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Table of Contents
- How Do Lithium Batteries Work?
- Why Is a Lithium Ion Battery Considered Hazmat?
- What Are the Hazards of Shipping Lithium Batteries?
- Why Lithium Batteries Explode
- Can You Ship Lithium Batteries by Air?
- How to Properly Pack Lithium Batteries
- Packing Batteries Inside Devices
- Packaging for Separately Shipped Batteries
- DOT Lithium Battery Shipping Regulations
- Shipping Lithium Batteries
- What Certifications Do You Need When Shipping Lithium Batteries?
Protect your business and shipments from damage and costly fines by learning how to ship lithium batteries. These batteries pose significant hazards, especially during shipping. Unless adequately packed and handled, lithium batteries may explode.
To ensure proper shipping, get certification in Department of Transportation (DOT) Hazmat for packaging and shipping dangerous substances, such as lithium-ion batteries. Only with appropriate packaging and handling can you safely send lithium batteries and similar hazardous goods across the country or worldwide.
How Do Lithium Batteries Work?
Lithium-ion batteries rely on the movement of lithium. Positively charged ions moving through the battery release their positive electrons when they move, creating a positive charge at the collector on the positive side. This current passes through a powered object, such as a phone or computer, and returns to the negative terminal.
What sets lithium-ion batteries apart from other power supplies is their ability to recharge. These batteries also do not have a memory of how much of a charge they had in the past. Because these batteries lack such a power memory, they don’t require complete draining before charging to maximize their power capacity. The ability to recharge makes these batteries a valuable asset to modern electronics. During charging, the power moves the ions from the cathode to the anode, restoring the positive charge on the lithium ions again.
Lithium-ion batteries contain an electrolyte to enable the flow of electrons. This electrolyte poses a risk when shipping lithium-ion batteries, though. Because its electrolyte is flammable, lithium-ion batteries fall under the classification of hazardous materials when shipping via truck, train, plane or boat.
Why Is a Lithium Ion Battery Considered Hazmat?
Today’s lithium batteries can power numerous items, from portable computers to mobile vehicles. Lithium batteries are excellent for an ever-growing mobile lifestyle, but they’re also potentially dangerous.
The DOT considers lithium batteries to be a hazard. DOT lithium battery regulations — HMR; 49 C.F.R., Parts 171-180 — are used to identify materials that are unreasonable health, safety and property risks when transported in commerce. Regardless of how they’re shipped, they must meet all HMR requirements.
Shipping a lithium-ion battery is regulated by the DOT because it can create chemical and electrical hazards. These batteries contain a flammable electrolyte that can ignite when overheating in specific conditions, including damage, short circuitry or poor assembly. If a fire occurs with these batteries, it can be challenging to put out, creating the potential for further risk to people’s safety, health and property. Other nearby flammable materials can catch fire, allowing the blaze to spread quickly.
While these occurrences are infrequent, they can create a dangerous situation, which is why the DOT regulates the transportation of these materials and considers them hazmat.
What Are the Hazards of Shipping Lithium Batteries?
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, PHMSA, a division of the Department of Transportation, enforces the regulations governing the shipment of dangerous materials, including lithium batteries. According to the PHMSA, lithium batteries pose both electrical and chemical risks during shipping.
One of the biggest challenges of shipping lithium batteries is the lack of control you have over the conditions the batteries experience. Cargo areas of trucks, planes and ships typically do not have air conditioning, and excessive heat increases the likelihood the batteries will overheat.
Overheating is not the only issue. Explosions plague lithium batteries’ reputation. However, these happen only rarely and in poor handling or storage conditions. Because the electrolyte is flammable, excessive heat can create a runaway chemical reaction, leading to an explosion of the battery. You can prevent these rare explosions and overheating events with proper shipping and handling of the power supplies.
Why Lithium Batteries Explode
Famously, the manufacturer of Samsung Note7 phones recalled the devices in 2016 due to exploding batteries. In this extreme instance of consumer use causing explosions, the batteries blew up due to a defect during manufacturing. The widespread use of lithium batteries in everything from Tesla electric cars to laptops to cell phones means the Samsung problem stood out as an irregularity.
Samsung’s batteries had a manufacturing problem that caused an internal short. This short may happen if the separator inside the power unit has a compromised section, allowing the positive and negative portions of the battery to connect inside. This heat builds quickly and spreads outside the battery to create a fire. If the battery leaks its electrolyte during this heating, the contact with oxygen can cause the electrolyte to explode or ignite and further spread the flames.
