Different modes of transporting lithium batteries

Transporting lithium metal and lithium ion batteries means adhering to international regulations. These cover stringent testing, package and storage requirements to ensure the safe containment and carriage of all lithium-ion cells and batteries.

Our battery team has thorough knowledge of the safest and fastest way to transport lithium cells and batteries over land, sea and air. We’ve compiled some FAQs to support you with your transportation queries, but get in touch directly for door-to-door expert assistance.

Why are there rules in place for storing and transporting lithium batteries?

Lithium batteries, under certain conditions, can disassemble rapidly, leading to the risk of fire which can be particularly difficult to extinguish. Should this happen in storage or transit, it poses a risk to life which transport companies must mitigate. Regulations are in place to minimize the chance of a fire breaking out.

Who makes the rules?

Transporting lithium batteries via air is regulated by the global trade association for airlines, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the UN specialised agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) within their Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air document.

Sending lithium batteries via sea is overseen by the UN specialised agency, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), according to their International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG).

When transporting lithium batteries via road within Europe, carriers must adhere to the Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR), set by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

For rail transport, the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF) has its Regulations concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Rail (RID).

It’s important to note that local or national regulations take priority over UN instructions and must be legally adhered to over and above the standards set by UN bodies.

Which UN Regulations need to be met?

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

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

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

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

Is there a difference in transporting lithium cells and lithium batteries?

To clarify, a lithium cell is a single unit consisting of a positive and negative electrode that exhibits a voltage differential across the two terminals. A battery is a collection of cells which are electronically connected. Both batteries and cells are subject to the same transportation regulations under the Dangerous Goods Act.

How should lithium batteries be packed for transport?

Cells and batteries must be packaged so that they can’t come into contact with conductive material which may result in a short circuit leading to disassembly. Devices should therefore be wrapped individually in rigid, strong non-conductive packaging unless the device itself provides comparable protection.

It’s also advisable to ensure that any switches on devices are covered or secured so the device can’t be accidentally switched on during travel.

What labelling and documentation is required?

Packaging containing lithium cells or batteries must display all of the relevant markings, see the example below. The border of the mark must have red diagonal hatchings with a minimum width of 5mm. The symbol (group of batteries, one damaged and emitting flame, above the UN number for lithium ion or lithium metal batteries or cells) must be black on white or a suitable contrasting background.

The mark must be in the form of a rectangle or a square with minimum dimensions of 100mm x 100mm. See reference to the relevant shipping method required for full details.

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.

What else do I need to know?

When shipping Section IB lithium cells and batteries, it’s important to know that Dangerous Goods Training will be required. This is because all elements of the Dangerous Goods Regulations apply to these cells and batteries (exceptions are listed in Section IB). “IB” must be added next to the packing instruction number “965”.

I’m confused, who can help me?

The transportation of lithium cells and batteries is complex, but at Steatite we have the expertise and necessary authorisation to transport lithium batteries both nationally and internationally. Our battery specialists are always on hand to guide you through your engineering and logistical requirements.

Contact the team for help.