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Shipping lithium batteries – Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Ian Heskins: Last Updated 16th February 2024
Posted In: Guides and Advice | Transit Protection xx 31628

Lithium Battery FAQs

Commonly asked questions (and answers) regarding Lithium Battery shipping

The use of lithium batteries is growing exponentially – thanks to their light weight, performance and relatively low cost.

But shipping lithium batteries has proven dangerous, being blamed for a number of aircraft crashes, as well as devastating fires if batteries are not handled, stored or transported in the correct manner.

Whilst this has led to the rise of specialist packaging – including customised Zarges aluminium battery cases that have been tested to UN standards – there are many misconceptions surrounding the topic. Many are also unaware that such stringent laws and guidelines even exist.

Lithium battery packaging
Lithium batteries are widely used in a number of tools, consumer devices and even vehicles

Whilst it may prove useful to read this beginners guide to the UN 3048 and UN3090 regulations, this article aims to provide answers to the most frequently asked questions that focus on this topic.

With so many questions on what is undoubtedly an extensive subject, this guide has been broken down into a number of sections. These are as follows (click the links in the box below to go straight to the section).

Quick Reference / Contents

01: Basics

What are lithium batteries?

Lithium batteries are used in a huge array of products – everything from electric cars through to your smartphone. Their use has become more common as they are lighter and more powerful than alkaline batteries, which makes them perfect for handheld consumer devices.

Are there different types of lithium battery?

Lithium batteries fall into two broad classifications; lithium metal batteries and lithium ion batteries. Lithium metal batteries are generally single use and contain metallic lithium. Lithium ion batteries in contrast contain lithium which is only present in an ionic form in the electrolyte. They are also rechargeable.

Are there different types within this?

Yes, there are many different chemistries within these broader classifications. For example, lithium ion batteries can be lithium polymer, lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) and lithium air (amongst others).

Where can I find lithium batteries?

Rechargeable lithium batteries are in the most of the devices you use on a regular or even daily basis (the device you are reading this on may even be powered by one).

This means they can be found in, amongst others:

  • Smartphones / mobile phones
  • Laptops & tablets
  • Smart watches
  • E-Bikes
  • Cameras
  • Power tools
  • Children’s toys that can be recharged
  • Electric & hybrid vehicles

How can I tell if a device has a lithium battery in?

You should be able to tell if a device has a lithium battery by checking the products instruction manual, the website of the manufacturer, or contacting them directly.

Is there any difference between a cell and a battery?

Yes – a lithium cell is a single unit and a battery or battery pack is a collection of cells.

Is there a problem with posting lithium batteries?

The main issue of posting lithium batteries is there propensity – under certain conditions – to catch fire. They are also very difficult to extinguish once alight, making it particularly dangerous if this occurs on an aircraft / vehicle.

Why might I need to ship lithium batteries?

There are many scenarios where you or your customers might need to ship batteries. Selling electronic devices online for example, or having customers return damaged or defective items for refunds are just 2 examples. Another is if you are part of a supply chain, where you are handling items or components that use batteries of this type.

Can lithium batteries be sent through the post?

The short answer is yes, but due to the strict rules and legislation, you must be certain you are doing so in the correct manner.

Can lithium batteries be sent on their own through the post?

No – you are not able to send lithium batteries on their own through domestic or international post.

You can only send lithium batteries in the UK or international post only when they’re contained in a device (although some services allow for exceptions).It is also possible to send lithium batteries in the UK when they’re sent with their device (although again, there are some exceptions).

Can lithium batteries be sent abroad?

When shipping abroad, lithium batteries must remain inside their associated device. It is not possible to ship lithium batteries separately. Plus, when shipping lithium batteries abroad you must also check the specific rules in the country that you are shipping to.

What is the difference between a lithium cell and a lithium battery?

A lithium cell is defined as a single encased electrochemical unit consisting of a positive and negative electrode that exhibits a voltage differential across the two terminals. A lithium battery is two or more cells electrically connected. A single cell battery is considered a cell and not a battery for the purposes of the limitations set out in the DGR.

UN 3480 battery packaging
Zarges K470 cases with appropriate inserts are able to satisfy UN3480 battery packaging regulations

Are battery packs or power banks covered by specific laws?

Units that are commonly referred to as “battery packs” or “power banks”, which have the main function of providing power to another piece of equipment are treated as batteries for the purpose of the set out regulations.

What is a button cell battery?

A button cell battery – also commonly referred to a “coin” cell, is a round small cell where the overall height is less than the diameter.

02: Definitions

What is IATA?

