Lithium-ion technology it's used to power all of our gadgets (laptops, cameras, medical devices, etc.) these days, and that means manufacturers now routinely ship millions of products containing lithium cells and batteries every month.
This winter, however, after years of study, the U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed stricter rules for the shipment of lithium cells and batteries, including lithium cells and batteries packed with or contained in equipment. Why? Because since 1991, more than 40 incidents involving lithium batteries or lithium battery-powered devices on aircraft have been reported an obvious red flag to regulators at DOT concerned that the batteries can self-combust in transit.
To put all this into perspective, UPS told DOT that a review of the shipping activity of just seven of its 1.8 million customers revealed annual volumes of 40 million shipments containing lithium cells and batteries. Daily air shipments of lithium batteries just from these seven customers would exceed 156,000.
And, UPS like shippers, in general says it is in favor of regulations to improve aviation safety.
But, not everyone agrees. The lithium battery industry argues that the new restrictions would require companies to rethink every shipment, likely adding trips and driving up costs per product but with negligible safety gains. According to National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), DOT's new proposals "would place a significant and undue burden on multiple U.S. industries without measurably improving safety of pilots, crew, passengers and cargo on aircraft over and above that resulting from the existing requirements"
NEMA's complete comments are available here.
The 60-day public comment period for the proposed changes recently ended, and now DOT officials are reviewing the comments submitted. A final ruling is expected late summer or fall 2010.
More details about the proposed changes on transportation of lithium batteries are available here.