How to Pack & Ship Lithium Ion Batteries

A box with a UN 3480 lithium ion battery label and CAO battery label sits on a shelf in a warehouse

The dangers caused by batteries are often made but rarely seen. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t occur. When they do, it’s worse than you think.

Take the recent fire that burned for several days in Morris, Illinois. The cause? Lithium batteries

Almost 200,000 pounds of lithium batteries stored in an old paper mill went up in flames due to improper storage. This released toxic smoke and contaminants into the local air and water, displacing thousands of residents in local homes and businesses.

Hazardous conditions like these are why batteries have earned their dangerous goods classification. When damaged or improperly stored, they can release extreme levels of heat, leading to situations like the Morris fire. 

This is why extensive requirements are crucial when it comes to the shipping and handling of lithium batteries, particularly lithium ion. Due to their rechargeable design, they can provide high levels of power and generate great levels of heat if damaged. 

To safely and properly ship lithium ion batteries, you will need to focus on 3 main factors: documentation, packaging, and labels.

Shipping Criteria

Lithium batteries pose a dangerous risk when it comes to transporting them across the country. They can become a chemical and electrical hazard if damaged or mishandled.

To help ensure complete safety and minimize the risks involved, most carriers specify how they require lithium ion batteries to be mailed. These are broken down into 3 categories:

  1. Batteries and cells only
  2. Packed with equipment
  3. Contained in equipment

Lithium batteries packed with equipment means the batteries are being shipped within the same package alongside the equipment they will be used with. Lithium batteries contained in equipment means the batteries are already installed in the device they are designed for. 

Other shipping requirements of lithium ion batteries include:

  • Total watt-hours
  • Total number of batteries or cells shipped in a single package
  • Total package weight

All of these factors differ depending on the specifics involved with the battery shipment, the carrier being used, and the mode of transportation. They also account for how the container must be documented, packaged, and labeled in order to stay within compliance.

What Documentation Do I Need to Ship Lithium Ion Batteries?

Documentation can be required with many types of shipping, but particularly with hazardous materials and dangerous goods. 

These pieces of paper hold vital information necessary for carriers and transporters to understand the contents of the packages they are handling and follow proper safety protocols.

Failure to include these documents or fill them out properly can result in delays of shipments from arriving on time or large fines. 

There are several different documents associated with transporting lithium batteries. Which ones you will need to include with your packaging will depend on your carrier and mode of transportation.

Shipper’s Declaration of Dangerous Goods (DGD)

A Shipper’s Declaration of Dangerous Goods (DGD) is needed for air transport of lithium ion batteries.

Hazardous materials transported by air incorporate standards put in place by the IATA (International Air Transport Association) Dangerous Goods Regulations. These guidelines were written by experts to present the requirements for shipping dangerous goods in a way that is easy for users to interpret. 

Many shipments to, from, or passing through the US require a DGD as a key form for sending dangerous goods. It must be completed correctly and attached to shipments containing the following information:

  • Address & contact details of shipper and receiver (consignee)
  • Transport Details
  • Proper shipping name of the dangerous goods
  • Quantity 
  • UN number
  • Hazard class or division
  • Net weight of goods and total shipment weight (if required)
  • Dangerous goods group I, II, or III (if required)
  • If dangerous goods are radioactive or non-radioactive
  • Additional handling information (if required)
  • 24 hour emergency contact details (if required)

As previously mentioned, large fines and delays can result from a failure to complete and include this document.

Lithium Battery Safety Document

A Lithium Battery Safety Document states that the package being shipped contains lithium batteries or cells.

It must be completed for ground or air shipments, and can be found on the websites of most carriers to print and fill out.

Different options must be checked depending on the configuration of the batteries or cells, if applicable. This means if they are being shipped as stand alone, packed with equipment, or contained in equipment

Once all of the proper documentation is in order, the next step in shipping your lithium batteries is to prepare how they will be packaged.

A document required by some carriers in order to ship lithium ion batteries

Waybill

A waybill is a document that contains information about the contents of a shipment. This can include its point of origin, the intended route, and its final destination. It acts as a contract of carriage between the shipper and carrier through air or sea. Because of this, it can also serve as a receipt for the shipper (or consignor). 

Think of a waybill like a passport. 

It contains all of the information authorities need to know about what the package contains, where it’s from, where it’s headed, and the route it will take to get there. A unique tracking number is included to allow senders to track the package in real time and receive notifications via email and mobile phone.

Waybills are a type of Bill of Lading, however, they are non-negotiable contracts. Shipment details help provide an accurate, secure, and prompt delivery while maintaining compliance and safety regulations.

What Packaging Do I Need to Ship Lithium Ion Batteries?

A battery is wrapped in inner packaging and placed within a box with a UN 3280 battery label on it

Packaging lithium batteries is essential in their transportation. 

These batteries hold a charge that can cause them to short circuit, overheat or catch fire if handled incorrectly. Having the proper packaging prevents accidental activation of these batteries. This ensures safety throughout the entire handling and shipping processes. 

In order to be compliant with most carriers, lithium batteries need the right kind of packaging. This means they are prepared for shipping in a way that prevents movements or jostling in a strong, sealed, and cushioned container. 

There are 2 kinds of packaging that need to be considered for shipping lithium batteries: inner packaging and outer packaging.

Inner Packaging

Inner packaging helps prevent batteries from shifting and moving during transportation. Containers can be handled harshly as they move through the shipping process and from one carrier to another. Inner packaging secures the hazardous contents against damage along the way.

Regulations with carriers, like UPS, require packaging batteries in fully enclosed, non-conductive material, such as plastic bags or blister packs. Exposed terminals or conductors on batteries must be protected with tape, non-conductive caps, or similar protective means. This helps prevent static that can cause the batteries to activate. 

