Navigating the Rising Fire Risk of Lithium-ion Batteries in the Supply Chain

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The logistics industry is experiencing significant transformations in response to the changing dynamics of the consumer market. As retailers adapt to these changes, a growing concern arises regarding the increasing fire threat posed by lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries, particularly in warehousing and sea shipping operations. This article explores the implications of this emerging risk and its impact on the logistics industry. Logistics professionals can navigate these changes effectively by understanding the challenges and implementing proactive measures.

Li-ion Batteries: A Growing Fire Threat

With the rise of Electronics, using li-ion batteries has become prevalent. However, this increased adoption also brings about a growing risk, due to the larger volumes of li-ion batteries being stored in warehouses and transported on vessels. The main threat associated with li-ion batteries is the occurrence of thermal runaway events, which are characterized by uncontrollable self-heating that leads to the ejection of gas and shrapnel at extremely high temperatures. Poorly constructed batteries, overcharging, and using incorrect charging devices can trigger these events.

According to an Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) report, thermal runaway events affect all configurations of li-ion batteries used in vehicles, including battery electric vehicles (BEV), hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). These events pose a significant risk to the logistics industry as they can result in fires and explosions, endangering personnel, cargo, and infrastructure.

The Challenges of Determining Cause

The AGCS report highlights a challenge in determining the cause of on-ship fires, often resulting from thermal runaway events. These fires burn at extreme temperatures and for extended periods, leaving little to no evidence to examine. As a result, early detection becomes challenging, and firefighting efforts are hindered by a staffing shortage and limited firefighting capabilities onboard vessels.

The primary focus must be on prevention to address this challenge. Randy Lund, Senior Marine Risk Consultant at AGCS, emphasizes the importance of prevention measures to mitigate the risk. Early detection systems are recommended to enhance safety and enable timely response in case of any potential fire risks. These tools include watch-keeping and fire rounds, thermal scanners, gas detectors, heat and smoke detectors, and CCTV cameras..

Prevention Measures in Transportation & Storage

AGCS provides recommendations for various stakeholders in the supply chain to mitigate the risk of li-ion battery fires, including manufacturers, shippers, transporters, and insurance underwriters. These recommendations are based on available information and testing and aim to ensure the safe transportation and storage of li-ion batteries.

One key recommendation is to limit the state of charge (SoC) of li-ion cells and batteries during transport. It is advised that li-ion cells and batteries be offered for transport at an SoC not exceeding 30% of their rated capacity. This measure helps reduce the risk of thermal runaway events during transportation, minimizing the potential for fires and explosions.

Enhancing Training & Awareness

Shipping lines play a crucial role in ensuring the safe transport of li-ion batteries. AGCS recommends that shipping lines provide seafarers enhanced training and awareness protocols on li-ion firefighting techniques. This training equips seafarers with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively respond to and manage potential fire incidents involving li-ion batteries.

Statistics show that fire incidents related to li-ion batteries are a growing concern. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated 1,100 fires are caused by lithium-ion batteries in the United States alone each year. These fires pose risks not only to personnel safety but also to the environment and property.

Collaboration & Regulation

Collaboration and knowledge-sharing among stakeholders in the supply chain are vital to effectively mitigate the risk of li-ion battery fires. Manufacturers, shippers, transporters, and regulatory bodies must work together to understand the hazards of li-ion batteries and develop best practices for safe transportation and storage.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has recognized the need for regulations to address the risks of li-ion battery fires in the maritime industry. The International Code for the Safe Carriage of Packaged Hazardous Articles (ICHCA) provides guidelines for safely transporting dangerous goods, including li-ion batteries, by sea. Compliance with these regulations is essential to minimize the risks associated with li-ion battery fires and ensure the safety of maritime operations.

Examples of Industry Response

Several companies and organizations have already addressed the risk of li-ion battery fires in logistics operations. For instance, Amazon, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, has implemented stringent safety measures in its warehouses and distribution centers to prevent and manage fire incidents related to li-ion batteries. These measures include installing advanced fire detection and suppression systems, as well as employee training on handling hazardous materials.

In the shipping industry, Maersk, one of the largest container shipping companies globally, has collaborated with other industry stakeholders to enhance safety measures for the transportation of li-ion batteries. They have developed guidelines and protocols for safely handling, storing, and transporting these batteries, ensuring compliance with international regulations and promoting best practices.

Key Recommendations for Industry

The increasing fire threat posed by li-ion batteries in logistics operations calls for proactive measures and collaboration among stakeholders in the supply chain. The logistics industry can effectively mitigate the risks associated with li-ion battery fires by implementing preventive measures, enhancing training and awareness, and complying with regulations.

Logistics professionals must stay updated on the latest developments, guidelines, and best practices related to the safe transportation and storage of li-ion batteries. Prioritizing safety, adopting advanced technologies for early detection, and fostering collaboration allow the logistics industry to continue meeting the evolving demands of the changing consumer market while ensuring the safety of personnel, cargo, and assets.

Wrapping Up

The implications of the growing fire threat posed by li-ion batteries highlight the importance of risk management, compliance with regulations, and continuous improvement in safety protocols. As the logistics industry adapts to the changing landscape, addressing the challenges associated with li-ion batteries will be crucial in maintaining efficient and secure supply chain operations.

Vivian Llambes
Vivian loves working here. She has been with the company since the start, over two decades ago. When she's not giving her 110% to help her clients business succeed, you can find Vivian spending time outdoors with her family, or relaxing on the beach with a good book.

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