The appeal of lithium-based batteries for products has grown immensely. They provide high amounts of power while being light enough for portable devices. However, the battery chemistry is considered unstable, as it requires a battery management system to monitor the pack's temperatures, State of Health (SoH), State of Charge (SoC), and other factors. If the battery should experience a short or thermal runaway, it could cause the pack to catch fire or explode.
Due to these safety concerns, there are lithium battery shipping requirements. International standards impact all lithium-based batteries, whether lithium-ion, lithium iron phosphate, or others. These restrictions are due to the lithium metal within the battery.
There are specific standards when it comes to shipping lithium batteries in bulk for commercial purposes and for individuals carrying lithium battery packs or devices equipped with these batteries for personal use.
Regulatory Bodies Governing Lithium Battery Shipments
There are rules and restrictions for lithium batteries for shipment over land, sea, and air. Since international flights easily travel across the borders of several countries, international standards established by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), as well as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), apply for batteries shipped through the air. The batteries will be categorized under specific UN codes.
For travel over maritime waters, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) sets up standards for lithium battery shipping. These shipping standards fall under the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) code.
When it comes to land travel, each country may set its own regulations for shippers to follow. For the United States, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) sets all rules. In Europe, the European Commission (EC) defines its shipping standards. Local and regional carrier companies also set their own rules for transporting lithium batteries. These carriers provide individual details regarding these standards.
Hazardous Materials Classification
Lithium chemistries are categorized under the Hazard Class 9: Miscellaneous Hazardous Materials ranking. This Class 9 category applies to all lithium batteries traveling internationally over ground and sea. Some lithium shipments transported on cargo planes also fall under the Class 9 category based on specific factors.
Lithium Battery Shipping Requirements
Class 9 category factors for air transport of these batteries will be based on the amount of lithium metal contained in the battery, the watt hours of the battery, and how the lithium battery is packaged. UN classifications are categorized based on whether they contain lithium metal or lithium-ion. Then the categories are further broken down based on these factors:
- Batteries are shipped loose without accompanying or in any equipment
- Batteries are packed with the equipment
- Batteries are inside the equipment
- Batteries are lithium-ion and packed loose with an SoC of 30% or lower
Not all lithium-based batteries will be classified as Class 9. In instances where lithium metal batteries are packed with equipment or are inside equipment and contain less than 2 grams of lithium or the cells have less than 1 gram of lithium, they may avoid the Class 9 hazardous materials label. Another instance involves lithium-ion batteries that are packed with equipment or contained inside the equipment and have cells equal to or lower than 20Wh or batteries equal to or less than 100Wh. These cells and batteries are not categorized under the Class 9 standards.
Shipping limitations for lithium batteries will be based on weight, the number of cells, and how the batteries are shipped. The breakdown of these limitations are as follows:
Loose Lithium Metal Batteries
All loose lithium metal batteries cannot be transported on passenger aircraft cargo holds. They will require Class 9 labels and Cargo Aircraft Only labels. Batteries with 2 grams or more and cells with 1 gram or more may have a weight limit of up to 35kg per package but no limit on the number of packages.
Cells and batteries that have lower grams have a weight limit of 2.5 kg per package and no package limit when involved in high-volume shipping. Low volume shipping of the same batteries has a 2.5kg limit for cells containing 0.3 grams or less of lithium, or a maximum of 8 cells or 2 batteries otherwise. Only one package may be shipped at one time.
Lithium Metal Batteries Packed with Equipment
There is a 5kg weight limit per package for all lithium batteries packed in equipment, no matter the lithium metal gram amount, when shipped in passenger aircraft cargo holds. A cargo plane may carry up to 35kg per package for batteries with more than 2 grams or cells with more than 1 gram of lithium metal. There are no limits to the number of packages shipped.
Lithium Metal Batteries Inside Equipment
Lithium metal batteries that are inside devices and equipment have a 5kg weight limit per package. It does not matter how many grams of lithium metal are inside the batteries or cells. This weight limit applies to passenger aircraft. A cargo plane may carry up to 35kg per package for cells with more than 1 gram and batteries with more than 2 grams of lithium. These standards do not have limits to the number of packages that are shipped.
Loose Lithium-Ion Batteries
No lithium-ion batteries can be shipped in passenger aircraft in loose form. They all must have a charge of <30% and they require Class 9 labels. There are no package limits except for low volume shipping of batteries with equal to or less than 200Wh or for cells with less than or equal to 20Wh. In this case, only one package may be shipped. Weight limits for loose lithium-ion batteries are:
- Cells equal to/greater than 20Wh or batteries equal to/greater than 200Wh:
- 35 kg per package
- Cells less than/equal to 20Wh or batteries less than/equal to 200Wh (high volume shipping):
- 10kg: per package
- Cells less than/equal to 20Wh or batteries less than/equal to 200Wh (low volume shipping):
- 5kg: per package for individual cells of less than 2.7Wh. Anything over 2.7Wh is an 8-cell limit or 2-battery limit
Lithium-Ion Batteries Packed with or Inside Equipment
Similar standards apply for lithium-ion batteries that are packed with equipment or contained inside the equipment. Cells that are equal to/greater than 20Wh or batteries equal to/greater than 200Wh require a Class 9 hazardous materials label and have a 5kg weight per package limit for passenger aircraft. When shipping on cargo airplanes, the batteries have a 35kg weight limit per package. Cells with less than/equal to 20Wh or batteries with less than/equal to 200Wh have a 5 kg weight limit for both types of aircraft. There are no package limits.
Understanding all the regulations and standards associated with shipping lithium batteries can ensure that your products reach customers as you fill orders. When it comes to certifications, only the IATA requires it for workers who will manage, handle, and apply shipping labels to lithium battery packages.
You may obtain other certifications from regulatory bodies based on where the intended market lies as consumers will know that the batteries have undergone testing and meet compliance standards. Specialized certifications may also be required based on the industry that will use the products. Typically, other battery chemistries do not require such regulations or certifications as they are not under the same restrictions.