TSA's new forbidden item: >2 gm lithium batteries

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45 Responses to “TSA's new forbidden item: >2 gm lithium batteries”

  1. Halloween Jack says:

    Readers of the Terry Pratchett novel Monstrous Regiment will know what I’m talking about when I say that the TSA has taken it upon themselves to decide what things are Abominations unto Nuggan.

  2. CJ says:

    @23(slamorte):

    Why fly? Because it’s difficult to travel across an ocean by train, bus, car or ferry.

  3. paulatz says:

    I’m no native English speaker; could someone please confirm that Carry-On luggage is the one you bring with you in the cabin? I may have to go to the USA in a relatively short time and I would be really pissed off if I had bring the laptop with me (airport workers can be very heavy-handed, not to speak about thieves) but leave the battery in the luggage.

  4. seyo says:

    yes, “carry on” designates the luggage you carry on to the plane, as opposed to the “checked” luggage which goes into the luggage hold of the plane.

  5. Galaxyhead says:

    (Somehow this got in the Jesus thread) I assume alkaline batteries are still permitted? How will this affect medical devices, such as glucose monitors for diabetics?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Okay, I almost get this, since lithium batteries could reasonably be considered hazmat given the history of fires.

    But could they possibly have devised a more confusing set of limitations? How exactly is the average consumer supposed to figure out the “grams of lithium equivalent” in his laptop and mobile phone batteries? How is anyone supposed to figure this out? There’s no markings on the batteries, no website with a lookup table that I could find, no information whatsoever.

    It’s reasonable to assume that the TSA screeners will be just as in the dark about this as I am, which means we could be subject to arbitrary confiscation of very expensive laptop batteries:

    “This battery is too big, you can’t take it on the plane.”

    “Too big? How do you know?”

    “I just do. Throw it in the bin, or I’ll have you arrested.”

  7. johnny_action says:

    How in the heck are we to determine how much “lithium content” the batteries have? I checked my new laptop’s battery pack and it has nothing on it about how much lithium is in it.

    It doesn’t say whether or not this is individual or aggregate lithium content for all devices either. Not that I could see scanning it right away.

    I foresee a lot of ticked off international travelers and business travelers who are forced to dispose of backup batteries for their laptops….

    This is all probably fall out from the Dell “exploding laptop” stuff but really I just hate the TSA.

    A soda purchased 10 feet from the scanners is not safe to bring through even though soda purchased on the other side was just x-rayed.

  8. taniz says:

    The TSA website indicates that all cell phones, and most laptops are under the 8 gram limit for lithium-ion.

    What is interesting to note, is that the only batteries that can go in luggage are those that are installed in a device (not a spare). Also, you can have only up to two batteries (spare or installed) in your carry-on luggage that have a total of 8 to 25 grams of lithium. That means, if you have a laptop with a spare battery, you are OK. If you have a the laptop with spare, you can’t have your cell phone (that would be three batteries), and heaven help you if you bring your camera.

    The real kicker, is that the devices must be turned off at all times. You can’t use your laptop, iPod and such on the plane. Sorry, but no tunes for you, bring a book!

  9. themindfantastic says:

    luckily pacemaker batteries are lead acid… completley inappropriate images of amateur surgery to make sure people can fly go through my head.

  10. skreidle says:

    Bruce Schneier’s analysis indicates that most people will not–or at least, should not–be affected by this:

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/12/new_lithium_bat.html

    Professional videographers, on the other hand, may be screwed.

  11. Dillo says:

    Lovely. So much for getting any work done on trans-oceanic flights if you’re not sitting in business class with in-seat power…or working and listening to your $MMP. And lets put those expensive digital cameras right in our unlocked checked luggage, right where they can be stolen.

  12. Dan says:

    Oy… This nonsense is just getting too damn silly to keep up with.

  13. Mitch says:

    I’m just waiting for the rumor that hijackers are
    planning on using their shoelaces to strangle
    the flight crew of an airplane.

  14. JPW says:

    Dillo,

    There’s a company down the road from me and the implantable pacemaker batteries it manufactures are indeed lithium. I don’t think you have to worry about carrying a spare either in checked or carry-on. . . .

  15. mrsomuch says:

    #23, cj is right, oceans are notoriously difficult to cross by ferry ;-)

  16. dansteingart says:

    While I love hating on the TSA, DHS et al, there’s a shred of logic here, just obfuscated in the familiar ways. Lithium metal batteries have bulk lithium metal inside (obviously) while lithium ion cells contain active low work function lithium in a carbon matrix. While both lithium metal and lithiated carbon are fire hazards, lithium metal is far more explosive, and it just takes a little humidity to set it off. I’d rather the feds stay on the safe side of the stuff. Note that lithium ion cells are generally OK. Alkaline cells use a zinc anode, (rechargeables generally have a NiOH anode) are a-ok (though zinc in powder form, as I learned at an airport a few years ago is a no no).

