BU-704: How to Transport Batteries

Know the hazardous material rules and lithium content when carrying batteries.

Incidents in transit prompted authorities to tighten the rules for all battery shipments. The largest change involves transporting lithium-based batteries by air governed by UN 38.3. This is done to assure safety of those handling batteries and the passengers traveling with them aboard a common carrier.

Data compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 1991 to 2007 states that 27 percent of all incidents occurred with lithium-based batteries, of which 68 percent failed due to short circuits, 15 percent during charging and discharging and 7 percent by unintentional activation of devices. The remaining had other malfunctions.

In another study from 1991 to 2012, the FAA recorded 132 air incidents involving batteries leading to smoke, extreme heat, fire or explosion. Examining the mishaps further puts most of the blame on inappropriate packaging or handling, of which most occurred at airports or in cargo hubs. Although lithium-ion gets the most attention regarding safety risk in transport, the FAA reports that other battery systems are experiencing a larger number of incidents. Problem batteries include primary lithium (lithium-metal), lead acid, NiMH, NiCd and alkaline. Please note that the rechargeable Li-ion and primary lithium-metal batteries are handled separately.
 

Lead Acid

Most countries set strict rules for transporting lead acid batteries. Failure to comply with the regulations is a civil or criminal offense that can result in stiff penalties for the carrier and/or the shipper. The rules are simple, well established and make common sense.

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

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. Do not mix batteries with coins and house keys in your pocket.
 

Lithium-based Batteries

The largest changes in shipping rules occurred around lithium-based batteries, and with good reasons. Li-ion is the fastest growing battery chemistry and in 2009, 3.3 billion Li-ion batteries were transported by air. This is an ongoing concern, and an airline-pilot union has asked the FAA to ban lithium-based batteries on passenger aircraft.

The Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) is aware of possible hazards but opposes any revisions to 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 applications. They argue that the batteries causing problems do not meet US hazardous material handling regulations and ask the FAA to enforce stricter manufacturing rules.

Battery manufacturers tell the aviation industry that, as a result of the well-publicized 2006 recall, a safer generation of Li-ion batteries has emerged. According to the US 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 1 per 10 million, or less, and newer consumer products have few surprise failures. But in spite of improved battery safety, there are restrictions with lithium-ion batteries on airplanes. Travelers are reminded how many batteries they can carry 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 cabin enables better safety monitoring than is possible in the cargo bay, with access to fire extinguishers should a battery disintegrate in flight. In one incident, a coffee pot served as the extinguishing device for a flaming laptop battery on board a plane. This would be impossible in the sealed cargo bay below. 

In terms of transportation, lithium-based batteries are divided into non-rechargeable lithium-metal batteries and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries found in mobile 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 content of:

The lithium content of the lithium-metal battery 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 places the upper limit with a 100Wh battery pack.

A laptop battery commonly uses 2Ah cells containing 0.6 grams of ELC each. The battery pack may have 8 cells (4 in series; 2 in parallel), which brings the ELC to 4.8 grams, well below the 8-gram limit allowed in 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 2Ah). In summary, 14.4V x 4Ah = 57.6Wh, 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 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. Out of sight — out of mind.

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 crews often carry larger batteries for professional video cameras, and these are handled as Class 9 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 shorts. The packages must be strong to allow stacking. (See BU-704a: Shipping Lithium-based Batteries by Air.)

 

Frequently Asked Questions about Transporting Lithium-ion Batteries by Air

 

Be mindful when traveling by air

Travelers often put the safety of passengers and aircraft at risk by checking in or bringing on board undeclared items. The Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA) remind travelers to declare potentially dangerous goods. Check dangerous goods under CASA or other websites if uncertain what’s allowed. Figure 1 illustrates banned items.

Banned Items

Figure 1: Consumer goods that are not allowed on an aircraft. If uncertain what items are banned, check “dangerous goods” under CASA or other websites.
Source: Daily Telegraph


Mishaps remind travelers of the importance to observe safety bylaws. In 2014, the captain of a Boeing 737 aircraft declared “Mayday” after observing heavy white smoke billowing from the cargo hold of the plane during an external pre-flight inspection. Emergency crew uncovered 28 batteries in a checked transit case, 6–8 of which had been destroyed by fire. The report said that an electrical short in a battery started the fire after the passenger declared that no batteries were in the transit case. Under civil aviation laws, passengers failing to declare dangerous goods face penalties of up to 7 years in prison. Figure 2 illustrates the remains of the charred content.
 

Cargo Fire

Figure 2: Exploded transit case. CASA examines the remains of checked luggage after a battery caught fire before take-off. The dangerous goods were not declared. Shipping of lithium-based batteries is regulated under UN 38.3.
Source: Daily Telegraph

Last Updated 2016-05-25


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Comments

On May 16, 2012 at 4:21am
Walter van Praag wrote:

I was wondering how to estimate the Estimated Lithium Content (ELC) of Lithium Polymer batteries.

I am hoping to fly with a 36V 10Ahr Lithium Polymer battery which if it was a Li-Ion battery would be 28.8gms of ELC, over the allowed limit by 3.8grms! With the Lithium Polymer batteries being more efficient I assume we get more power from less ELC and perhaps the ELC of my battery is under 25grms!

