Battery transport monitoring systems

Safe battery transportation is critical to protect consumer safety and the preservation of property. Hundreds of lithium-based battery fires have occurred in the past years. These fires have resulted in monetary fines worth tens of thousands of dollars per instance1. As battery powered devices and automobiles become more widely used, supply chain management for batteries is becoming more proactive in the monitoring of conditions during transit.

The market growth for battery-powered devices and infrastructure is snowballing as consumers are choosing to use electric powered cars and outdoor equipment. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are the largest segment of the market growth. Almost all car manufacturers today are producing electric powered vehicles. BMW, Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai all are fully invested in supporting electric vehicles in their product line. With battery costs decreasing each year, expert consensus is that by 2022 electric cars will be price competitive with internal combustion engine powered vehicles.

According to research group Bloomberg NEF, battery costs will continue to decrease at a rapid rate. Evaluating a standard, midsize EV car in the US in 2015, the battery was more than 57% of the total cost. Today, it’s around 33%. The battery will be only 20% of total vehicle cost by 2025, according to BNEF. See the graph:

EV battery costs as a percentage of the consumer sale price of the car

According to published data from SMR Consulting, worldwide demand for batteries is expected to grow to $139 Billion by 2026, representing a CAGR of over 15%. Around 2 million electric vehicles were sold worldwide in 2018, representing about 2% of the total. Overall, about 1 out of 250 automobiles on the road are electric. In Scandinavia, the proportion of electric vehicles on the street is as high as 30%.

In addition to electric cars, energy storage projects are happening throughout the world and help support electric grids by capturing surplus electrical energy during low demand periods and storing electricity in battery arrays until needed on an electrical grid. The stored energy provides stability to the electrical infrastructure as it is returned to the grid. The Ballarat Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) was recently completed in Australia and will provide electricity for more than 20,000 homes for an hour of critical peak demand before being recharged. The BESS battery systems are collocated near wind electric generation systems.

China is now the largest producer of electric batteries for automobiles. Specifically, Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd, or CATL, is dominating the Chinese market and looks to expand selling more batteries to Europe and the United States of America. CATL expects to triple production as the Chinese market is turning toward electric cars instead of the internal combustion engine. As more battery cells are made in China, more and more batteries will be transported by ocean freight to Europe and the USA. Transportation companies and manufacturers of batteries are increasingly looking to monitor the conditions of the batteries during transportation to prevent fires and explosions.

Risks of mishandling batteries & types of mishandling

The most significant risks to lithium batteries are from impacts which cause damage to the battery partitions, leading to sparking, which can ignite lithium. Another threat to the battery is from high heat, which puts pressure on the battery cell and increases heat further in a phenomenon called “thermal runaway.” Thermal runaway happens when an increase in temperature causes a further rise in temperature, sometimes leading to a fire or explosion. In a battery scenario, heat within the battery cell puts pressure on other cells and can lead to a blast or severe fire. A typical 60 kWh automobile EV battery weighs as much as 1000 lbs2. (454 kg.). In a fire situation, a battery of this size poses an additional challenge for firefighters. It can take as much as 3000 gallons of water to fight an electric battery car fire3, and it can take 12 to 24 hours to put out fully. After the fire is extinguished, there is also the risk of re-ignition.

Safety Standards for battery transportation

The United Nations (UNECE) has developed a classification system and framework for dangerous goods and specifications for transport conditions for all modes of transportation. The goal of the UN system is to provide a common understanding of the nature of hazardous goods and to prevent accidents to humans, property, and the environment. Rechargeable lithium batteries of various types have been classified and designated specific numbers that provide guidelines for safe transportation. They are:

UN3480 Lithium-Ion Batteries
UN3481 Lithium-Ion Batteries packed with Equipment
UN3481 Lithium-Ion Batteries installed in equipment

Most countries and freight carriers have adopted the UN classification system for their international ocean and air freight activity. To comply with the UN specification, the consignment carrying lithium batteries must have a label applied to the exterior of the package with the applicable UN number displayed. When shipping batteries via air or ocean freight, a safety data sheet (SDS) is not required.

Effective 1 January 2020, manufacturers and distributors of lithium-ion batteries and equipment powered by batteries must make available the test summary as specified in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria.

Safe battery transportation systems

New technologies and tactics have emerged to combat the risks associated with the transportation of lithium batteries. Batteries can be packed in next-generation thermally lined containers with heat mitigating and enhanced impact resistant properties. Tracking and impact recording devices can be attached to the battery that will send real-time alerts in the event of an impact or if a high-temperature threshold has been reached. These devices can also record the GPS location of the battery and can be visualized in real time using cloud-based software. Fire suppression systems can be installed that will contain a lithium battery thermal event and can completely extinguish the fire. These systems provide fire suppression media that is automatically released into the container to halt flame propagation.

Read more how to monitor and record during transportation using Cargolog® Impact Recorder System