Viewpoint: Striking Risk-Reward Balance For Shipping Lithium-Ion Batteries

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  • As the use of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries continues to grow, particularly in electric vehicles and other battery-powered goods, the risks associated with transporting these batteries at sea become increasingly significant.
  • Dr. William Moore, Global Loss Prevention Director, discusses the challenges and potential solutions in managing the fire risks associated with shipping Li-ion batteries.

The rapid adoption of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and other battery-powered goods supports the transition away from fossil fuels. However, it also introduces unique challenges, particularly for the maritime industry. As demand for electric vehicles increases, so does the need for safe transportation of Li-ion batteries.

Risks Associated with Shipping Li-ion Batteries

Fires on vessels highlight the risk of thermal runaway, a chemical reaction within a lithium-ion cell that can lead to uncontrollable heating and fire. This can spread to other batteries and cargo onboard, posing a significant risk to the ship, crew, and cargo.

Thermal Runaway

  • Causes: High temperatures can trigger a chemical reaction within a lithium-ion cell, causing it to heat uncontrollably and potentially catch fire.
  • Challenges: Once thermal runaway begins, it can spread rapidly and may be difficult to control or extinguish.

Increasing Demand and Consequences

Electric vehicle sales surpassed 10 million in 2022 and are projected to represent over 25% of car sales by 2030. This trend means more Li-ion batteries will be transported by sea, raising the risk of fires on ships. The insurance industry reports increasing incidents and growing costs due to fires and explosions on vessels.

Insurance and Safety Concerns

  • Insurance: Fires and explosions are the most expensive cause of marine claims, with major insurers reporting a rise in such incidents.
  • Safety: Safety concerns are making it difficult to insure car carriers, prompting a consortium of insurers to provide coverage for risks associated with Li-ion batteries.

Challenges for Seafarers

The risks associated with transporting Li-ion batteries pose significant challenges for seafarers, who may not be equipped to handle fires and explosions as effectively as shore-side firefighters.

  • Training: Seafarers require advanced training in firefighting techniques specific to Li-ion batteries.
  • Resources: Limited access to external help at sea increases the risk and difficulty of managing fires.

Safety Measures and Industry Response

To mitigate risks, the industry is implementing measures such as charging Li-ion batteries to only 30% for transport, reducing the likelihood of thermal runaway. Additional safety protocols are also being established by vehicle carrier operators.

Regulatory and Industry Collaboration

Dr. Moore emphasizes the need for collaboration with regulatory bodies, insurers, and other industry players to develop robust safety protocols and guidelines. Proactive engagement is essential to ensure the safe transportation of Li-ion batteries while supporting the transition to sustainable energy solutions.

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Source: Claims Journal