IATA is an acronym for the International Air Transport Association

What is IMO?

IMO is an acronym for the International Maritime Organisation

What is ADR?

ADR is short for The European Agreement Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road

What is UN3090?

UN 3090 comprises the United Nations regulations covering Lithium metal batteries (shipped by themselves)

What is UN3091?

UN 3091 comprises the United Nations regulations covering  Lithium metal batteries contained in equipment  or packed separately with a piece of equipment

Battery packaging
Battery packaging for Lithium Ion is tightly regulated by various legislation, including UN3480, UN3481 and IATA specific rules

What is UN3480?

UN 3480 comprises the United Nations regulations covering  Lithium ion batteries (shipped by themselves)

What is UN3481?

UN 3481 comprises the United Nations regulations covering  Lithium ion batteries contained in equipment or packed separately with a piece of equipment

03: General Shipping Requirements

How do I safely package lithium batteries for transport?

Packaged batteries or cells must be separated in a way to prevent short circuits and damage to terminals. They must be packed in a strong rigid outer packaging unless when contained in equipment, the battery is afforded equivalent protection by the equipment in which it is contained.

Shipping lithium ion batteries
Shipping lithium ion batteries via road networks (within Europe) is governed by the ADR 2017 regulations

Do I need special training or qualifications to ship lithium batteries?

Yes – or at least work with someone who is trained and understands all of the necessary regulations. This could for example be the supplier of your lithium battery packaging / cases.

Do I need to do anything before packing lithium cells / batteries?

There are a number of tasks you should undertake. Firstly, if the item(s) being shipped are faulty, you must ensure the damage has not affected the batteries. You must also check the batteries have not been identified as faulty / defective (check with the manufacturer), or there are any visible signs of damage or bulging.

What are the rules for packing equipment with lithium batteries inside?

Effectively, when shipping any lithium batteries you should ensure you adhere to the Dangerous goods regulations. Whilst you can see further specific later in this guide, you should use good quality, sturdy packaging, ensure the devices / batteries cannot move or become “activated” during transit, ensure the appropriate labelling in in place (depending on how many items you are sending) and stick to the limits for numbers you can send in a single pack.

Are there any extra precautions to take?

It is important to prevent cells / batteries coming into contact with conductive materials (e.g. metal) as this may cause a short circuit (and increase the risk of fire). It is also wise to protect against activation (the device becoming live) covering the switch or ensuring the packaging does not interfere with it

Do I need any documentation or labels?

For any package containing lithium batteries, you will need to include the relevant handling label, accompanied by a Transport Document.

How many batteries can I send in each package?

You can only send a maximum of 2 lithium batteries (or 4 lithium cells) in a single package.

Lithium Ion battery packaging requirements
Lithium Ion battery packaging requirements can vary depending on the type or state of the batteries to be shipped

Can I ship damaged / defective lithium batteries?

You are not allowed to ship faulty lithium batteries via couriers / post. Please speak with a qualified expert if you need to do this.

How do I determine the watt-hour rating for a particular lithium ion battery?

Your batteries should have watt-hour rating marked on them. Section I Lithium ion batteries manufactured after 31 December 2011 and Section IB and Section II Lithium ion batteries manufactured after 1 January 2009 are required to be marked with the watt-hour rating.

If you cannot see the marking, or are unsure of the watt-hour rating of your lithium ion battery, contact the manufacturer.

How can batteries be effectively protected against short circuit?

There are a number of ways to help prevent batteries short circuiting. This includes packing each battery or each battery-powered device in fully enclosed inner packaging made of non-conductive material.

Separating or packing batteries in a manner to prevent contact with other batteries, devices or conductive materials (e.g. metal) should also be done, as should ensuring exposed terminals or connectors are protected with non-conductive caps, nonconductive tape, or by other appropriate means.

What kind of outer packaging can be used?

The following exterior packaging has been determined as safe for use in shipping lithium batteries (if regulations are adhered to):

Drums: Steel, Aluminium, Plywood, Fibre, Plastic, Other metal;

Jerri cans: Steel, Aluminium, Plastic,

Boxes: Steel, Aluminium, Wood, Plywood, Reconstituted wood, Fibreboard, Plastic, Other metal

Zarges aluminium cases with tailored foam inserts have been shown to be amongst the highest performing methods for transporting all forms / conditions of lithium battery.

Should the exterior packaging be impact resistant?

Not necessarily (although strongly advisable); if it’s not impact resistant, then the outer packaging must not be used as the sole means of protecting the battery terminals from damage or short-circuiting.