Because lithium batteries have so many advantages over other technologies, the estimated one-in-a-million chance of an explosion or fire seems a small price to pay. Until equally efficient and cost-effective batteries come to the market, lithium-ion batteries will continue to be a major power supply for electronics. As consumer electronics and electric vehicles increase in popularity, the number of lithium batteries requiring shipping will also rise. This demand, though, can pose a problem that needs caution to prevent.
Of course, the more batteries your company handles, the higher the likelihood that something will go wrong. Knowing how to properly pack lithium batteries to protect them from excessive heat and physical damage can prevent problems during shipping.
Can You Ship Lithium Batteries by Air?
Yes, it’s possible to ship lithium-ion batteries by air, but it’s essential to follow all regulations, as they’re dangerous materials, and the safety of passengers and aircraft personnel is the most important factor to prioritize.
Lithium batteries can still be shipped by air despite the restrictions set in place by the DOT. However, shipping these batteries via air comes with stipulations to reduce the risk to people’s health, safety and property. Independent lithium batteries not installed in a device or packed with their related device can’t be shipped as cargo on a passenger plane or other aircraft.
Lithium-ion batteries shipped by air must remain at a charge of 30% or less than their maximum capacity. When shipping lithium batteries, it’s essential to follow all Lithium Battery Shipping Regulations (LBSR). These regulations are updated yearly, so it’s vital to stay on top of updates to ensure your shipments meet regulations. Failing to meet regulations could result in a civil penalty of up to $27,000 each time there’s an offense.
The LBSR cover everything you need to know about the shipping process, including:
- Emergency response
These processes and more are completely detailed within the LBSR.
>How to Pack and Ship Lithium Batteries Correctly
Because you cannot control the exterior conditions the batteries will experience in transit, you must do everything possible to make the packaging as safe as possible. Packaging should prevent the batteries from shorting out, overheating or incurring physical damage.
According to PHMSA, packaging requirements depend on whether the batteries ship separately or inside their devices. The same holds for the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, which regulates air cargo flown overseas.
Packing Batteries Inside Devices
Packaging for lithium-ion batteries inside devices must prevent short circuits, and the electronics cannot activate in transport. Additionally, the container must prevent the battery and its device from moving inside the package.
To prevent device activation, you can opt for packaging the device to block access to the switch or use a cap or lock on the switch. When the packaging restricts the device from coming on, it prevents the lithium-ion battery from sending electricity and overheating.
The package holding the battery-containing devices must have enough strength to prevent damage to the device. If shipping a spare battery with a product that already has one installed, follow the guidelines for shipping batteries separately for packing the extra battery.
Packaging for Separately Shipped Batteries
Not all batteries ship inside their respective devices. When sending batteries separately, the packaging material determines how well the packing complies with regulations. Domestic and international shipping rules for packaging set out the exact requirements for preventing overheating and damaging the batteries. However, international air travel has an additional requirement for packaging separately shipped batteries.
IATA regulations add that lithium-ion batteries must have no more than a charge of 30% of capacity. You can ship batteries with higher power percentages only when you abide by a special provision of both the sending and receiving countries. Since lithium-ion batteries can charge, shipping them with a lower state of capacity will not affect their final productivity once recharged.
The inner portion of the packaging must surround the battery to prevent it from contacting other batteries or metallic components. Additionally, this packaging must have a construction of a nonconductive material.
As with batteries shipped inside their devices, separately packed batteries must also have shipping containers that prevent short circuits and drop damage.
1. Prevent Short Circuits
You have several options for preventing short circuits of lithium-ion batteries in their packaging. You could wrap each in plastic or another nonconductive material. Use plastic caps or nonconductive tape over the terminals. Lastly, you could separately pack each battery to ensure it will not contact any other battery or metal item in the container.
2. Have Durable, Nonconductive Packaging
Each battery must have a liner enclosing it when packing multiple batteries. The larger package, though, needs to have a durable construction. Metal, wood, plastic and fiberboard suffice for box materials when packing these batteries as long as the container is rigid and can pass a drop test. This test requires contents to have adequate protection when dropped from 1.2 meters.
DOT Lithium Battery Shipping Regulations
Department of Transportation regulations governs how you can ship lithium-ion batteries. DOT has stricter requirements for medium-sized and large rechargeable batteries, while smaller lithium metal batteries have relatively few regulations.
