How to ship Lithium Batteries

Updated: Jun 19

Batteries can be very dangerous during transport. There have been some notable incidents involving Dangerous Goods including UPS Flight 6 in Dubai and they have even been rumoured to be linked to Asiana Flight 991 and even possibly Malaysia Airlines MH370! As a result of these incidents, the requirements for Lithium Batteries have changed regularly over the last decade and may well continue to change going forward.


If you want to know why Lithium Batteries are dangerous, see our previous blog post Why are Lithium Batteries Dangerous? but as a recap, Lithium Batteries can have a risk of fire and explosions which can happen for a number of reasons:

· Poor manufacturing quality, or poor design

· Damage to the battery (split, cut, puncture, crushing e.t.c)

· Becoming too hot

· Faulty charger

· Thermal Runaway (this is where one cell breaks down and the heat it creates, causes other cells to break down too, sometimes ending up in an exponential reaction leading to fire or explosion)


With that in mind, let's look at how they must be shipped...

Lithium Batteries that are untested can cause fires...



How to ship Lithium Batteries


So what must a shipper do to ensure their Lithium Battery is shipped safely?

As you probably know, the requirements for shipping all Dangerous Goods are set out in the appropriate regulations:


  • Road - ADR

  • Sea - IMDG Code

  • Air - IATA/ICAO


Each of The Regulations gives specific guidance on how to ship Lithium Batteries, by each method.


UN Number

Each type of Lithium Battery will be given a UN Number depending on whether it is a Lithium Ion (rechargeable) or Lithium Metal (non-rechargeable). These UN Numbers are also split depending on whether the battery is in equipment, with equipment, or on its own. This results in six UN number entries for Lithium Batteries:


UN3480 - Lithium Ion Batteries

UN3481 - Lithium Ion Batteries, Packed With Equipment

UN3481 - Lithium Ion Batteries, Contained in Equipment


UN3090 - Lithium Metal Batteries

UN3091 - Lithium Metal Batteries, Packed With Equipment

UN3091 - Lithium Metal Batteries, Contained In Equipment


So we would need to choose the correct entry for our shipment and check any provisions that apply.


Packaging

Depending on the size of our battery, and whether it is in equipment or not, we will need to pack them in strong packaging, or even UN Specification Packaging (look out for our future post on this!).



Labelling & Marking

Depending on whether the package is being shipped by Air, Road or Sea, and depending on


the size of the battery, we may need to mark the package with one or more of the below labels:



Documents

You may need a Dangerous Goods Note for your shipment for Air, Road or Sea, depending on the size of your battery. You will also need to be sure that the battery has passed a UN38.3 Test and 'make available' the UN38.3 Test Summary...



UN38.3 Test

To work to address the issues arising from poor manufacturing quality, or poor design, a test was introduced to try and put a battery design 'through its paces' and prove its quality and performance.

This test, which is outlined in Section 38.3 of the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, is simply referred to as the UN38.3 test.

Any battery shipped, must have passed the UN38.3 Test, and for Air Shipping, from January 2020, a 'UN38.3 Test Summary' must be available throughout the supply chain.


Damage to the Battery

Batteries which have been damaged or are thought to be faulty, have very stringent requirements for shipping. In Air shipping, they are banned from normal air freight.

To prevent damage in transport, we must also protect these batteries, by enclosing them in rigid packaging and make sure that the battery cannot short-circuit on anything in the package.

Batteries can be protected by the equipment in which they are contained...

Heat

Although the UN38.3 Test, ensures that battery is able to be heated and cooled to the temperatures normal to transport, we also cannot allow batteries to be turned on during shipping. Normal use of a battery generates heat (think of your phone warming up when you use it heavily), so we need to prevent this too.


Faulty Chargers

Of course, this isn't much of a problem in transport, as batteries during air freight will not be charging.


Thermal Runaway

This is normally caused by one of the above and as a result, if we prevent the above issued occurring and follow the detailed requirements in the regulations, Lithium Batteries should be perfectly safe during transport.



It is important that shippers and people offering Lithium Battery shipments for transport, are correctly trained. You may legally require qualification or instruction to be able to ship batteries and you can find details here.


That, I hope, has given you a basic introduction to the requirements for how to ship Lithium Batteries. Watch out for future posts, where we will take a deeper look at The UN38.3 test, training requirements for IATA, and courier requirements (DHL, FedEx, UPS, TNT and so on). If you have any questions, you can always comment below, contact us or use the live-chat in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. Thanks for reading!


*Notice: This blog aims to give you an introduction to Dangerous Goods, it is not intended as a reference material so always conduct your own research and check anything with your Dangerous Goods Specialist or DGSA before taking any action based on the subjects discussed here.*


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