Table of Contents
- How Do Lithium Batteries Work?
- What Are the Hazards of Shipping Lithium Batteries?
- Why Lithium Batteries Explode
- 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?
- Get DOT Hazmat Certified With Hazmat School
Protect your business and shipments from damage, as well as 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 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 around the world.
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 it had in the past. Because these batteries lack such a power memory, they don’t require full 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.
To enable the flow of electrons, lithium-ion batteries contain an electrolyte. 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.
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.
How to Properly Pack Lithium Batteries
Because you cannot control the exterior conditions the batteries will experience in transit, you must do everything you can 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 activation of the device, 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 material of the packaging makes a difference in how well the packing complies with regulations. Domestic and international shipping rules for packaging both set out the same requirements for preventing overheating and damage to 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. Only by a special provision of both the sending and receiving countries can you ship batteries with higher power percentages. 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.
Just 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 in a way that ensures it will not contact any other battery or metal item in the container.
2. Have Durable, Nonconductive Packaging
When packing multiple batteries, each battery needs to have a liner enclosing it. 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 govern 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 that’s 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.
If your business does not have a contracted shipper or its own shipping vehicles, check with the company providing the cargo transport. 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 have 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. To verify their safety, lithium-ion batteries must include paperwork for Class 9 hazardous materials. 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 have similar guidelines listed 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 gain a full understanding of 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 will know how to keep your shipments safe during transport.
To learn more about our courses and how you can get certified for DOT Hazmat, contact us today.
Manages Hazmat School’s E-Learning courses and blog. Kirstie has extensive experience in the online training and education industry. Kirstie has worked with courses that offer a variety of safety and environmental certifications that satisfy OSHA, EPA and DOT requirements.