International Guidelines for Shipping Lithium Batteries

Shipping lithium batteries is becoming increasingly important as global trade evolves and thrives. With their high energy density and long-lasting performance, lithium batteries power a wide range of electronic devices that have a significant impact on our daily lives, from smartphones and medical equipment to electric cars and entire energy systems. However, due to safety concerns with their transportation, lithium batteries must be shipped carefully in accordance with all applicable laws, regulations, and international standards. Risks like combustion or potential chain reactions can arise if they are handled improperly or sustain damage while being transported.

Here are some important guidelines and regulations to consider:

  1. The United Nations’ (UN) Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods are the foundation for numerous national and international regulations. They provide guidance for the classification, packaging, labeling, and documentation of dangerous goods, including lithium batteries, for various modes of transport, such as air, sea, road, and rail. 
    • Specific UN guidelines that cover the shipping of lithium batteries include:
      • UN 3090, Lithium metal batteries (shipped by themselves)
      • UN 3480, Lithium-ion batteries (shipped by themselves)
      • UN 3091, Lithium metal batteries contained in equipment or packed with equipment
      • UN 3481, Lithium-ion batteries contained in equipment or packed with equipment
  2. The UN Manual of Tests and Criteria. It provides guidelines for testing lithium batteries to ensure they meet safety standards. Prior to transport, shippers must confirm the safety of lithium batteries by performing the required testing procedures, such as UN 38.3 testing. These tests assess how well the batteries perform in a range of scenarios, including those involving temperature, vibration, impact, overcharging, and short circuits.
  3. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR). They provide comprehensive guidelines for the safe handling and transportation of dangerous goods, including lithium batteries, by air. Shippers must follow the packaging, marking, labeling, and documentation requirements outlined in the IATA DGR to ensure compliance and maintain safety during air transport.
  4. The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. The code sets standards for the safe handling, stowage, and transport of dangerous goods, including lithium batteries, on vessels. It provides guidance on packaging, labeling, placarding, segregation, and documentation requirements to ensure safe maritime transport. The code is updated every year so shippers need to review it to ensure proper compliance.
  5. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air. They provide guidelines specifically for air transportation of lithium batteries. Shippers must adhere to these instructions, which include packaging requirements, labeling, handling, and documentation, to ensure compliance with aviation safety regulations.
  6. The International Electrochemical Commission (IEC) 62133. IEC outlines standards that specifically address the safety requirements for portable secondary cells and batteries containing alkaline or other non-acid electrolytes. Shippers should be aware of these standards, as they provide additional safety requirements and detailed information about testing procedures, identification and documentation to ensure the reliability and safe use of lithium batteries.
  7. Regional and National Regulations and Authorities.  Regions like the EU, as well as different countries, have their own specific regulations and agencies responsible for overseeing the transportation of dangerous goods, including lithium batteries. It is important to note that regulations and guidelines may vary depending on the type and quantity of lithium batteries being shipped, the mode of transport, and the specific jurisdictions involved.Shippers should be familiar with the regulations of the countries involved in the shipping process to ensure compliance at the national level.
  8. International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Standards. ISO has developed standards that provide additional guidance for the transportation and safety of lithium batteries. For instance, ISO 12405 covers the safe use of lithium-ion traction batteries in electric vehicles. 
  9. Carrier-Specific Guidelines. Different carriers, such as airlines, shipping lines, and courier services, may have their own specific guidelines for shipping lithium batteries. Shippers should consult these carrier-specific guidelines to ensure compliance with their requirements.
  10. State-of-Charge (SoC) and Quantity Limits. Shippers should comply with the prescribed SoC and quantity limits for lithium batteries during transport. International guidelines, such as those provided by IATA, UN, and IMDG, are strict about the acceptable state of charge levels and quantity limits to mitigate the risk of incidents.

Shipping lithium batteries necessitates strict adherence to safety regulations and international guidelines. Importers must be aware of the risks associated with lithium batteries and follow these guidelines in order to reduce risks, ensure the safety of personnel involved, and maintain compliance throughout the transportation process.

McHugh & Eastwood can assist you in navigating and comprehending the requirements and best practices for shipping lithium batteries. We can assist you in staying current on regulations and requirements so that you can transport lithium batteries safely by land, air, or sea. 

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