The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would bar new rules concerning the transportation of lithium batteries. The proposed new rules would classify the batteries as hazardous materials and thus subject them to tighter regulations regarding their shipment.
Congressional Democrats backed the regulations proposed by the pilot unions, among others that attempt to limit the shipment of lithium batteries whether stand alone or packaged inside a laptop, digital camera or cellphone. According to Bloomberg, the regulators say that the batteries are a risk to overheat and ignite.
The proposed rules, filed on behalf of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (part of the Department of Transportation), would affect packaging and transportation of the lithium batteries. From the official proposal:
The proposed changes are intended to enhance safety by ensuring that all lithium batteries are designed to withstand normal transportation conditions. This would include provisions to ensure all lithium batteries are packaged to reduce the possibility of damage that could lead to a catastrophic incident, and minimize the consequences of an incident.
Why are lithium batteries so dangerous, according to the Department of Transportation?
Lithium batteries are hazardous in transportation because they present both chemical (e.g., flammable electrolytes) and electrical hazards. If not safely packaged and handled, lithium batteries can present a significant risk in transportation. Batteries which are misused, mishandled, improperly packaged, improperly stored, overcharged, or defective can overheat and ignite and, once ignited, fires can be especially difficult to extinguish. Overheating has the potential to create a thermal runaway, a chain reaction leading to self-heating and release of the battery's stored energy. In general, the risks posed by all batteries are a function of battery size and chemistry. The high energy density (i.e., high energy to weight ratio) of lithium batteries increases the consequences of a short circuit or fire posing a greater risk in transportation.
An analysis was commissioned and it was predicted that the new rules could cost companies like Apple, Panasonic and Samsung $1.13 billion the first year is costs relating to training, packaging and transportation. As of now, however, those companies need not worry about the projected costs as the newly elected Republican House of Representatives has voted to kill the new rules. A similar but different bill will be up for debate in the Senate at a later time.