Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Bookmark and Share this page


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

Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Christopher Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener.

We are here this week to discuss lithium-ion battery technology and its use in transportation. Over the next two days we will learn about the design and development of these batteries ... about their makeup and manufacture ... about their standards, performance and challenges ... about their current uses and their projected transportation applications ... about their risks and the mitigation strategies ... and for when all else fails — about emergency response.

There is much to learn. But, here's what we know.

We know lithium-ion battery technology is an established technology — its commercial use dates to 1991. At the same time, it is an emerging technology with extensive and growing application in transportation.

We know that lithium-ion batteries are used in many consumer products, like cell phones, laptops and tablets. In larger applications, with multiple cells to provide more energy, they power a range of transportation products, such as all-electric cars and hybrid vehicles. Still larger batteries are used in rail systems and commercial marine applications. Multiple-cell lithium-ion batteries have a strong presence in both civil and military aviation. You can find these batteries in space — on satellites — as well as in deep space on the Mars Exploration Rover.

Here are two words that explain the growing demand for lithium-ion batteries: energy density.

They are potent — providing three times the power of older battery technologies. And, they are smaller and lighter.

Yet, lithium-ion batteries, like other power sources, such as the gasoline that powers so many personal vehicles, come with risks. These batteries are designed to produce energy — it is their very nature that poses the greatest risk.

We've seen the consequences of not fully understanding and properly managing this technology. For one, over the past ten years, the NTSB has investigated several accidents involving the transport of lithium batteries as air cargo.

On April 28, 1999, at Los Angeles International Airport a fire destroyed two cargo pallets that included boxes of lithium-metal (non-rechargeable) batteries. The pallets had been taken off an inbound passenger flight from Japan.

Fourteen years ago, we recommended that PHMSA, with the FAA, evaluate the fire hazards posed by lithium batteries in an aviation environment and require that appropriate safety measures be taken to protect the aircraft and occupants. We also recommended that packages containing lithium batteries be identified as hazardous materials, including appropriate marking and labeling of the packages and proper identification in shipping documents when transported on aircraft.

On August 4, 2004, fire destroyed freight in an aircraft container that was being loaded on a cargo-only aircraft in Memphis, Tennessee. As the container was about halfway onto the aircraft, loading personnel smelled smoke and lowered it to the ground. When fire responders arrived and opened the container, a fire flared. The NTSB determined that the fire was caused by the failure of unapproved packaging to adequately protect lithium-ion batteries from short-circuiting during transportation.

The third investigation involving lithium batteries — and this involved a mixture of both lithium metal and lithium-ion batteries — was a February 7, 2006, inflight fire on board a cargo aircraft, which had made an emergency landing at its destination, Philadelphia International Airport. After landing, the aircraft and most of the cargo were destroyed by fire.

Although the cause of the inflight fire could not be determined, the presence of a significant quantity of electronic equipment in the cargo containers where the fire most likely originated led the NTSB to closely examine safety issues involving the transportation of rechargeable lithium batteries on commercial aircraft, including batteries in airline passengers' personal electronic devices.

There are two other international investigations involving inflight fires onboard Boeing 747 cargo aircraft where the presence of lithium-ion batteries has been noted.

For this week's forum, we have experts here from across the scientific, academic, manufacturing, regulatory and standards-setting communities. This forum provides the opportunity to learn more about lithium-ion battery technology and, specifically, how its applications in transportation are assessed and how risk management strategies are established.

I look forward to a provocative and productive day-and-a-half.

But, first, a few housekeeping announcements.

We have a pretty tightly scripted agenda to follow with three panels designed to cover a range of topics about lithium-ion batteries in transportation. Our website includes biographical information about the panelists, who have graciously made themselves available to participate this week.

Each panel will open with presentations by the panelists. The presentations will be followed by a round of questions from the Technical Panel, then the Board Members.

We have selected topics and panelists to address the range of issues concerning lithium-ion batteries in transportation. We recognize that all stakeholders may not be represented in person at this forum. Although we are not soliciting questions from the audience, we do encourage your participation through our public docket.

Individuals and organizations who wish to submit written comments may do so until May 17. E-mail those comments and documents to

Because we have a full agenda, we appreciate your cooperation in helping us keep on schedule, and ask that panelists respect time limits and keep discussions focused on the subject at hand, rather than slip into topics covered by other panels.

In addition to our mid-day break, when you may visit the food court upstairs for lunch, there will be two breaks today — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In case of an emergency, please note the nearest emergency exit. You can use the rear doors that you used to enter the conference center; and one set of emergency doors on the side of the rostrum in front.

If you have not already done so, please silence your electronic devices.

Early next week, presentations provided by our speakers and a video archive of the webcast will be available on our website.

Now, Mike Hiller, who has done an outstanding job organizing this forum, will introduce the panelists.