, managing scientist at Brookes Bell, said: “While increased industry awareness is crucial and technology to monitor and restrict fires is advancing, the increased capacities of batteries and the expected rise in trade volumes means regulations are potentially not fit for purpose, having been slow to catch up.”

"The joint paper outlines initial ‘calls to action’ in a number of respects, impacting not simply those tasked with moving this commodity and their regulators, but most importantly any industries involved in manufacturing or using this increasingly crucial power source, who enter the goods or related products into the freight supply chain.”

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