There are four of us travelling for www.coughing4cf.com, a 5000km charitable electric-assisted bicycle ride for Cystic Fibrosis from Vietnam to Singapore.

Help!

On June 19, 2012 at 2:14am
Brendon Franklin wrote:

Thanks for helpful guideline. I think for battery transport associates are finding this entry beneficial for them.

On October 16, 2012 at 6:22pm
Tim wrote:

Hi,

I am about to start importing Lithium battery powered products from China and have been trying to find information about how much charge will be lost between the factory and here. However, I can only seem to find articles to do with the dange of transporting batteries.

Are you able to help me with how much Lithium battery charge I can expect to be lost during both air and sea freight, assuming it is fully charged when it leaves the factory?

Thank you for your help.

Kind regards,
Tim

On January 18, 2013 at 3:28am
Anonymous wrote:

Li-Ion cells lose about 1 - 5 % of their charge per month.
Manufacturers ship them at 40% charge, because that’s the level where they age least. You won’t get fully charged cells from China, as this makes no sense.

On June 10, 2013 at 12:35am
Brian S wrote:

There is no elemental lithium in a lithium battery. The lithium salts used in lithium batteries are not particularly dangerous. One of them is actually also used as a prescription drug. The key to lithium batterys’ success is two-fold: higher voltage/cell and high-density cells.

Since lithium salts are used, unaltered from the mining process (except drying), it is the in the form of the most ultra-fine granular particules that can be rolled in many microscopically thin layers to form a very high-capacity battery!

The danger is not from the lithium. It’s from the battery’s ability to store energy as an extremely dense electric charge and potential. The danger of lithium batteries should therefore always pertain to electrical, not chemical, charateristics!

Whereas, sulfuric acid can instantaneously blind a person, and lead-acid batteries do periodically do that to people, lithium batteries cause fires that are the direct result the stored energy in them. The mass of the lithium is practically irrelevant. One tiny battery can start a big fire!

On June 29, 2013 at 8:27am
Helenjerry wrote:

When people think of automobiles they often think of a vehicle that can transport itself. If an automobile needs to be moved form one point to another, most people would assume that someone would drive the car to the place it needed to be. While this is the case in most situations, sometimes auto shipping services need to be used to transport vehicles. While some people may scoff at these services, there are actually many benefits to using auto shipping services to transport a car.

On July 16, 2013 at 3:49pm
Tim wrote:

Can anyone point out in the transport regulations where batteries are exempt when they are non-removable (e.g. ipad) !?!?

Thanks!

On October 7, 2013 at 1:10am
brad nicholson wrote:

safety precaution of transporting of Dangerous goods must be process properly, thanks for sharing it, that’s why we DG Air, https://dgair.com.au/ we follow steps of safety first.

On October 7, 2013 at 4:41am
Maria wrote:

Hello,

Has anybody know what is the ideal Temperature to transport Li-Bat (by air).

I have found the ideal storage temperature, but I also need this info..

Tks!!

On December 5, 2013 at 9:11am
vivek kumar yadav wrote:

Hi I am planing shift from varanshi to Mumbai I having a inverter battery which is around 24 I want to parcel throw Indian railways is it possible

On April 21, 2014 at 6:44pm
Steve Gothard wrote:

It seems stupid to put 200 Kg of Lithium batteries in bulk on a wooden pallet that is made of cheap wood and nails and ship them on board an aircraft like they did on MH 370 If the pallet collapses a nail from the pallet could easily puncture a cell and start a fire.  Lithium batteris in bulk should only be shipped on a plastic pallet with padding to dampen the vibration and change in G-forces while manuvering the aircraft.

On July 17, 2014 at 4:07am
Nicola Bissett wrote:

Can any tell me or point me to the regulations for shipping lithium batteries in bulk by sea and road freight?  most of the restrictions appear to be about the air freight of goods but not sea.  i remember reading that although the regulations are issed for air freight that imminently they will be issued for sea freight as well

On August 3, 2014 at 9:57am
kondal goud M wrote:

we have purchased Byte 3 Battery tester from Megger.
The catelouge always refers measurement of impedance with base values.
Is base value to betaken as average impedance of most cells or is it defined as per AH of battery. When we measured it was 200mohms for 400 ah battery of 2v. so is the basevalue of 400ah battery 200 mohms?

On September 1, 2014 at 11:56pm
Murali wrote:

I want to transport Nickel cadmium Aviation battery, by Air.  The battery doesnot contain acid.  I want to know the UN No.  and ID No and Packing class. could any one help me

On September 5, 2014 at 12:28pm
JBL wrote:

It looks as though there is no UN number for NiCd batteries.  See US D.O.T. Title 49, Subtitle B, Chapter I, Subchapter C, Part 172, Subpart B, Section 172.101 for a table including UN Numbers:

http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=555d33b5716e15d5bfdc728fdb059f80&node=49:2.1.1.3.9.2.25.1&rgn=div8

Borrowing from a Sanyo NiCd material safety data sheet:

SANYO sealed Nickel Cadmium batteries are considered to be “dry cell” batteries and not subject to hazardous materials (dangerous goods) regulations for the purpose of transportation by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) or the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The only DOT requirement for shipping Nickel Cadmium batteries are contained in Special Provision 130 which states, “Batteries, dry” are not subject to the requirements of this subchapter when they are securely packaged and offered for transportation in a manner that prevents the dangerous evolution of heat (for example, by the effective insulation of exposed terminals) and protects against short circuits.”

