The Vault Regulars

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lithium Batteries and Posting

 I was taken by surprise and unaware that the postage regulations have changed regarding Lithium batteries. 
So if you use numerous batteries for you GPS, camera, watch, and any other accessory then stand by to be shocked. The postage of even one battery is now going to cost you about £5.50 depending on whereabouts in the UK you live. If you live in the remote highlands and islands then i hate to guess what it will cost you.

 Lithium batteries have now been put on the dangerous cargo list and the Royal Mail are not accepting them any more. They have to be shipped by a courier.

 Whats really strange and doesn’t make sense to me is that this regulation only applies to the shipping of the battery as a single item. It doesn’t include the shipping of the battery if the GPS etc etc has been purchased at the same time. Royal Mail find this scenario strangely ok.

 So if you want to read more here are the rules. 

What Royal Mail will be doing.

Whilst it’s almost impossible for Royal Mail to catch every Lithium Battery posted in a Pillar Box, they will be stepping up screening, especially for shipments going by air. That includes all International shipments, but also a large number of domestic deliveries which are transported on a plane for some of their journey.
If Lithium batteries are found they will simply be destroyed, not returned to the sender. Sellers may or may not be notified and/or prosecuted, but regardless it will result in buyers not receiving their purchases.

Impact for marketplace sellers of batteries

If you sell Lithium batteries you should already be shipping them on a business account via Royal Mail tracked. Come January you won’t be able to ship them via Royal Mail unless they are being shipped (domestically and Internationally) when already installed in a device, or when shipped with a device (domestic post only).
If you sell Lithium batteries, including those to fit everything from watches to laptops and even rechargeable drills and somewhat perversely smoke alarms, then these replacement batteries will have to be shipped with an alternative carrier and you should be shipping them as hazardous goods.
I do sympathise with battery sellers, what was once a very low cost highly competitive market will now face increased costs and doubtless some sellers will either be unaware of Royal Mail’s policy changes or simply ignore them leading to uncompetitive pricing by those that do comply. Already many battery sellers are breaking the rules by shipping in stamped mail rather than through a business account.
Whilst shipping with an alternative carrier is likely to cost more, failure to comply with the legal requirements for the transport of dangerous goods puts lives at risk and is a criminal offence which may be subject to prosecution. It’s unlikely a consumer will be prosecuted for breaking the rules, but if you are a business routinely selling Lithium batteries then your marketplace seller reputation suffering from lost shipments could be the least of your worries.
I havn’t transcribed every detail here, but i hope you get the jist of what is going on and why it is now cheaper just to pop to the shops and buy your batteries rather than ordering them on line.


David Cotton said...

To a certain extent, I can see Boeing's woes being somewhat responsible for this change. It has focussed much more attention on lithium batteries.

IANAE, but part of the problem is that certain types (all?) lithium batteries can never be uncharged; they have to remain charged at a level of something like 20%. Take it any lower and bad things can happen when it is recharged. Devices that use them set the 0 (uncharged) state to that base level of charge.

Therefore you have batteries with charge in them. No bother. Except lithium batteries have a nasty habit of catching fire.

It is believed that lithium batteries being carried as cargo have already caused one plane crash.

I really cannot blame Royal Mail for this. They use planes extensively, and they have to ensure those planes are safe.

John J said...

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing: Lithium cells aren't at all dangerous - provided they aren't faulty and are correctly packed.

Of course that goes for all batteries / cells - it's just that lithium, alkaline, lead-acid gel cells and batteries are capable of providing huge amounts of current which could cause a problem or two if the terminals are shorted out.

Lithium batteries need special charging - they're not like normal batteries....ask Boeing!

I've managed to pull 4 amps out of a standard Duracell Alkaline 'D' cell - I'm sure I could have pulled more current if I really tried, that's a lot of heat!


AlanR said...

I can see and agree with RM on the grounds of safety but i don't understand the logic of "it's ok as long as the battery or batteries are supplied with the product".
Surely it should be across the board.

Thanks for your thoughts David.

AlanR said...

JJ you are indeed a mind of use full information. And i can't disagree.

David Cotton said...

"Lithium cells aren't at all dangerous"

Tell that to the FAA and Boeing.

The current panic is because no-one knows what caused the two incidents in the lithium-ion batteries in the 787. Perhaps it is faulty batteries. Perhaps it is faulty circuitry. Perhaps they do not fully understand the way the batteries behave on multiple charging/discharging cycles at different pressures and temperatures.

They do not know. Which is why Boeing are currently going for a mitigation process to get the 787s back in the air, and not a fix. Because they aren't sure at the moment what went wrong to fix.

And there are plenty of examples of li-ion fires in consumer hands. Many of these will have been user error. Some may not.

It is not just a case of shorting out the terminals: the very chemistry of many lithium batteries means that dendrites (a bit like tin whiskers) can form internally if the charge drops too low. And these can lead to shorts when charged afterwards.

To make matters worse, lithium batteries are also nastily prone to thermal runaway - the hotter they get, the more they discharge, increasing the heat. That is what happened in at least one of the 787 cases. And if the runaway cell is packed next to another cell, that can potentially warm up and runaway as well.

Add in the UPS Flight 6 situation, and you can see why - rightly or wrongly - the Royal Mail are being cautious. There is something about certain lithium batteries we do not understand...

But this is *way* away from walking and the hills...

Alan Sloman said...

I think I'll stick with my good old magnetic compass and paper maps.

Then again, my head torch and watch uses those little lithium discs... I'll just have to accept singed eyebrows and a burning wrist.


AlanR said...

Could burn a hole in some wallets too.

David Cotton said...

That confuses me as well.

Perhaps it is because the manufacturers take liability for any damage caused by a fire and insure damage caused by cargo. Although I think that's unlikely. Perhaps it's because manufacturers take steps to prevent it happening (again, IMHO unlikely). Or perhaps the RM just make too much money out of ferrying completed products around, making the gamble worthwhile.

It would be interesting to see their reasoning. It is not in RM's interest to ban such transport without a very good reason.

AlanR said...

Great stuff David,
I remember some phones going up in flames and a certain company tried to deny it was a battery problem. Sheila's phone got extremely hot one more than one occasion.
You can't take chances. We need to understand the issues better.
Don't worry David this post wasn't a walking the hills issue. More a general piece of miscellaneous information.

AlanR said...

It's like we will keep one eye on it but make sure it's blindfolded. Stinks a bit i think.

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