    Lithium metal cells (mostly relegated to coin format watch batteries and generally time keeping) have less than 2 grams of lithium, and packaged are generally 5 grams. So watches, etc, are fine.

    On the border are the AA/AAA form factor lithium cells. Energizer sells the l91 AA and the l92 AAA cell. The AA cells weigh in at 15 g but have on the order of 3000 mAh each. Lithium metal has a theoretical energy density of 3900 mAh per gram, or therebout, and account for discharge losses/safety factor/ assembly losses, that number can ben anywhere from 1000 to 3000 mAh in practice. Thus, if the good engineers at Energizer squeeze the high value at, we’re well under 2 grams, but if they’re at the lower bound, no bunnies on a plane for us. Given the growing popularity of these cells, I wouldn’t be surprised if the two gram limit takes these cells into account and are OK. Of course, on the otherhand, given the arbitrary nature of the TSA, maybe those of use who like to use these cells are SOL.

    At the bottom of that energizer PDF is a small clause

    Transportation: For complete details, please reference:

    Global (except US): Special Provision A45 of the International Air Transport Association Dangerous Goods Regulations

    United States: 49 CFR 173.185

    That last little googles up at this document which shows that this 2 gram limit is actually above previously stated 1.5 g limits imposed after a lithium battery fire at LAX in 1999.

    Again:

    1. Lithium-ion laptop batteries are fine
      Watches are fine
      Alkaline and NiMH are fine
      Li AA cells are probably ok
  17. The big question mark in my mind is pacemakers, which I though had 3 or 4 grams of lithium in ‘em, but I could be wrong on that.

  • Perla says:

    I guess this came in because laptops have been exploding all over the place. Boom! My neighbour’s one just went off. Yes, I know there were some laptops that exploded! But how common is it really? Haven’t businesspeople been flying for ages? Were laptops introduced only this year in the US? Cause here in Europe, we’ve had laptops for a while and I haven’t heard of planes exploding yet due to this. Is it common for fires to break out?

    I worked in a missing luggage department and there are LOTS of thieves working and unloading luggage. I also know that the restrictions on passengers are nothing like the restrictions on people who work there. There’s barely NO RESTRICTION. The workers waltz in and out quite easily.
    LOL@ 28, halloween jack for abominations unto nuggan.

    I’m waiting for the day when clothes will no longer be acceptable for flying as you can smuggle things under them and they burst into flame in contact with high heat.

  • Sam says:

    So which type of batteries are lithium metal, I’ve never head of that. What about LiPo, which are they? What are a123 batteries made of?

  • Fnarf says:

    Imposing new and complex technical rules without any way for the average person to tell whether they are following them correctly or not is a recipe for security-line disaster. We also know from experience that TSA agents are completely stupid and arbitrary in the exercising of their decision-making power. Do the AGENTS know how to tell the difference between Lithium-ion batteries and “primary lithium” ones? Or how to calculate the amount of lithium?

    The purpose of the rule is to give the agents more arbitrary power. That way, if they don’t like you for some reason — you give them a funny look in the line, for instance, which I’ve seen happen — they can throw out your batteries just to show you who’s boss. Are they under the limit? Fine, appeal the decision. Please submit your confiscated batteries as evidence.

    That’s the real purpose of the TSA anyways; not security, but teaching citizens how to obey. In SecurityLand, every movement of the populace is controlled and directed by high school dropouts who couldn’t get into the real police force.

  • Thyme says:

    This has nothing to do with explosions or even fires. It’s even simpler.

    The problem is that Lithium is the lightest metal. Now, let’s assume everyone on the plane just took all the lithium they wanted onto the plane. Then it only takes one person who is an alchemist to turn all this lithium into gold. Now as you all know from observation, gold is much heavier. The new weight would make flying impossible and the plane would crash.

    It’s likely someone in the intelligence community came across this “Al-Qa’my” terrorist plot and are taking proactive steps to prevent it.

    Once again, the TSA has made us not only safe, but feeling safe.

  • fenester says:

    A little clarification from the text preceding the table and the footnotes for the table:

    “Under the new rules, you can bring batteries with up to 8-gram equivalent lithium content. All lithium ion batteries in cell phones are below 8 gram equivalent lithium content. Nearly all laptop computers also are below this quantity threshold.