A similar requirement is contained in 49 CFR 173.21(c) of the U.S. DOT hazardous materials regulations.
The IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations contain a similar requirement in Special Provision A123 that states,
“This entries applies to Batteries, electric storage, not otherwise listed in Subsection 4.2 – List of Dangerous Goods. Examples of such batteries are alkali-manganese, zinc-carbon, nickel-metal hydride, and nickel cadmium batteries. Any electrical battery or battery powered device having the potential of dangerous evolution of heat that is not prepared so as to prevent a short-circuit (e.g. in the case of batteries, by the
effective insulation of exposed terminals; or, in the case of equipment, by disconnection of the battery and protection of exposed terminals) is forbidden from transport.”

Failure to comply with these requirements may result in substantial civil penalties.

On September 16, 2014 at 3:14pm
Kathryn Lofton wrote:

Want to ship package weighing under 4 pounds by Flrst Class International Airmail USPS to India. Would like to include four 1.5 volt LR44 alkaline button batteries. Have reviewed USPS site regarding conditions for mailing to India as well as UPS shipping guidelines. So far unable to find any specific prohibition. Would place original package in ziplock plastic bag inside recyclable bubble plastic mailer with other approved items. Anyone able to site approval or prohibition for this?

On September 17, 2014 at 8:59am
Adam T wrote:

Has there been any findings/studies in to if fully discharged Lithium batteries (either installed in equipment or as bulk cargo etc) have been found to be more dangerous than fully charged ones when carried for Air Transport?

On March 4, 2015 at 1:00pm
Randy Frey wrote:

I’m sending a pod of belongings BY SEA to Hawaii from Los Angeles in a few weeks. I will be including a few power tools and about 3-4 rechargeable lithium batteries. Are there any regulations regarding this type of shipment?

On April 6, 2015 at 11:37am
Hmmmm wrote:

I think this is a typo?

“In summary, 14.4 x 4 = 57.6Ah”

It should be “14.4 V x 4 Ah = 57.6 Wh”

On July 23, 2015 at 1:11pm
Gary Taverrite wrote:

I have a client that is starting to make LI batteries as an energy storage device.  They are going to be about the size of a regular lead automobile battery.  How are those protected and packaged during shipping?  Which regulations do I need to follow?

On October 9, 2015 at 9:45pm
Rand Beyers wrote:

Transporting industrial batteries for forklifts under a Class D license. Is this legal?

On October 9, 2015 at 9:51pm
Rand Beyers wrote:

Most of the batteries are a minimum of two thousand pounds and some of them are over 4000 pounds

On November 24, 2015 at 12:04pm
Joki wrote:

I want to ship my electric bike through KLM cargo and I wonder if it is possible. My bike has a Li-Lithium battery 48 V. Please answer me soon. Thanks

On November 30, 2015 at 11:05am
Sean wrote:

Hi,
  My sister crowdfunded the URB-E scooter (she has MS) and we had it shipped to a friend in the US to check so we wouldn’t be making a return from the UK. The URB-E is to provide her with mobility due to her illness but I’m not sure IF the battery can be shipped - even on cargo planes. The Urb-E has a 36v 10Ah (360Wh) lithium ion battery. Can this be shipped cargo if appropriately packed? If so, can you give me the specifics of the packaging & warning symbols that are required.

On March 2, 2016 at 6:08am
john coker wrote:

Good Day Sales,
  Advise if your company stock SEALED LEAD ACID BATTERIES and ready to ship.
We are in the market for 12V 75 Ah 100Ah or more.
Thanks

On June 10, 2016 at 7:29am
Chris wrote:

Ive got a customer interested in taking an adapted segway (for a wheelchair user) over to Rio for the Paralympics. Its got (2) 390Wh LI batteries packed within a product. Is cargo their only option?

On July 21, 2016 at 6:39am
Barb Yankie wrote:

I purchased a replacement battery for my computer. I installed it and left it plugged in for 16 hours. It still is not charged enough to even turn on the computer. What can I do now?

On August 3, 2016 at 7:12pm
Bob wrote:

I am sorry but I am having a hard time understanding since english is my second language. My question is, besides the lithium inside of batteries from Laptops, cellulars, etc, how much additional lithium can I carry, in my carry on luggage, 8 or 25 grams?

Thanks so much and cheers from Mexico City smile

On September 4, 2016 at 12:58am
Charles wrote:

I’d like to reiterate Maria’s (4:41AM) question: Has anybody know what is the ideal Temperature to transport Li-Bat (by air).

Do these batteries fare better in cooler air transport environment as opposed to warmer?
Specific answer from experts only please.