Your 2022 Guide to Lithium Battery Labels 

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

Lithium batteries are no joke. 

Neither is labeling them.  

These energy sources are designed to provide high levels of power, making them a potential safety risk during transportation. 

So if you’re shipping lithium batteries, proper packaging and specific thermal labels are required. 

And that’s why you’re here!

Hey, we get it. 

When it comes to shipping dangerous goods, there are lots of regulations and requirements. Too much information makes the entire process confusing, and mistakes are the last thing you want to make. 

But don’t worry! 

By the end of this article you’ll be a pro at knowing the ins and outs of lithium battery labels for any shipping situation.

Why Are Lithium Batteries Regulated in Transportation?

So why do you have to jump through hoops when shipping lithium batteries?

Like we mentioned above, they pose very real safety issues. It’s why lithium batteries are classified as dangerous goods.

If transported incorrectly, they create electrical hazards capable of causing:

  • Chemical burns
  • Electrical shock
  • Extreme heat
  • Explosions

Packages containing lithium batteries must be properly stored to endure changing environmental factors. Improper storage or defective batteries can short circuit, overheat, or start a fire.

Hence the “dangerous goods” category.

And also why you should take the time to safely store, package, and label any mail containing lithium batteries.

2 Classifications of Lithium Batteries

First things first: you need to know which kind of lithium battery you are shipping. 

There are 2 classification types of lithium batteries: lithium metal and lithium ion.

And depending on the type will determine the specifications and regulations you need to follow.

Lithium Metal Batteries

Now, we could get very detailed here about the make up of lithium metal batteries. Things like lithium compounds, anodes and energy density. 

But that doesn’t help you label them. Here’s what you need to know.

Lithium metal batteries are non-rechargeable. You likely own items that contain them.

Some examples of devices that use lithium metal batteries are:

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

Lithium-Ion Batteries

One major difference that separates lithium ion batteries from their counterparts is voltage. 

Lithium ion batteries are rechargeable. Because of this, they can only be transported at a low energy capacity. 

Some examples of devices that use lithium ion batteries are:

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

But these aren’t the only examples of lithium ion batteries.

Sometimes these batteries are larger power sources that operate large machinery or recharge equipment. 

They’re not tiny batteries either, like the ones in your tv remote. These are battery packs the size of a briefcase. And when shipped, they’re packaged as standalone (don’t worry, we’ll discuss this in a bit).

Applications for these includes:

  • Electric vehicles or machinery
  • Solar power 
  • UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply)
  • Portable power stations
  • ATVs or electric bikes

Lithium Battery UN Rating System 

Now that you know the different lithium batteries types, you’ll have a better idea of which labels your package will need.

So how do you illustrate the battery material being shipped?

There’s a system in place for this exact purpose: The UN rating system.

It was developed as a set of standards for shipping or storing hazardous materials by the United Nations. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of how it works:

Labels are printed with the letters ‘UN’ and a 4-digit number. 

Think of it like a special code. These numbers clarify 2 types of crucial information: the lithium battery type and packaging method. 

Packaging method refers to how the lithium batteries are being shipped. This can be done in 3 ways:

  1. Standalone
  2. Contained in equipment
  3. Packed with equipment 

Let’s take a look at which UN numbers correlate with their respective battery materials. 

Lithium Ion UN Number

Lithium ion batteries will use labels with one of the following UN numbers:

  • UN3480 
  • UN3481

If you’re shipping lithium ion batteries as a standalone, use a battery label with UN3480. Standalone means the package only contains batteries and nothing else.

If you’re shipping lithium ion batteries contained in or packed with equipment, use a battery label with UN3481.

Lithium Metal UN Number

Lithium metal batteries will use labels with one of the following UN numbers:

  • UN3090 
  • UN3091

If you’re shipping lithium metal batteries as a standalone (no other items in the package), use a battery label with UN3090.

If you’re shipping lithium metal batteries contained in or packed with equipment, use a battery label with UN3091.

