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House passes bill protecting Apple's lithium batteries from limitations

In a move that could save Apple and other electronics manufacturers billions of dollars, the U.S. House of Representatives recently approved legislation barring proposed limitations that would have classified lithium batteries as hazardous materials.

Bloomberg reports that the bill, which would prevent U.S. limitations on air shipments of lithium batteries from exceeding international standards, passed in the House on April 1, but will need to be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee.

The new legislation conflicts with a proposed rule by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that would impose additional limitations on shipments of lithium batteries over concerns that they may overheat and ignite during transport. If the rule came into effect, manufacturers, retailers and airlines would all be subject to new packaging, training and handling requirements.

According to an analysis commissioned by the Rechargeable Battery Association, the limitations would cost $1.13 billion the first year in packaging, transportation, logistical and training costs.

Apple has widely implemented lithium batteries in its mobile devices and laptop computers. The company has worked to develop standards for the manufacture of lithium ion batteries in the past.

In 2006, high-profile battery recalls from affecting notebook manufacturers, including Apple, sparked industry concern over the safety of lithium-ion batteries. The batteries, which were manufactured by Sony, were recalled after reports emerged that the batteries could cause overheating and in some cases fire.

More recently, the tragic earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan in March of this year has reportedly caused a shortage of lithium-ion batteries used in Apple's iPod line. Kureha Corp., which has a 70 percent global share in a polymer used in the batteries, was forced to close a factory in Iwaki, Japan after the disaster.

A patent application recently discovered by AppleInsider revealed that Apple is investigating techniques to improve battery performance by increasing the energy density of rechargeable lithium batteries.