Battery makers and customers face transport challenges

Battery makers and customers face transport challenges

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The regulations from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) came into force into force at the beginning of April after only three months and restrict the amount of charge and the number of battery consignments that can be carried.

Lithium ion batteries now have to carry no more than 30% charge, which is leading some manufacturers to add new product numbers for batteries that can be shipped by air.

“The current status is that we are transitioning at the moment,” said Alex Stapleton, product manager for power packs at battery maker VARTA Storage in Germany. “The transport regulations change in April and we are under heightened restrictions as the batteries have to be charged at 30% or less where previously it was common for 45 – 60% range for transport and storage. That’s had quite a profound effect,” he said.

The transportation documentation and declaration of conformity for shipping has to include the part number of the battery, so VARTA is adding new part numbers for batteries with a lower charge. These documents are included in the Design Library launched earlier this week.

“In our industry part number changes are taken very seriously so we would always be informing people in advance of the changes,” said Stapleton. “For example the EasyPack SLIM battery has a 12 digit part number that’s integrated into the design library and when we make changes we take a lot of care to inform the supply chain when the changes happen. The reason it’s important is it’s wrong to assume that everyone wants a product at 30% – some want batteries charged up to 50% and will ship them by sea.”

“The bottom line is we are moving all our products so they can be shipped by air – it’s not complete yet, we have only 3 or 4 products so far and the declaration of conformity is clear about that,” said Stapleton. “We are changing our part numbers to be clear about that as well and that will filter through in the next three to four months.

There are also limits on the consignments with only one package per consignment carrying batteries, and these can’t be shipped on planes that carry passengers.

 “It can be tricky navigating new legislation such as this and there are new challenges to consider such as shelf life and confirmation of state of charge,” said Michele Windsor, marketing manager at UK battery maker Accutronics. “Further safety measures stipulated in the new regulations state that external boxes and packaging must pass a 1.2m drop test and meet criteria to protect against damage, shifting, or the release of contents in order to assure that the packaging is suitable for air transport, and Li-ion batteries may no longer be shipped on passenger air craft and may only be transported via cargo craft.”

UK broadcast battery supplier PAG points out that Li-Ion batteries cannot be carried as hold luggage unless the battery is attached to the camera or the equipment it powers, and while an individual may take an unlimited number of Li-Ion batteries that have capacities of 100 Wh or less in hand luggage, there is a limit of two batteries per person with capacities up to 160 Wh. However, larger batteries over 160 Wh cannot be taken as hand luggage or checked-in under any circumstances and so have to be shipped as cargo.

All this is creating more paperwork. PAG recommends putting each battery in a plastic bag with tape over the contacts and carrying a copy of the Air Transportation Certificate they supply with each battery.

This has led to the US Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) to call for tougher enforcement of the transport regulations for battery makers in China. “Unfortunately, we are seeing an enforcement gap in China by agencies overseeing the transport of lithium ion batteries,” said George Kerchner, executive director of the PRBA. 

Lithium ion batteries manufactured in China are often shipped internationally from Hong Kong to avoid China’s regulatory oversight and dangerous goods regulations, which are inconsistent with international standards. As a result, it seemingly has been difficult for Hong Kong authorities to enforce dangerous goods regulations on shippers and manufacturers of lithium ion batteries that originate in China, said Kerchner. Counterfeit lithium ion batteries from China pose another problem as China has emerged as one of the world’s largest producers of lithium ion batteries.

Kerchner recommended several solutions, including better coordination among regulators, airlines, freight forwarders, and the battery industry. China must enforce lithium battery safety regulations at the point of origin, including the initial shipper and the battery manufacturer, he said. 

He cites James Woodrow, head of IATA’s Cargo Committee and chief of Cathay Pacific Cargo, who last year told the industry it must unite to stop non-declared dangerous goods being sent by air. “Flagrant abuses of dangerous goods shipping regulations, which place aircraft safety at risk, must be criminalised, as are other actions which place aircraft safety at risk,” said Woodrow. “Government authorities must step up and take responsibility for regulating producers and exporters.”

This in turn has led to the changes in the IATA regulations, and to promote the changes IATA has also produced a pamphlet and a poster.


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