    You can also bring up to two spare batteries with an aggregate equivalent lithium content of up to 25 grams, in addition to any batteries that fall below the 8-gram threshold. Examples of two types of lithium ion batteries with equivalent lithium content over 8 grams but below 25 are shown below.”

    So it doesn’t seem there is a limit on batteries below 8-gram content, despite the confusing info in the table.

    Also you CAN turn your device on, it’s only when it’s IN THE BAGGAGE (checked or carry-on) that you need to ensure it remains turned off (that it won’t accidentally turn on while packed).

    “Whether in checked or carry-on baggage, ensure that devices remain switched off, either by built-in switch/trigger locks, by taping the activation switch in the “off” postion, or by other appropriate measures.”

  • rjh says:

    A quick search of just boing boing finds:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/07/14/laptop-batteries-bur.html

    and

    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/07/28/dude-your-dell-just-.html

    The logic of the rules is clear. There is a real fire hazard. If the fire takes place in the passenger compartment it will be noticed immediately. So the goal is to keep the fire small enough to be controlled without losing the airplane. In the luggage compartment it will not be noticed until it is much larger, and there is no good access to fight the fire. So checked luggage sizes are smaller to keep the potential fires smaller and controllable by the more limited firefighting facilities there.

    In any fire the airplane will make an emergency landing, so fire size matters. If you can land and evacuate before the fire is too large, at least you save the passengers and crew.

  • Perla says:

    What I was saying. There’re barely no restrictions on people who work in the airports

    From the NY Times:
    http://jetlagged.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/28/the-airport-security-follies/index.html

    The fact that crew members, many of whom are former military fliers, and all of whom endured rigorous background checks prior to being hired, are required to take out their laptops and surrender their hobby knives, while a caterer or cabin cleaner sidesteps the entire process and walks onto a plane unimpeded, nullifies almost everything our T.S.A. minders have said and done since September 11th, 2001. If there is a more ringing let-me-get-this-straight scenario anywhere in the realm of airport security, I’d like to hear it.

  • twodox says:

    If you look at the TSA page, the larger batteries (>8g) are used for professional video equipment. One corollary aim of this regulation may be to restrict the travel of news crews.

    [I may be paranoid, but I come by it honestly. I like in Bushland, USA.)

  • Coaster says:

    I’d bet that TSA has been told that batteries in certain devices are okay, and loose batteries in luggage can’t be any of these certain models.

    So you could probably still bring a 9 volt to get annoying kids to lick.

  • Anonymous says:

    Utter nonsense from the TSA – again. Illusions of security – again. We all deserve better.

  • KinetiQ says:

    Just wait’ll they find out about the 1955 LeMans Disaster, then all magnesium will be banned too.

    No alkali metals! Hey! You were going to use this table salt to blow up the plane, weren’t you? Whattayamean it’s a sodium ion? ‘Zat mean bomb?

  • Gilbert Wham says:

    Matches being long gone, the Red Phosphorous method is useless, now with no Lithium batteries the Nazi method is screwed too. How we gonna cook up that airplane bathroom crank now, huh?

  • garyb50 says:

    Good Lord, what a nightmare this is going to be.

    From TSA’s “Spare Battery Tips” page:

    “If you have already charged a non-rechargeable battery, do NOT bring such a battery on board an aircraft.”

  • jtf says:

    My personal reaction was that since lithium ion batteries are pretty high voltage, the TSA banned them because they could be used as a trigger for incendiaries, such as detonating wire. Hook them up in series and it’s enough to light a fire.

  • Adamjones says:

    I’m one of those professional media types #19 mentions.

    Right now I’m on the road working with 4(!) different types of Lith-Ion batteries and one batch of 12 Lith-Polymer rechargeable 9-volts. All told, I have 26 Lithium-whatever batteries in my kit. None of them are marked with Li content by weight. I can’t physically take all of these in carry on, unless they seriously redesign overhead storage.

    And, usually, I’m flying with more than this. I can’t wait to spread this to the network news folks I know – they’ll just love it.

    Guess I’m just lucky I get home before New Year’s Day.

  • Chevan says:

    >Utter nonsense from the TSA – again. Illusions of security – again. We all deserve better.

    See post #39.

  • Moniker says:

    I’m calling shenanigans on the whole flammability notion. The real reason for these seemingly random confiscations (toothpaste, batteries, nail clippers) is obviously some sort of TSA-wide scavenger hunt.

  • gollux says:

    Heh, we’ve always faced penalties for shipping Lithium Metal batteries in our business, seems that the TSA has finally gotten around to reading the HAZMAT rules and is now applying them to passengers as well. What are you carrying that uses Lithium Metal batteries? Most consumer electronics use Li-Ion or Li-Poly as it’s rechargeable.

