Your 2021 Guide to Lithium Battery Labels 

An array of UN3481 lithium-ion battery labels are printed on an ETI machine

Nowadays, many of our personal devices and products are powered by batteries containing lithium. As e-commerce continues to skyrocket, especially due to the recent global pandemic, these items are being shipped both domestically and internationally at an exceedingly higher rate. 

Because they are designed to provide high levels of power, the electrical energy lithium batteries possess is significant, which carries with it many potential safety risks. For this reason, transporting lithium batteries requires proper packing and specific labels to make sure all involved along the supply chain process are safe and well-informed. It is worth noting that rules and regulations for battery labels continue to change as updates are made to label designs and packing instructions. 

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at lithium battery labels, their regulations and requirements, and why they matter when it comes to shipping.

Why Are Lithium Batteries Regulated in Transportation?

If you have ever considered shipping lithium batteries or products that contain them, it’s not as easy as merely labeling a package and sending them on their way. There are quite a lot of regulations involved with their transportation, all of which are extremely important and necessary.

So why is this the case? 

Lithium batteries are classified as dangerous goods. This is because they are composed of many different chemistries, cathodes, and electrolytes. When damaged, lithium batteries become a chemical and electrical hazard capable of chemical burns, electrical shock, and extreme heat. This means they can be dangerous if not safely packaged and handled when transported.

If lithium batteries are improperly stored or defective when they are shipped, they can short circuit, overheat, or start a fire. Packages containing lithium batteries should never be jostled or dropped during transit and must be properly stored to endure changing environmental factors.  

For these reasons, it is imperative that shippers take the time to safely store, package, and label any mail containing lithium batteries.

2 Classifications of Lithium Batteries

When discussing lithium batteries, it is important to note that there are two classification types. Depending on the type of lithium battery you are shipping, you will need to comply with different shipping specifications and regulations. Both battery types are classified as hazard Class 9 Dangerous Goods, which we’ll discuss later on.

Lithium Metal Batteries

Lithium metal batteries are a primary battery, meaning they are non-rechargeable. They contain lithium metal or lithium compounds as an anode, have a long shelf life, and produce a higher energy density than other lithium batteries.  

Some common devices lithium metal batteries can be found in are:

  • Watches
  • Calculators
  • Cameras
  • Car key tools 
  • Defibrillators 
  • Temperature data loggers

Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are a secondary battery, meaning they are rechargeable which is one of their main features. They have an average voltage range between 2.4 and 3.7 volts and can only be transported at a low enough energy capacity to avoid any dangers. 

Lithium-ion batteries are found more commonly in many consumer products, such as:

  • Mobile phones 
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Power tools
  • Electric toothbrushes
  • Medical equipment
  • Electric vehicles 

Organizations like the IATA (International Air Transport Association) have developed guidelines for transport regulations concerning lithium metal and lithium-ion batteries. In order to comply with these regulations, packages containing lithium-ion or lithium metal batteries must have durable labels applied to display the correct information and warnings to ensure safety. These labels should meet strong standards, like being printed on synthetic materials that are tear and scratch-resistant and have a resilient adhesive necessary for various climate conditions and environments.

Lithium Battery UN Rating System 

When it comes time to ship lithium batteries, you will want to make sure your packages are properly labeled to display the correct battery type as well as how they are being transported. One system used to identify this information is the UN rating system. The UN rating system was developed by the United Nations as a set of standards for shipping or storing hazardous materials. Labels with a UN number illustrate what battery material is contained and how they are packaged. 

Lithium batteries are either shipped as standalone, packed with equipment, or contained in equipment. 

When shipped, packages containing lithium-ion batteries must be labeled with one of the following UN numbers:

  • UN3480
  • UN3481

The UN3480 number signifies that the package contains standalone lithium-ion batteries not being shipped with other products. The UN3481 number signifies that the packages contain lithium-ion batteries either contained in or packed with equipment. 

