A few minutes after a UPS Boeing 747 cargo aircraft took off from Dubai enroute to Cologne/Bonn, the cockpit filled with smoke. The pilots tried to return to Dubai but were unable to keep the airplane under control and crashed close to Dubai on September 3rd in 2010. Both crew members lost their lives. Investigations revealed afterwards that the reason for the disaster was a massive fire in the cargo hold – an area, where numerous lithium-ion batteries were loaded.
Incidents of lithium-ion batteries catching fire are unfortunately not rare and when these occur onboard an aircraft or a ship, they can easily result in a catastrophe. In the case of a lithium battery fire, extinguishing is done best with copious amounts of water. In addition, the burning battery should then be plunged into a water bath, otherwise it may reignite.
Despite lithium-ion batteries being highly flammable, there is a burning desire amongst smart product manufacturers for these power cells. This is due to their low weight, high energy density and durability which provides many charging cycles. They are used in a growing array of digital products: Besides smartphones, notebooks, and electric bicycles, they can drive gardening tools, children’s toys, cardiac pacemakers, and hearing aids. The growing global market for electric vehicles will intensify the need for lithium-ion batteries. This means their transportation by air, ship, rail, and trucks is rising exponentially.
Many legal regulations for transportation
As incidents of fire show, there are good reasons for declaring lithium-ion batteries to be “Dangerous Goods” and every shipment demands detailed adherence to current regulations for each type of transport vehicle. The same applies to lithium metal batteries, which, in contrast to lithium-ion batteries, are not rechargeable. These can usually be found in watches, cameras, energy meters and security technology.
For all air freight shipments, the annually published IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations apply. For transportation companies, IATA provides comprehensive and fee-based Lithium Battery Shipping Regulations (LBSR). In addition, there are instructions from individual nations and air freight companies, some of which are even stricter. In the maritime freight sector, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is responsible for drawing up the IMDG Code (International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code). Further regulations for road, rail and inland waterway transportation are listed in more detail in this article about dangerous goods.
The various regulations pose challenges to shippers and carriers. Although the shipper of the goods is responsible for its correct labelling, the forwarding company must ensure that the documentation complies with the legal requirements and corresponds to the labelling.
Scope offers security
In Scope, users record important dangerous goods information easily and directly within for example air freight and sea freight shipments. By entering the UN number, specifications for mandatory documents are displayed automatically and will not be forgotten. No cumbersome export into other systems is necessary, the workflow is not interrupted. Within their dangerous goods classification, The United Nations have assigned the numbers UN 3480 and UN 3481 to lithium-ion batteries, depending on whether transported separately or contained within equipment or even packed alongside equipment. Following the same procedure, lithium metal batteries have the numbers UN 3090 and 3091.
In addition, there are the numbers UN 3171 for vehicles that are operated exclusively with lithium-ion batteries or lithium-metal batteries, and UN 3166 for vehicles that are operated, with among other things, lithium-ion batteries, or lithium-metal batteries in combination with a fuel cell.
Exact designations for selection
When creating a shipment, within the selection of UN numbers, Scope offers users a dropdown menu with the exact technical designations of lithium-ion batteries and lithium metal batteries. This is important as they both exist in different versions: They are categorized by the power of the lithium-ion batteries, the lithium content of the lithium metal batteries, or according to whether the batteries are damaged, defective or intended for disposal or recycling. They differ in terms of packing and labelling instructions, as well as the permitted quantity per transport. By selecting a UN number in Scope, the IMDG-Code is generated automatically. Lithium-ion batteries and lithium metal batteries are categorized as a class 9 hazard: “Miscellaneous dangerous substances and articles”. The Cargo-IMP code is also generated automatically by selecting the UN number. The information that a shipment contains dangerous goods is inserted within the air waybill (AWB) or the bill of lading (B/L). Upon registration of dangerous goods, users of the Scope air freight module receive a request to select if their shipment operates under Cargo Air only (CAO).
Additional documents required
According to the DGR, the Shippers Declaration for Dangerous Goods, in short “Shippers Dec.”, is required for air freight shipments as an attachment to the air waybill. It includes all relevant information about the loaded dangerous goods and must be handed over by the forwarder to the carrier. Then, based on all freight documents, the Notification to Captain (NOTOC) is created. This is another attachment to the AWB, which informs the captain about the dangerous goods hazard classes and properties of the freight and about how it should be transported. This includes issues such as ventilation in the cargo hold, required cooling, and which substances may not be stored next to each other. For transportation by sea, a Shippers Declaration is also necessary. According to the IMO Dangerous Goods Declaration, information on weight and packing instructions must be provided, an emergency plan must also be created.
Conclusion: There are good reasons why a lot of safety regulations apply to cargo transportation of lithium-ion batteries and lithium metal batteries. Scope users can conveniently enter the necessary information in a single process. They are also confident that all parties will receive the necessary documentation, ensuring a secure supply chain.