DOT Proposes New Rules on Lithium Batteries

Only very small cells are exempt from Class 9 Hazardous Status in air transport.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has proposed new regulations for air shipments of lithium batteries that would designate small lithium batteries and cells as Class 9 materials to be handled as potentially hazardous.

Developed by DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in coordination with the FAA, the changes strengthen safeguards to ensure that lithium batteries shipped by air can withstand normal transport conditions and are packaged to reduce the possibility of damage, DOT said.
 
The proposed amendments to Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR), however, retain exceptions for “extremely small lithium cells and batteries” that are shipped in limited quantities and packed with or contained in equipment.
(http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/hazmat/regs/rulemaking/
nprm-anprm; Notice of Proposed Rule Making 75 FR 1302-NPRM: Transportation of Lithium Batteries).
 
In tightening requirements for small batteries, the proposed changes eliminate HMR Special Provision 188, which has allowed the use of temperature data loggers as exempt from Class 9 designation. The new small quantity exception limit for batteries with a lithium content that is not deemed to be dangerous is defined in Section 173.185. 
 
Exceptions are retained for batteries with lithium content at or below 0.3 grams or a rating of 3.7 Wh (watt-hour) or less. All batteries would be subject to a new requirement on reporting of overheating incidents.
 
“What DOT is primarily concerned about is batteries that are packed in a manner that could lead to a short curcuit and a “thermal runaway.” The risk is much lower with a battery contained in equipment, assuming the device is designed to withstand expected environmental conditions—which is why we complete tests for drop, shock, vibration, and water ingress,” says Henry Ames, director, strategic marketing, Sensitech (Beverly, MA).
 
“We do not anticipate any disruption in the manufacturing, supply, distribution, or utilization of our temperature-monitoring devices, given that our devices utilize power sources that qualify under the ‘extremely small battery’ category,” Ames says.
 
“Furthermore, Sensitech will work to maintain compliance with the final ruling,” he adds.
 
As Class 9 materials, small batteries that are not excepted would face requirements for marking and labeling, transport documentation, and notification to the pilot of batteries’ presence, type, location, and number of packages.
The proposed rule requires manufacturers to retain results of satisfactory completion of United Nations design-type tests for each battery or cell, and limits stowage to cargo locations accessible to the crew or equipped with an FAA approved fire suppression system, unless the batteries are transported in an FAA-approved container.
 
PHMSA said the rule making is important for the protection of the traveling public as lithium batteries have become common place in consumer electronics and other uses.
 
“Lithum batteries are hazardous in transportation because they present both chemical (e.g., flammable electrolytes) and electrical hazards,” PHMSA said. The safety benefits of the Class 9 designation will “more than offset” any added transportation costs, the agency said.
 
OVERHEATING INCIDENTS
An estimated 3.3 billion lithium cells were transported worldwide in 2008 by all modes of transport. The agency and FAA have identified more than 40 air transport related incidents in which batteries overheated on passenger and cargo planes prior to loading and after air transport, the agency said.
 
Noting that the proposals respond to recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board, PHMSA said they are consistent with changes made to the United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, and the International Civil Aviation Organization Technical Instructions on the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air.
 
The rule proposes a mandatory compliance date of 75 days after publication of the final rule. Given the vast quantity and type of devices and industries that could be affected by increased distribution costs or restricted supply channels, many believe the implementation time frame could be extended, according to several sources.
 
“People are already petitioning DOT for longer implementation dates. Even if the final rule is published in December 2010, you might not see a change for a number of months,” says one transportation executive.
 
Sensitech confirmed HMR exemption status for its devices with DOT last year and reports it is the only device manufacturer with devices approved for use by Delta Airlines Cargo. The company has also demonstrated DO-160 EMI compliance related to electromagnetic interference with aircraft control systems. “A half-
dozen airlines have recently sought the DO-160 EMI certification documentation from us,” says Ames.
“Sensitech is the only temperature monitoring provider that has received full compliance certificates from both the DOT and the International Air Transport Association. And currently we are the only provider that has completed and submitted for approval full DO-160 EMI compliance testing for their entire product line,” Ames says.
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