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Chairman's Closing Statement, Forum: Lithium Ion Batteries in Transportation
Deborah A. P. Hersman
Chairman's Closing Statement, Forum: Lithium Ion Batteries in Transportation

On behalf of my fellow Board members, I want to thank everyone who has participated in this forum — especially our panelists, who took the time to provide us with informative presentations and to answer our many questions. And, many thanks to the NTSB team, especially Mike Hiller, for the great work putting this forum together.

This has been a valuable forum. We've learned a lot and covered a lot of territory and thanks to our many panelists we have broadened and deepened our knowledge base about lithium-ion battery technology.

I opened the forum yesterday with some basics about what we know about lithium-ion batteries in transportation.

A day-and-a-half later, we know a lot more.

We heard that lithium-ion is a family of chemistries; it's not just one chemistry.

We heard about passive and active safety management and about 28 quality control standards. We heard about manufacturing processes and the preference for performance standards.

We heard about how pervasive these batteries are ... how they are hazardous materials ... and about the work that is being done to assure their safety when they are transported.

We know that we must assume that a battery can fail at any time, but as Quallion's Vince Visco noted, the big question is, "Can it fail safe?"

Failing safely is the cornerstone of transportation design. If a warning gate at a highway-rail grade crossing loses power or senses an anomaly, the gate fails in the down position, protecting motorists from any approaching train. Or, in aviation or pipelines, when excess flow of current or fuel is detected, the fail-safe is valves close.

Fifty-two years ago today, the world saw the first man in space — Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. American Alan Shepard's first flight was a month later.

Fast forward a half-century to last August and the Curiosity landed on Mars — carrying the most sophisticated movable laboratory ever sent to another planet. And, that movable lab contains two lithium-ion battery packs.

The changes that we have seen in the two generations since the first manned space flight are staggering.

A half-century ago, our parents had a telephone, one telephone. It was fixed to the wall ... with a cord and a rotary dial and you often needed the assistance of a human operator to make a call.

Today, smartphones are ubiquitous and their uses appear limitless — and while they are called phones, they are also cameras, game stations, video cameras, flashlights, alarm clocks, and apps are growing exponentially.

Yes, change is constant.

And, the pace is picking up.

This is why it has been so heartening to hear so many panelists say that they are always looking for and planning for what could go wrong. As Dr. Whittingham and others characterized it, any time you work with a power source, it requires respect.

We also respect the work being done by the lithium-ion battery community to identify limits and implement safeguards — and the recognition by Kevin Cook on the last panel that "systems fail in ways that designers never imagined."

We look forward to what will be done in the future to embrace the opportunities that are made possible by lithium battery technology, but also how the industries involved will evaluate and manage the risk of lithium-ion batteries in transportation.

We stand adjourned.