Lithium battery packaging strives to reduce fire risks

“Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”  King Lear – William Shakespeare

Or to put it in the modern vernacular, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  This is the aphorism that came to mind during my presentation of a new and novel Labelmaster packaging solution at a mini-symposium of lithium battery packaging innovations hosted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal last Saturday.  Taking advantage of the fact that many of the experts on ICAO’s Dangerous Goods Panel were in town for the 25th edition of their meetings to revise the Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, a number of packaging manufactures demonstrated the technical capability of their packagings to solve various aspects of the hazards of transporting lithium batteries by air.

Packaging Innovations on Display

Various methods of containing fires in LiBat packages were on display including one with a liquid/gas component capable of replacing halon for controlling the most severe fires in the shortest time possible.  We saw a special kind of packaging peanut with the amazing property of wrapping itself around a packaging and insulating fires from within it as well as surrounding it.  In addition, there were demonstrations of quite amazing coatings and packaging materials which resist fire penetration for several hours.

Thermal Runaway

But only two presentations, including Labelmaster’s, addressed the problem of eliminating a major concern that is called thermal runaway. This is the property of batteries which is at the very root of their risk, a chain reaction which produces a fire that is very difficult to control/extinguish.  Labelmaster’s packaging design team has gone outside the industry to the fire fighting community to find a material with the property of dramatically cooling an article when it gets to a certain temperature, effectively stopping the fire before it begins.  No fire, no propagation.

So why is the perfect the enemy of the good?   Because, while we have some high level standards to work with, we have not specific testing methodologies to use.  So everyone who is working to provide an enhanced safer lithium battery package is using slightly different techniques; we don’t know if we’re dealing with apples, oranges or indeed pomegranates.

Is Good Enough?

Further, there is a cost associated with each of these solutions.  If I am to be realistic, increased packaging cost is going to have the effect of more undeclared, more non-compliant consignments. What is my conclusion from this enormously informative, useful seminar?  The packaging industry has been proactive in bringing innovation and practicality to the problem of lithium battery shipment.  But, in trying to solve all of the problems that have been raised, we might not yet be close enough to a cost effective, logistically friendly solution. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

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