When shipped, packages containing lithium metal batteries must be labeled with one of the following UN numbers:

  • UN3090
  • UN3091

The UN3090 number signifies that the package contains standalone lithium metal batteries not being shipped with other products. The UN3091 number signifies that the packages contain lithium metal batteries either contained in or packed with equipment.

ID Number Proper Shipping Name and Description Hazard Class
UN2794 Batteries, Wet, Filled with Acid 8
UN2795 Batteries, Wet, Filled with Alkali 8
UN2800 Batteries, Wet, Nonspillable 8
UN3028 Batteries, Dry, Containing Potassium Hydroxide Solid 8
UN3090 Lithium Metal Batteries 9
UN3091 Lithium Metal Batteries Contained in Equipment 9
UN3292 Batteries, Containing Sodium 4.3
UN3480 Lithium-Ion Batteries 9
UN3481 Lithium-Ion Batteries Contained In Equipment 9

Restrictions for Packaging & Shipping

A box with a lithium-ion UN3480 label and a black and white class 9 hazard label

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) created and implemented Packing Instructions (PI) for how lithium batteries must be packaged and shipped for transportation aboard aircraft carriers. Different PI numbers are applied to shipments depending on the battery type and you will need to follow them when preparing your shipment. Packing Instruction 965 is applied to lithium-ion batteries and Packing Instruction 968 is applied to lithium metal batteries. 

These instructions pertain to:

  • Which battery type is being shipped
  • If they are standalone, packed with, or contained in equipment
  • The weight limit for the package

The regulations involved with these packaging instructions include different sections for how your batteries should be shipped, such as Sections l or ll, and Section lA and Section lB. Once you know how to package and ship your batteries, you will be able to determine which specific lithium battery labels need to be applied. 

It is important to note that each of these instructions comes with exceptions for certain requirements and can vary depending on the carrier. For example, lithium batteries packed with or contained in equipment must comply with more regulations than standalone batteries. Make sure you fully research and understand the requirements involved when it comes to packaging your lithium batteries.

Lithium-Ion Batteries 

Since lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable, one of their requirements is that batteries must be shipped at a state of charge (SoC) not exceeding 30% of their rated capacity. The SoC is only associated with rechargeable batteries and refers to the percentage of electrical stored capacity available for use. This regulation may or may not apply depending on how the batteries are being shipped.

Lithium-ion battery instructions include:

  • Wh (watt-hours)
  • SoC (state of charge) 
  • Gross weight of batteries per package (in kg)
Lithium-Ion Batteries UN3480, P.I.965 Section  1A Section 1B
Lithium-Ion Cells (≤ 30% state of charge) > 20 Wh and ≤ 35 kg per package max. ≤ 20 Wh and ≤ 10 kg per package max.
Lithium-Ion Batteries (≤ 30% state of charge) > 100 Wh and ≤ 35 kg per package max. ≤ 100 Wh and ≤ 10 kg per package max.

Lithium Metal Batteries 

Because lithium metal batteries are non-rechargeable, they do not have a SoC requirement for shipping. Instead, they are regulated by how much lithium metal is contained in each shipment. 

Lithium metal battery instructions include:

  • Amount of lithium in grams  
  • Gross weight of batteries per package (in kg)
Lithium Metal Batteries UN3090, P.I.968 Section  1A Section 1B
Lithium Metal Cells > 1 g lithium and ≤ 35 kg per package max. ≤ 1 g lithium and ≤ 2.5 kg per package max.
Lithium Metal Batteries > 2 g lithium and ≤ 35 kg per package max. ≤ 2 g lithium and ≤ 2.5 kg per package max.

Lithium Battery Labels & Markings

Because there are different modes of transportation through which batteries can be shipped, there are different government organizations and agencies that require specific label designs in order to be compliant with safety regulations. Some of these organizations include:

  • PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)
  • DOT (Department of Transportation)
  • ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization)
  • IATA (International Air Transport Association)

These organizations and agencies recognize the risk lithium batteries can pose and have input requirements to enhance safety provisions. This is especially important when it comes to air travel. 