Batteries should be securely cushioned and packed to prevent shifting which could loosen terminal caps or reorient the terminals to produce short circuits. Foam inserts are a great method for achieving this.

04: Legislation

Where did the rules on lithium batteries come from?

Although there are varying rules depending on the form of transport by which the batteries will be shipped, the majority of the rules were bought in by the IATA (International Air Transport Association) in 2009 following a number of incidents of lithium batteries igniting and causing fires on aircraft.

The United Nations has also classified lithium batteries as hazardous goods.

How should the packaging be labelled / marked?

Each package must be labelled with a completed lithium battery marking. This includes:

UN Number
Telephone number where more information on the shipment and its content can be obtained Minimum dimensions: 120 x 110 mm
The information on the lithium battery handling label must be in English.
Text can be supplemented by an accurate printed translation in another language.

Please see the example below

Fully excepted shipment label

Can any devices be transported when “active”?

Devices such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, watches and temperature loggers, which are not capable of generating a dangerous amount of heat, may be transported when intentionally active.

When active, these devices must meet defined standards for electromagnetic radiation to ensure that the operation of the device does not interfere with aircraft systems. The devices must also not be capable of emitting disturbing signals (such as buzzing alarms, strobe lights, etc.) during transport.

Are there any circumstances where this labelling is not required?

The label / marking is not required for:

Packages that contain only button cell batteries that are installed in equipment (including circuit boards)
Consignments of two packages or less where each package contains no more than four cells or two batteries installed in equipment

Can PI 966 and PI 967 (or respectively PI 969 and 970) be consolidated in one shipment

If a package contains a combination of lithium batteries within equipment and lithium batteries packed with equipment – that meet limits for lithium cells or batteries of Section II – the following requirements will also apply:

The shipper must ensure that all applicable parts of both packing instructions are met.

Total weight of lithium batteries contained in any package must not exceed 5 kg;

The words “lithium ion batteries, in compliance with Section II of PI966” or respectively “lithium metal batteries, in compliance with Section II of PI969” must be placed on documentation

Can a number of packages containing Section II Lithium Batteries (UN3481/UN3091 only) be consolidated in one shipment?

Packages that individually comply with the requirements may be consolidated in what is called an over pack.

What is an over pack?

An over pack is an exterior box / case containing the smaller individual packages. This must be marked with the word “over pack” and labelled with the Lithium battery handling label unless the labels on the individual packages inside the over pack remain visible (or the label is not required).

Does every airline accept Section II Lithium Batteries?

Besides standard regulations, numerous air operators implement ad hoc restrictions on the carriage of lithium batteries. It is wise to check with your transport provider.

Are transit requirements for Section II Lithium Batteries by ground (road / rail) and sea freight different?

Transport requirements for both road and sea-freight are similar, but generally less restrictive.

Any shipment compliant for Air transport can also be transported by road / sea (although this doesn’t work the other way around)

Where can I find out information regarding road and sea freight regulations?

To find out specific rules and regulations for shipping lithium batteries via sea freight or by road, please view the IMO (International Maritime Organisation), ADR (The European Agreement Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road) documents / guidelines.

If I am only shipping a small package, can I use a smaller lithium mark?

If a package is too small to display the full size lithium mark, the mark dimensions may be reduced to 105 mm wide × 74 mm high. The design specifications must remain the same however.

What are the requirements for the telephone number on the lithium battery mark?

The telephone number should be of a person with specific knowledge shipment. It is not for the purposes of obtaining immediate emergency response guidance (meaning it does not need to be monitored throughout the shipment). It is acceptable for the number to be monitored during the company’s normal business hours

It also is acceptable to use an emergency response, 24-hour phone number on the lithium battery mark.

Does IATA require a MSDS or SDS containing the UN test data?

No. IATA does not require a material safety data sheet (MSDS or SDS), or the UN 38.3 test data report as part of the required documentation requirements when offering lithium batteries for transport.

Packing Instructions 966 and 969 Section II include a requirement for a 1.2 metre drop test. What portion or portions of the package are subject to this test?

The completed package containing batteries as prepared for transport in accordance with the relevant packing instruction must be capable of withstanding the 1.2 m drop test. The “package” in this instance includes both the inner packaging containing batteries and the equipment must comply with the packing instruction to include meeting the capability to pass the 1.2 m drop test.

Zarges aluminium battery boxes have been drop tested to ensure they comply with this requirement.

Can I ship recalled, damaged or non-conforming cells or batteries?

Lithium batteries, identified by the manufacturer as being defective for safety reasons, or that have been damaged, that have the potential of producing a dangerous evolution of heat, fire or short circuit are forbidden for transport by air (e.g. those being returned to the manufacturer for safety reasons).