These slight variations in numbers may seem insignificant, but they are crucial to relaying important information associated with the type of lithium battery contained in your shipment.

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

Packing Instructions (PI) are just another piece of the battery label puzzle.

They were created and implemented by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Specifically, for how lithium batteries must be packaged and shipped for transportation on aircraft carriers.

These instructions refer to information like:

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

Using durable label materials when shipping lithium batteries ensures a strong application. This can mean printing on synthetic materials that won’t tear or scratch and using a resilient adhesive to combat changing environmental conditions.

You will also need to follow them when preparing your shipment. 

For lithium ion batteries, refer to Packing Instructions 965.

For lithium metal batteries, refer to Packing Instructions 968.

After locating the correct PI, you’ll need to figure out which section applies to your shipment. Different sections apply for different battery types. 

These can include:

  • Section I
  • Section II
  • Section IA
  • Section IB

Once you figure out which section of instructions your lithium batteries fall into, you’ll be able to determine the labels needed to ship.

Important Note: Please be aware of regulation changes when shipping lithium batteries. Certain carriers have differing policies when it comes to shipping hazardous materials and dangerous goods. It is always best to check with your carrier to make sure your label information matches their policies and are up to date.

Lithium-Ion Batteries 

Instructions for packing and shipping lithium ion batteries 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.

As a regulation, lithium ion batteries cannot be fully charged when being shipped. 

This is what the state of charge (SoC) refers to. 

The requirement for shipping them puts the SoC at no more than 30%.

Lithium Metal Batteries 

Instructions for packing and shipping lithium metal batteries 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.

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 Battery Labels & Markings

We’ve already discussed the potential danger lithium batteries pose. 

So when it comes to transporting them, safety is of the utmost importance. 

Regulations have been created for each mode of transport by different government organizations and agencies for this purpose.

They’re responsible for updates and changes to how packages are labeled and shipped. Some of them include: 

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

Labels should be placed wherever visible on the outside package. Large fines or rejected shipments can occur from mislabeling. 

Be aware that new revisions are made to labels over time. Make sure to stay compliant with current regulations for both domestic and international shipments.  

Below are examples of lithium battery labels necessary for shipping, handling, and transportation.

Battery Labels

Battery handling labels are required for all air shipments.

They can be preprinted with the necessary information or partially printed, which means the contact information and UN number can be written manually under the graphic. 

Lithium battery handling labels include the following information: 

  • Minimum size of 100mm x 100mm (4” x 4”)
  • Red border around label with a minimum width of 5mm
  • Relevant UN identification number 
  • Telephone number for additional information
  • Battery symbol

If your package is small and cannot handle a full-size lithium battery handling label, the size dimensions can be reduced to 100 mm x 70 mm (4″ x 2.75″). Otherwise, the specifications have to remain the same.

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 Dangerous Goods Label

Substances with a Class 9 label are considered miscellaneous dangerous goods. Lithium batteries included. 

Fully regulated shipments require this label. 

Class 9 dangerous good labels have the following specifications:

  • 100mm (4 inches) on each side
  • 7 black vertical stripes (upper half of label)
  • A white background
  • A battery symbol
  • A 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

Yes, this image is a little goofy. But it’s certainly distinct. 

Plus the bright orange color is attention grabbing. 

CAO labels warn airline personnel not to load packages marked with them on passenger aircrafts. 

They can only be transported on cargo aircrafts, which is depicted on the label design.

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 

This label is pretty straightforward. 

A white background and red text explain that packages with this label cannot be loaded onto via air transport. 

The wording of the text can vary slightly. 

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 

You made it! Is your brain overwhelmed yet?

We know labeling lithium batteries is an extensive process. It involves many steps and a lot of information. 

But remember those regulations are in place for safety.

Hopefully this article clears up some of the confusion.

If you’re looking for more information about packing and shipping lithium ion batteries, check out this article.