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All the Safety Precautions You Need: The Ultimate Guide to Shipping Lithium-Ion Batteries

All the Safety Precautions You Need: The Ultimate Guide to Shipping Lithium-Ion Batteries
The Siliconreview
04 May, 2020

Many of today’s consumer products are powered by lithium-ion batteries. That’s good news for both consumers and battery manufacturers, but it does come with some additional challenges since these batteries can pose safety risks if not properly packaged and shipped. Business owners can read on to find out what they need to know about packaging and shipping lithium-ion batteries safely to avoid personal injury, health complications, fines, and potential lawsuits.

Choosing Packaging

The DOT published Final Rule HM-224F, a document laying out new regulations for packaging and shipping lithium batteries, on August 6, 2014. On February 6, 2015, compliance with this document became mandatory. Any business or individual that wants to ship lithium-ion batteries must now ensure he or she is choosing packaging that complies with this ruling to avoid potential fines, lawsuits, and potential safety risks.

When choosing packaging for safe shipment, only trust a company that can guarantee compliance with Final Rule HM-224F. CL Smith offers multiple, fully compliant packaging options for prototype, commercial, and even damaged or defective lithium-ion batteries. This niche company is committed to helping clients ensure the safe, legal delivery of batteries and other hazmat materials.

Know the Hazmat Classes

Different batteries fall into different hazmat classes, ranging from 4.3 for sodium-containing batteries to 9 for lithium-ion batteries shipped independently or contained in equipment. The DOT isn’t the only organization that monitors and controls shipment of these materials. Business owners who plan to ship batteries by air must also follow the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regulations.

The only way to safely ship any hazmat product, including lithium-ion batteries, is in packaging that has been certified compliant. A reputable packaging manufacturer will test its products to ensure safety and compliance.

Pay Attention to Packaging Instructions

When they buy specialized hazmat packaging, business owners can expect to receive everything they need to safely prepare their batteries for shipment. That includes instructions for how to assemble and use the packaging.

For prototype and low production lithium-ion batteries, that will include anti-stat bubble bag inner containers, vermiculite, a drum, an overpack shipping box, box closure tape, and all required hazmat labels. Larger lithium-ion batteries should be packed using larger containers, more vermiculite, and double-wall fiberboard boxes as intermediate packaging. If business owners find any part of the packaging instructions unclear, they should contact the manufacturer before use.

Exceptions to DOT Rules

There are some minor exceptions to DOT Final Rule HM-224F. Consumer goods that contain lithium-ion batteries can be shipped under reduced regulations if the batteries are contained in the equipment. Even under the reduced regulations, batteries must be packaged so they cannot short-circuit or activate while in transit. Business owners must ensure the batteries can’t come into contact with conductive surfaces like other batteries or metal, and they must be fully enclosed with no exposed terminals or connectors.

Damaged or Defective Batteries

Damaged or defective lithium-ion batteries are subject to additional packaging and shipping regulations, as laid out in the document 49 CFR 173.185 (f). These damaged goods pose an increased risk of short-circuits and fires, and may not be transported by air. They can be transported only by train, truck, or boat, and must be prepared properly for shipment.

Proper packaging of damaged or defective batteries involves wrapping each cell in an individual, approved inner package that completely encloses the battery. This inner package must be cushioned by a non-combustible, non-conductive, absorbent material, such as vermiculite. Each package must also be placed in a metal, wood, or plastic box or drum and must be clearly marked to indicate that the batteries are damaged or defective.

Choosing a Shipping Company

Business owners can package their own lithium-ion batteries as long as they use approved, DOT, and IATA-compliant packaging. When it comes to actually shipping the batteries, finding a qualified carrier is a must. Find a company that will guarantee safe handling and follow all shipping regulations.

Shipping Choices

Shipping lithium-ion batteries by ground transport is the safest way to get them from point A to point B. Check with ground cargo transport companies to see if they will ship hazardous materials, and make sure they have specific safety regulations in place that adhere to and go above and beyond the minimal DOT regulations.

Train and truck transport offer the highest weight allowances for individual batteries. Batteries transported via ground shipment can have a lithium content of up to 300 watt-hours, but these large batteries must be clearly labeled. The label should state the contents of the package and that it cannot be transported by air or by sea.

Transporting batteries by air or by sea means having to accommodate changes in pressure and other potential problems. Medium-sized lithium-ion batteries are subject to strict regulation. Small, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are allowed aboard seafaring vessels and passenger aircraft if the container weighs 10 pounds or less. Non-rechargeable lithium-ion batteries cannot be brought onto passenger planes, regardless of their size.

To be shipped by air or by sea, lithium-ion batteries must pass design testing to verify their safety. Business owners must provide paperwork for Class 9 hazardous materials. They should also note that some countries forbid the importation of separately packed lithium-ion batteries by air. Business owners interested in expanding into international markets should research each country’s regulations and find a shipping company that specializes in international transport of hazmat materials.

The Bottom Line

Lithium-ion batteries can pose serious health and safety risks if they aren’t packaged and shipped with care. That’s why multiple U.S. organizations regulate shipment, including the DOT, IATA, and PHMSA. Business owners should familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations concerning lithium-ion battery shipment, but they don’t have to do it alone.

The best way for business owners to protect themselves and others is to work with packaging companies and shipping service providers that specialize in working with hazardous materials. These companies can ensure compliance with all relevant rules and regulations and guarantee safe handling of all hazardous materials, including lithium-ion batteries.