  • Michael R. Bernstein says:

    New movie plot threat: Battery powered EMP device!

  • gollux says:

    Basis for the Lithium Metal thing. Contact the FAA if you don’t agree.

    http://hazmat.dot.gov/regs/rules/final/72fr/72fr-44929.htm

  • osbock says:

    as gollux points out it’s a DOT/FAA thing about the inability of their fire supression systems being unable to put out a fire if there was a cargo of lithium batteries on board, whether or not the fire was caused by the batteries.

    Bruce Schnier has the scoop in his blog:
    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/12/new_lithium_bat_1.html

    Scroll down to the “just added part”

  • slamorte says:

    with the amount of carbon released by flying, combined with the dehumanizing treatment received at airports, why fly?

    in ten years i’ve flown once. i now take my vacations by train, bus, car, or ferry. much more pleasant and i don’t get those nasty airplane head-colds.

  • mfagunner says:

    I can only assume it is a safety related issue in response to this http://safetravel.dot.gov/alpa.pdf and not a terrorist issue. I just glanced at the article but it looks to be a problem with people putting their warm/hot laptops in their bags and then placing overhead and a fire starts. (probably the batteries that were recalled from all of those fires last year http://corvillus.com/2006/08/07/a-list-of-laptop-battery-recalls/ ) I don’t see how these restrictions will dramatically reduce the number of fires from happening. I think education is a better method of preventing the fires… like what the PDF says on the second page.

    These new restrictions will put greater costs on the freelance videographer who travels the country with multiple spare video camera batteries (me included). I guess I’ll have to ship my batteries via FedEx before every shoot.

  • Daemon says:

    Interesting… the limitations are not based on the weight of the battery, but on the lithium inside the battery. I rather doubt they are going to have a comprehensive list of the batteries and their lithium contents at the security checkpoints, making that sort of a pointless distinction to make.

    But the part I really like is where larger sized lithium ion batteries are disallowed in carry-on, unless they happen to be installed in a device. Apparently they are dangerous in your bag, but perfectly safe in your camera or laptop.

    So, apparently, taking the batteries out of your camera in-flight will now make you a terrorist.

  • Lauren O says:

    # 16 – Hilarious.

  • Misty Fowler says:

    The TSA has a page on another site that has this to say:
    http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/batteries.shtm

    Lithium-ion batteries, often found in laptop computers, differ from primary lithium batteries, which are often used in cameras. Some newer AA-size batteries are also primary lithium.

    While there is no explosion hazard associated with either kind of battery, the Federal Aviation Administration has studied fire hazards associated with both primary and lithium-ion cells, and their extensive research is publicly available. As a result of this research, the FAA no longer allows large, palletized shipments of these batteries to be transported as cargo on passenger aircraft.

    The research also shows that an explosion will not result from shorting or damaging either lithium-ion or primary lithium batteries. Both are, however, extremely flammable. Primary lithium batteries cannot be extinguished with firefighting agents normally carried on aircraft, whereas lithium-ion batteries are easily extinguished by most common extinguishing agents, including those carried on board commercial aircraft.

    TSA has and will continue to work closely with the FAA on potential aviation safety and security issues, and TSA security officers are thoroughly and continually trained to find explosive threats. TSA does not have plans to change security regulations for electronic devices powered by lithium batteries.

  • Charlie Stross says:

    1. This isn’t a TSA security thing; it’s the Department of Transport.

    2. Lithium is inflammable and it burns HOT. (Like a magnesium fire.)

    3. You remember all those battery recalls because of laptops bursting into flames last year? That’s lithium-ion battery fires for you.

    4. It turns out that airliner fire extinguisher systems can’t do anything useful to a lithium battery fire in a cargo hold. (Like that laptop, in the link above.)

    5. The FAA/TSA regs are needlessly confusing, but what they boil down to is: keep the stuff out of the hold (so that if it *does* catch fire, the cabin crew can point an extinguisher at it), and don’t allow so much of the stuff to pile up in one carry-on bag that you can’t extinguish it.

    So what’s everyone getting worked up about?

    I will concede that the regs are confusingly worded. I agree that the safe limit is arbitrary and badly defined, and I’m worried about how the goons at the security checkpoints will enforce it. And I agree that it’s going to affect audio/video professionals. But those are edge conditions — most of us, including intercontinental flyers (like me) aren’t going to be directly affected.

    And unlike the nonsense and voodoo about liquids and incredible exploding shoes, this does affect the safety of the flying public.

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