Inner packaging can be placed in a container made from the following:

  • Metal
  • Wood
  • Fiberboard
  • Plastic 

Some materials, like plastic bags, are more commonly used for their low cost and easy sourcing. They provide a strong, flexible barrier between batteries and other contents of the package. 

It is recommended that lithium ion batteries are cushioned and packaged to prevent shifting during transport or loosening of protective coverings. 

Dividers should be placed in between each separated battery for cushioning. Installing fixation points, applying attachments to the base and lid of the package, or including securing straps prevent movements of the contents. When multiple items are inside a single container, they must be cushioned to protect them from each other as well as external objects.

Outer Packaging

While inner packaging prevents damage to the contents from inside the container, outer packaging further protects the contents from sustaining harm. 

Outer packaging should be rigid and strong. Packages should be of adequate size and sturdy enough to prevent the crushing of the package or exposure of the contents during handling. Outer packaging also prevents the release of the contents. 

Some outer packaging materials are considered performance packaging, meaning they are designed, constructed, and tested to specific standards to ensure durability for hazardous goods during transportation. These types of packaging must pass a series of tests in order to be certified, including drop tests and stacking tests. 

In many instances, padded envelopes or paper mailers should not be used for outer packaging, as they do not provide proper protection. Padded envelopes and poly bags can only be used as outer packaging when meeting specific classification criteria. 

The complete delivery and return address must be placed on the outer packaging and should be positioned where it is visible. 

Once complete, the outer package must then be properly labeled and marked to communicate the dangerous contents within.

What Labels Do I Need to Ship Lithium Ion Batteries?

Lithium battery labels on your packaging are the clearest indication of the hazardous contents being shipped.

Transporters must be made aware of the hazardous contents within a package in order to follow safety precautions. Different designs signify different instructions, therefore using the correct labels and markings quickly communicates this information in an obvious way. 

The mode of transportation will dictate the necessary labels needed. Organizations and agencies, like the IATA and DOT have created complaint safety regulations to help enhance safety provisions through ground and air transportation. Labels should meet strong durability standards for various climate conditions and environments.

Shipping Label Instructions 

  • How batteries/cells are packaged

  • Mode of transportation

  • Number of batteries/cells

  • Total watt hours

  • Total package weight

The following labels may be necessary for the shipment of your lithium ion batteries. Be sure to check the guidelines with your carrier to ensure packages are properly labeled as more than one can be required.

All labels should be visible on the outside of any boxes or packages.

Battery Handling Label Class 9 Hazard Label Cargo Aircraft Only (CAO) Label Forbidden for Transport Label
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 A Class 9 Hazard label is diamond shaped with black vertical lines, a battery image, and a number 9 A Cargo Only Aircraft CAO) label is orange in color and has a characterization of cargo being loaded onto an aircraft with text A lithium-ion label is white with red text stating that tey are forbidden for transport aboard passenger aircrafts

UN 3480 & UN 3481

Packages containing lithium ion batteries must be labeled with a UN number when shipped. This number is part of a rating system developed as a set of standards for shipping and storing hazardous materials. 

For lithium ion batteries, UN 3480 signifies the package contains batteries not being shipped with other products with UN 3481 means the package contains batteries in equipment or packaged with equipment. 

Who Are You Shipping With?

As you can see from this article, there are extensive instructions when it comes to shipping lithium ion batteries. These instructions can vary depending on the carrier you use and the mode of transportation. 

Different types of shipments have different rules governing transportation. For example, damaged or defective batteries are restricted to ground transportation only. 

Air and ground carriers have particular rules and regulations set by organizations for safety. It is very important to make sure you’ve taken the time and diligence to meet all of these requirements.

Below are some popular carriers that permit the transportation of lithium ion batteries. They have trained personnel who are certified in their safe handling and regulations. Click the links to find detailed instructions for your desired carrier service.

Shipping Lithium Ion Batteries with UPS

UPS restricts damaged, defective, or recalled lithium batteries to ground transportation. Customers wishing to ship these faulty batteries must be pre-approved by UPS.

UPS will only accept lithium ion batteries for 48 US states, excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. They will not ship them by air.

To view the shipping instructions for lithium ion batteries with UPS, click here.

Shipping Lithium Ion Batteries with FedEx

FedEx offers to ship lithium ion batteries by air, ground or sea. They cannot ship them with any of their SameDay or International offers. Limitations for shipping dangerous goods apply to Alaska and Hawaii, along with many international destinations. 

Special handling fees are applied to dangerous goods shipments along with surcharges in some assessments. FedEx does offer boxes and tubes for lithium battery shipments.

To view the shipping instructions for lithium ion batteries with FedEx, click here.

Shipping Lithium Ion Batteries with DHL

The shipper is legally responsible for the compliance and safe transportation of lithium batteries with DHL. They will not ship defective, damaged, or recalled batteries.

DHL Express does not accept all types of lithium batteries. The sender must be a pre-approved Express account holder in order to ship them.

To view the shipping instructions for lithium ion batteries with DHL, click here.

Shipping Lithium Ion Batteries with USPS

Lithium ion batteries packed with or contained in equipment are mailable via USPS air and ground transportation. They will ship to Alaska and Hawaii in limited quantities.

To view the shipping instructions for lithium ion batteries with USPS, click here.

Wrapping Things Up

Yes, when it comes to shipping lithium ion batteries the process is extensive and time consuming. As frustrating as it can be, the regulations in place are there for good reason. 

Shipping hazardous materials like lithium batteries poses dangerous threats. It is important that they are packaged, labeled, and mailed in a way that prevents potentially fatal accidents. 

By following these guidelines, you can rest assured your shipments comply with all regulations and will arrive in a safe manner.