Depending on the carrier you are shipping with, like FedEx, UPS, USPS, or DHL,  you may need to include a shipper’s declaration for dangerous goods form with your package. Labels should be placed on packages where they can be visibly seen. Failure to properly label packages can result in large fines and shipments being rejected.

Below are examples of lithium battery labels necessary for shipping, handling, and transportation. These labels are a key requirement for packages containing lithium-ion or lithium metal batteries traveling by road, aircraft, rail, or boat. New revisions have been made to these labels over the years to stay compliant with current regulations, and are mandatory for both domestic and international shipments. 

Battery Handling Labels

New compliance regulations for battery labels went into effect on January 1, 2019. These regulations updated previous label guidelines and made older battery labels no longer compliant. Newer lithium battery handling labels now include:

  • Relevant UN identification number 
  • Telephone number for additional information
  • Battery symbol
  • Red border around label with a minimum width of 5mm

Battery handling labels can either be preprinted with all of the necessary information or be partially pre-printed, which allows the contact information to be written in manually. The minimum size for these labels is 5” x 4”, and they must be placed on the outside of boxes or packages containing lithium batteries.

A battery handling label shows an image of a battery symbol, a red border, and a place to put a relevant UN number and telephone number

Class 9 Hazard Labels 

Any substances or materials that are being transported as Class 9 are considered to be miscellaneous dangerous goods. These articles present a danger or hazard, especially environmentally, during transportation, and must be labeled to display this warning. Class 9 Dangerous Goods labels are diamond-shaped and must include:

  • 7 black vertical stripes (upper half of label)
  • A white background
  • A figure number 9 underlined (bottom corner of label)
A Class 9 Hazard label is diamond shaped with black vertical lines, a battery image, and a number 9

CAO (Cargo Aircraft Only) Label

CAO labels are used as a way to warn airline personnel not to load any packages containing them onto passenger aircrafts. Shipments of lithium batteries are banned onboard passenger aircrafts as they can be a contributing factor in causing fires if they are unstable, overcharged, or damaged. 

These labels are bright orange in color and designed with a characterization of cargo being loaded onto an aircraft. They are printed with a text stating: “Cargo Aircraft Only – Forbidden in Passenger Aircraft”. Labels must be rectangular in shape with a minimum size of 110mm (4.3 inches) in height by 120mm (4.7 inches) in width. 

A Cargo Only Aircraft CAO) label is orange in color and has a characterization of cargo being loaded onto an aircraft with text

Lithium Batteries Forbidden For Transport Labels 

Battery labels with this text help meet DOT (Department of Transportation) requirements for air travel. Although the text can vary slightly, when applied to a package it identifies that the materials inside are lithium batteries and therefore cannot be transported aboard any passenger aircraft or vessel. These labels have a white background with bright red text.

A lithium-ion label is white with red text stating that tey are forbidden for transport aboard passenger aircrafts

UN3480 & UN3090

As per the packaging and shipping specifications above, the labels necessary for transporting standalone lithium-ion or lithium metal batteries are listed by section below.

Section 1, 1A Section 1B Section 2

UN3481 & UN3091

As per the packaging and shipping specifications above, the labels necessary for transporting lithium-ion or lithium metal batteries packaged with or contained in equipment are listed by section below.

Section 1 Section 2

UN3481 > 5kg

As per the packaging and shipping specifications above, the labels necessary for transporting lithium-ion batteries packaged with or contained in equipment weighing more than 5 kg are listed by section below.

Section 1 Section 2
 

Conclusion 

It goes without saying that there are many stipulations when it comes to transporting lithium batteries correctly. Those shipping them will want to make sure they’ve followed all of the rules and regulations in place to ensure handling is done properly and safely. We hope this article has cleared up any confusion surrounding how lithium batteries are shipped and why the process is so extensive.