Medium and large lithium-ion batteries see use in notebook computers, professional AV equipment and electric cars. They have 8 grams or more of equivalent lithium content, or ELC.
Each container must include a warning about the hazardous contents. Additionally, you must include a phone number for additional information on the package label under the UN number.
Put this information inside a warning label at least 4.7 inches wide by 4.3 inches tall. The label shows a black and white image of batteries surrounded by red hatch marks. Under the picture, you will put the UN number with the phone number below.
These requirements for the shipping container set out by DOT extend to how you ship the batteries. The number of batteries, additional labels and extra information you must have available vary depending on the method you use for shipping.
Shipping Lithium Batteries
When shipping lithium batteries, the method you select for delivery makes a difference in packaging and handling. For instance, the changes in pressure in an airplane put different stresses on containers than those experienced by packages traveling by truck or train.
Check with the cargo transport company if your business does not have a contracted shipper or its own shipping vehicles. Some have specific regulations regarding carrying hazardous materials, such as lithium-ion batteries, that go beyond domestic and international regulations.
1. Via Ground
Train or truck transport of batteries has a higher weight allowance. Lithium content may be up to 300 watt-hours (Wh) for ground shipping. However, when choosing a ground option for these larger batteries, you must include a label stating that the contents are lithium batteries and that transport can only occur via ground, not air or sea.
If your shipment requires any legs of its journey to be via air or water, pack it according to those requirements. Any time inside a cargo plane or vessel changes the shipment’s designation to water or air transport instead of ground. If in doubt, adhere to the stricter guidelines for air and sea deliveries.
2. By Air or by Sea
Both medium and large batteries have the same requirements when shipped via air or sea. Rechargeable lithium batteries may travel aboard passenger aircraft as long as the container weighs less than 11 pounds. Nonchargeable lithium batteries cannot travel on passenger planes at all.
All batteries shipped on planes or boats need to have passed design testing. Lithium-ion batteries must include paperwork for Class 9 hazardous materials to verify their safety. Containers traveling by air must also include in the paperwork information for an emergency contact and notification of the pilot in addition to the shipping information.
Shipping lithium-ion batteries internationally by air has similar guidelines under the International Air Transport Association, IATA. While many standards remain similar, you may encounter some subtle differences. For instance, some countries do not allow importation via air of separately packed lithium-ion batteries.
What Certifications Do You Need When Shipping Lithium Batteries?
While the IATA does not require those packing lithium-ion batteries to hold a certification, it does request they receive “adequate instruction” on the subject. However, those shipping Section I lithium-ion batteries must have full IATA training. PHMSA requires packers to receive instructions on the proper means of putting lithium-ion batteries into shipping boxes.
Adequate instruction should go beyond a 10-minute demonstration. Get your employees in-depth training on packing all types of hazardous materials in accordance with domestic and international regulations.
Classes within our course cover the means of packing to adhere to requirements for shipping over ground, air or water. To ensure your employees understand the information they learned in class, they must pass a multiple-choice exam with 75% correct to get a certificate of course completion. Not only will you have offered your workers the training they need, but you will also obtain proof of their understanding.
With online training, employees can take classes whenever they find the time. As long as they finish the course before packaging lithium-ion batteries for shipping, they can take as much or as little time as necessary to fully understand the material. Coupling the online classes with hands-on practice sessions will further reinforce the rules the employees learned during their training.
Additionally, IATA requires updating training with refresher courses for your employees at least every two years or if regulations change. Keeping records of each training session will help you schedule future courses for your workers.
Get DOT Hazmat Certified With Hazmat School
With courses from Hazmat School, you can get the training you need to keep up with all the DOT requirements for shipping lithium batteries by ground, air and sea.
Our training classes prepare your employees for working with hazardous shipments such as lithium-ion batteries. Not only will you avoid fines from improperly packed batteries, but you will also save money with our courses. We will beat any competitors’ prices, and we offer group discounts and 20% off discounts for government employees. You will get the training your workers need for safety while saving money on the courses.
Don’t risk the dangers of shipping improperly packaged lithium-ion batteries. Training in the proper packaging and shipping methods required by DOT will ensure you and your employees know how to keep your shipments safe during transport.
Contact us today to learn more about our courses and how you can get certified for DOT Hazmat.