Many battery types fall under strict transportation regulation. This is done for the safety of those handling them and the passengers traveling on a common carrier. Here are the rules in short.
Most countries set strict rules for transporting lead acid batteries. Failure to comply with the regulations is a civil or criminal offense that can bring a stiff penalty on the carrier and/or shipper. The transport regulations require the following precautions.
Different rules apply when shipping damaged batteries. A lead acid battery is considered damaged if there is a possibility of leakage due to a crack, or if one or more caps are missing. Transportation companies and air carriers may require that the batteries be drained of all acid prior to transport. Place damaged batteries in an acid-resistant container and add soda ash to neutralize any acid that might spill. Separate damaged and intact batteries.
Nickel-based batteries have no transport limitations, however, some of the same precautions apply as for lead acid in terms of packaging to prevent electrical shorts and safeguard against fire. Regulations prohibit storing and transporting smaller battery packs in a metal box. If there is a danger of an electrical short, wrap each battery individually in a plastic bag. When carrying small batteries in your pocket, do not mix them with coins and house keys.
In 2009, 3.3 billion Li-ion batteries were transported by air. Such air shipment is an ongoing concern, and an airline-pilot union has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ban them on passenger aircraft. From March 1991 to August 2010, batteries and battery-powered devices caused 113 recorded incidents with smoke, fire, extreme heat or explosion on passenger and cargo planes. The Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) is aware of possible hazards and opposes any revisions in transportation rules, arguing that the restrictions would cost shippers and manufacturers billions of dollars.
PRBA is made up of major battery manufacturers, including Energizer, Panasonic, SAFT America, Sanyo and Varta Batteries. These manufacturers do not want to disrupt air shipments, especially batteries for critical medical and military missions. They argue that the batteries causing problems do not meet US hazardous material handling regulations and ask the FAA to enforce stricter manufacturing rules. The manufacturers tell the aviation industry further that, as a result of the well-publicized 2006 recall, a safer generation of Li-ion batteries has emerged. According to U.S. Census Bureau (2010), airfreight transports roughly 364 million cell phones, 142 million cameras and 47 million laptops as part of just-in-time delivery to stores. No deaths and only 26 injuries are attributed to shipping billions of lithium batteries every year.
The estimated failure rate of Li-ion is one per 10 million. Examining the 113 recorded incidents of transporting batteries by air in 19 years reveals that most failures occurred due to inappropriate packaging or handling, which caused damage or electrical short. Most incidents happened at airports or in cargo hubs. Problem batteries include primary lithium (lithium-metal), lead, nickel and alkaline systems, and not just lithium-ion, as is perceived. Newer consumer products have very few surprise failures caused by Li-ion batteries.
There are, however, restrictions with lithium-ion batteries on airplanes and travelers are reminded how many batteries can be carried on board in portable devices and as spare packs. Since January 2008, people can no longer pack spare lithium batteries in checked baggage, but airlines allow them as carry-on. The passenger compartment enables better safety monitoring with access to fire extinguishers. In one incident, a coffee pot served as extinguishing device for a flaming laptop battery on board of a plane. This would be impossible in the cargo bay below.
In terms of transportation, lithium-based batteries are divided into non-rechargeablelithium-metal batteries that are typically used in film cameras, and the rechargeable lithium-ion battery found in cell phones and laptops. Airlines allow both types as carry-on either installed or carried as spare packs as long as they don’t exceed the following limitation of lithium or equivalent of:
The lithium content of the primary lithium batteries is often printed on the label. Li-ion, on the other hand, has no metallic lithium and uses the equivalent lithium content (ELC) instead. To calculate the ELC, multiply the rated capacity (Ah) times 0.3. As an example, a 1Ah cell has 0.3 grams of lithium. The 8-gram ELC limitation allows a 100Wh battery.
A laptop battery commonly uses 2Ah cells containing 0.6 grams of ELC each. The battery pack may have eight cells (4 in series; 2 in parallel), which brings the ELC to 4.8 grams, well below the 8-gram limit allowed by a single pack. To derive the watt-hour, multiply the battery voltage by the ampere-hours (Ah). The battery in question has a voltage of 14.40V (4 x 3.6V) and a rating of 4Ah (2 x 2A). In summary, 14.4 x 4 = 57.6Ah, or roughly 60Wh.
While regulations limit the Li-ion battery to no larger than 100Wh, each passenger and travel companion is allowed to carry spare packs of up to 25 grams of ELC, or 300Wh. The airlines recommend placing each battery in a clear plastic bag or covering the contacts with a tape to prevent an electric short. Although current rules forbid passengers from carrying lithium-ion batteries in checked luggage, devices with non-removable batteries, such as the iPhone, iPad and certain brand of laptops, are exempt from the rules.
Anyone shipping lithium-ion batteries in bulk must meet transportation regulations and this applies to domestic and international shipments by land, sea and air. Lithium-ion cells whose equivalent lithium content exceeds 1.5 grams or 8 grams per battery pack (100Wh) must be shipped as “Class 9 miscellaneous hazardous material.” Film crew often carry larger batteries for professional video cameras, and these are handled as hazardous material. If a shipment in the US contains more than 24 lithium cells or 12 lithium-ion packs, special markings and appropriate shipping documents are required. Each package must be clearly marked to inform the airline that lithium batteries are involved. Open cells and packs must be separated to prevent electrical short. The packages must be strong to allow stacking.
No. Almost all small Li-ion (less than 100Wh) in consumer products are except from dangerous goods regulations and do not require Class 9 labeling, marking or packaging.
Lithium ion batteries can be shipped in small and large quantities. A single package may contain as few as five batteries, while a pallet may contain more than 1,000 packs.
In the US, the marking is mandatory for packages of more than 24 Li-ion cells or 12 Li-ion packs. The documents identify the goods and tell what to do if the package is damaged.
Yes, all Li-ion cells and packs shipped internationally must be tested. In the US, UN testing also includes small, consumer-size lithium ion cells and packs. Read about Building a Lithium-ion Pack.
To assure lithium-based batteries are designed and packaged to withstand transportation conditions, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) proposes new regulations. While the Airline Pilots Association supports tighter restrictions and has called for lithium batteries to be “fully regulated dangerous goods” as airline cargo, PRBA recommends dropping the proposed rules in favor of the International Civil Aviation Organization requirement (ICAO), which has been in effect since 2009 but was never applied in the US. Industry lobbyists say that the government has enough rules to ensure safe battery shipments and express concern that some shippers do not follow packaging requirements. They recommend stronger enforcements there.