The Regulatory Burdens on Lithium Batteries

In our quick review of the remarks and commentary on the dedication of the Systems 123 lithium-ion battery plant in Livonia, Mich., on Monday (see post below), we find no mention of the costly and unnecessary regulations that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has proposed for air shipment of those batteries.

Now, no one wants to rain on a new plant’s parade, but the conflicting messages coming the Obama Administration would have been a useful area of inquiry for reporters. (See Monday post, “Lithium Batteries: Boosting with Subsidies, Draining with Regs.”)

A good query for Energy Secretary Chu might have been: The Administration believes global leadership in battery technology and manufacturing is critical for economic growth. Why, then, is the Administration also proposing shipping regulations that will make these batteries less competitive?

For more on the safety issues, we commend this Aug. 24 letter in USA Today from George A. Kerchner, Executive Director of the The Rechargeable Battery Association, “Batteries can be transported safely.” Excerpt:

Over the past decade, passengers have brought millions of lithium-ion batteries and millions of portable electronic devices — cellphones, laptop computers, portable DVD players, even medical defibrillators — on board an aircraft without incident. These batteries and products also have been transported by air safely when those shipments complied with existing hazardous materials regulations.

Of the 113 battery “incidents” cited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), more than half did not involve lithium-ion or lithium-metal batteries. Many cases were due to shippers who failed to comply with existing hazardous materials regulations.

There also is a misperception about regulation of products carried onto aircraft by passengers. Hazardous materials regulations in fact do impose carry-on restrictions for small lithium-ion batteries. The regulations state that passengers may carry these batteries or equipment onboard the aircraft only if intended for personal use. The regulations also require each spare battery be individually protected to prevent short circuits. The passenger who brought 58 cellphones, batteries and chargers on the American Airlines flight appeared to be in violation of the rules.

Finally, FAA testing has demonstrated that fire suppression agents installed in transport category aircraft are effective in suppressing a lithium-ion battery fire, and testing by the UK Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that any fire that might occur in a passenger cabin can readily be controlled.

The association has much more information on the issue at its website,

President Obama and Vice President Biden have visited battery plants more than a half-dozen times, and given the political and taxpayer investment the Administration has made in the technology, it’s a safe bet there will be future visits. To the reporters covering those visits, please! Ask the question.

Leave a Reply