This applies also to lithium cells or batteries installed inside equipment such as mobile phones, laptops or tablets where the devices are subject to recall due to the safety concerns of the lithium cell or battery installed in the device.

Please speak with your transport provider for shipping defective batteries via other means (road / sea)

Do I need to include an additional document or statement to certify that my lithium ion batteries are at no more than 30% State of Charge (SoC)?

No. For lithium ion batteries shipped in accordance with Section IA or Section IB of PI 965, which must be on a Shipper’s Declaration, the Shipper’s Declaration includes a certification statement “I declare that all of the applicable air transport requirements have been met.”

By signing the Shipper’s Declaration the shipper is making a legal statement that all the applicable provisions of the DGR have been complied with, which includes that the lithium ion batteries are at no more than 30% SoC.

05: Specific Case Examples

I have a device (e.g. smartphone, MP3 player) containing one single-cell lithium ion battery. Do I have to mark the shipping box that contains each device? What devices are placed in a shipping box? Does this require the lithium battery mark?

For packages of single devices such as these, no lithium battery mark would be required since it is possible to place up to 4 of these single-cell batteries in a box without applying the lithium battery mark on the outer box. In the case where 5 devices in a single shipping package, a lithium battery mark on the shipping package would be required.

Can a single lithium battery mark be used to identify that both lithium metal and lithium ion batteries are contained inside the package?

Yes. The mark may bear all applicable UN numbers, e.g. UN 3091, UN 3481, to identify that the package contains lithium metal batteries packed with, or contained in equipment and lithium ion batteries packed with, or contained in equipment.

Under Packing Instructions 966 and 969, it states that “The maximum number of batteries in each package must be the minimum number required to power the equipment, plus two spares”. If a package contains 4 power tools (each tool contains 1 lithium ion battery), can 2 extra lithium ion batteries be placed in the package for each piece of equipment for a total of 12 batteries?

Yes. The 12 batteries reflect two spares for each of the 4 power tools in the outer package plus one each to power the device.

Do the quantity limits shown in the lithium battery packing instructions apply to over packs that contain lithium batteries?

The quantity limits shown in the packing instructions refer to a maximum (net) weight of lithium batteries in each package. Provided each package remains within this limit specified in the packing instruction, there are no quantity limits specified for an over pack.

Can batteries which are operationally fine, but defective in some other manner, be shipped?

Batteries which have some other defective feature (e.g. LEDs not showing charge, incorrect model number on label, or batteries not holding enough charge) can be shipped (including by air) subject to meeting the relevant provisions.

I am shipping Section IB lithium [ion or metal] batteries; do I need dangerous goods training?

Yes. All the provisions of the Dangerous Goods Regulations apply to shipments of Section IB batteries except the references listed in Section IB. Therefore, dangerous goods training as indicated in Subsection 1.5 of the Dangerous Goods Regulations is required.

Can defective products containing batteries (which are non defective) be shipped?

Devices such as laptops or tablets being returned may not have a defective battery, it may not meet the needs of the customer, may be defective itself (but not the battery), etc. In these situations all forms (including air) transport would be permitted. However, the battery or equipment manufacturer should be contacted to determine the appropriate shipping method.

I am shipping perishable cargo with lithium battery powered temperature or data loggers; do I need to follow the Dangerous Goods Regulations?

Yes. All the applicable provisions for lithium batteries will need to be followed by the shipper of such devices, including the limitations for devices that are “active” (on) during transport. Note: The perishable cargo regulations (PCR) also apply to such shipment

In Summary

Ensuring safe transportation of lithium batteries

Safely shipping lithium batteries is a complex subject, with potentially dire consequences if you get it wrong (hence why there is such a long list of Frequently Asked Questions).

Please note however that every application / scenario will be slightly different – if in any doubt, speak with the battery manufacturer and / or your chosen transport provider for further clarification.

Important Notice

The information provided on this page is intended as a guide only. GWP can accept no responsibility or liability for loss, damage or any other consequence of reliance on this information, howsoever caused. As all applications and scenarios vary, it is your responsibility or the responsibility of your business to ensure that any products or items you ship comply the regulations applicable to your specific circumstances. If in any doubt, please check with your shipping provider or the appropriate regulatory body.

Further Reading...

About the Author

Ian Heskins

Ian Heskins

Business Development Director | GWP Group

Ian is one of the founding Directors of GWP, using his broad knowledge acquired over more than 30 years to oversee new business strategy [Read full bio…]

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