Global Lithium Battery Industry Faces Multiple Regulatory Tests in 2014

George A. Kerchner, Executive Director
PRBA – The Rechargeable Battery Association

Right from the start, the global lithium battery industry will address a barrage of regulatory issues in 2014.

From February 4th to 6th, a multi-disciplinary working group meeting organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) will meet in Atlantic City, N.J., to consider potential restrictions on the shipping of lithium metal batteries on cargo and passenger aircraft.  The meeting has been dubbed by ICAO as the “First International Lithium Battery Transport Coordination Meeting.”  The meeting will include not only experts on dangerous goods and DGP members but also experts on airworthiness, battery manufacturing and packaging, and flight operations. At a meeting last fall in Montreal, the DGP considered new regulations on lithium metal batteries based on recent flammability testing conducted by the US Federal Aviation Administration but failed to agree on what, if any, regulatory changes should be adopted.

A second ICAO meeting on the transport of lithium metal batteries is tentatively scheduled for the week of April 7th to 11th in Montreal. Participants will include the members of the ICAO DGP and interested parties such as PRBA – The Rechargeable Battery Association. If the working group at the Atlantic City meeting recommends proposed changes to the ICAO Technical Instructions for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, participants in Montreal will discuss and vote on them.

Possible changes include a ban on the shipment of lithium metal batteries on passenger aircraft, elimination of all exceptions for lithium batteries shipped by air, limitations on the quantity of these batteries transported in the cargo hold of passenger or cargo aircraft, and more stringent packaging requirements. There is no indication that the ICAO DGP will consider regulatory changes that apply equipment containing lithium metal batteries. Any changes approved by the DGP would likely take effect in 2015.

As a follow up to an October 2013 United Nations working group meeting on UN testing requirement for large format lithium batteries, PRBA, COSTHA (the Council on Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles) and RECHARGE (the European Association for Advanced Rechargeable Batteries) will host a second intercessional working group meeting February 11th to 12th in Brussels. Issues to be considered include proposed changes to shock, short circuit and overcharge testing requirements in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria.

Also, early this year, PRBA is planning to meet with the UK Dangerous Goods Office and the US Department of Transportation to discuss proposals for a new hazard identification label or mark for lithium batteries. The UN Subcommittee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods agreed to consider a new label or mark for lithium batteries at its November 2013 meeting. A new label or mark requirement could affect all modes of transport and the shipment of consumer products and other equipment containing lithium batteries. The UN Subcommittee is expected to consider proposals on a new label or mark at its June 2014 meeting.

In the US, the industry is also awaiting federal Office of Management and Budget review of a long-pending lithium battery final rule to be issued by the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that would harmonize US rules on the air shipment of lithium batteries with long-standing international regulations. An OMB decision is expected in early 2014.

Finally, three states, California, Minnesota and Vermont, are likely to consider primary battery stewardship legislation this year. The legislation, promoted by the Corporation for Battery Recycling and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, would mandate establishment of stewardship programs for used consumer primary batteries.

PRBA’s interest in primary battery legislation stems from its interest in preserving successful  rechargeable battery stewardship programs like Call2Recycle and retail battery collection programs operated by PRBA member companies.

California and Minnesota considered primary battery stewardship legislation during the 2013 legislative session but opposition from some industries derailed the bills. Legislation is considered most likely to succeed in Minnesota given support for the proposal from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

For the lithium battery industry, 2014 is shaping up as a momentous year. Stay tuned.

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