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CHEMTREC Joins Critical Effort to Enhance Lithium Battery Safety in Maritime Transport

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November 30, 2023
By Roy Nash, Ret. U.S. Coast Guard Admiral

CHEMTREC has been invited to participate in the National Chemical Transportation Advisory Committee's (NCTAC) Subcommittee on Safe Transport of Lithium Batteries. This subcommittee, under the U.S. Coast Guard's guidance, aims to improve the safe transport of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries by consolidating industry best practices. Recent incidents involving lithium battery fires on ships and in ports have prompted this initiative.

The subcommittee's mission includes addressing the transportation of various types of Li-ion batteries, from new to damaged and defective, as well as batteries installed in vehicles or machinery for marine shipment. Their recommendations will influence government policies and regulatory requirements.

Notably, lithium battery fires have created significant challenges for firefighters and first responders. One incident involved a container loaded with discarded lithium batteries, listed as "computer parts" but containing hazardous materials. Another incident occurred in the Port of Los Angeles, where improperly declared hazardous cargo posed a severe risk.

Additionally, saltwater exposure has led to electric vehicle (EV) fires, emphasizing the importance of avoiding damaged Li-ion batteries during shipment. Discussions within the subcommittee have expanded to include automobile carriers, especially after incidents like the M/V FELICITY ACE fire, which resulted in the loss of high-end luxury vehicles.

The subcommittee brings together professionals from diverse backgrounds, including HAZMAT shipping, experienced mariners, standards organizations, and government experts, along with CHEMTREC representation. Their combined knowledge addresses the challenges posed by lithium batteries and fire hazards on ships.

Key takeaways from the subcommittee's work so far include the importance of proper packaging and declaration of Li-ion batteries, the hazards of unreported recycling, and the significance of battery state of charge. It's also crucial to consider water requirements for firefighting and the stability of ships carrying heavy EVs.

As the subcommittee continues its efforts to reduce risks associated with Li-ion batteries, it will provide recommendations to the NCTSAC Committee. Valuable insights from scientific research were shared at the 2022 CHEMTREC Summit, and similar sessions are planned for the September 2024 CHEMTREC Summit in Miami.

If you're interested in presenting topics at the upcoming 2024 Summit, please contact CHEMTREC at summit@chemtrec.com.

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