Lithium batteries are as dangerous as gasoline, sulphuric acid and propane. You find lithium batteries in many electronic devices today, such as cameras, cell phones, laptops, medical equipment and power tools. Due to our increasingly mobile lifestyle, our society depends on lithium cells and batteries. However, today’s lithium cells and batteries are more energy dense than ever, bringing a steadily growing number of higher-powered devices to market. The increased energy density comes with more significant risks and the need to manage it. Shippers play a critical role in reducing the risk and preventing incidents, including fires on board aircraft or transport vehicles.
The risks posed by lithium cells and batteries are generally a function of type, size, and chemistry. Lithium cells and batteries can present chemical (e.g., corrosive or flammable electrolytes) and electrical hazards. Unlike standard alkaline batteries, most of today’s lithium batteries contain a flammable electrolyte and have an incredibly high energy density. As a result, they can overheat and ignite under certain conditions, such as a short circuit, physical damage, improper design, or assembly. Once ignited, lithium cell and battery fires can be difficult to extinguish. Additional, although infrequent, events can result in lithium cells and batteries experiencing thermal runaway, a chain reaction leading to a violent release of stored energy and flammable gas. This thermal runaway can propagate to other batteries or combustible materials nearby, potentially resulting in large-scale thermal events with severe consequences.
The following must be adhered to when shipping or importing lithium batteries, including those contained in or packed with devices and equipment:
Regulations for Shipping and Importing Lithium Batteries
The safe handling, offering for transport, importing and transporting of lithium batteries are regulated by Transport Canada, which specifies classification, documentation, packaging, labelling and training requirements.
All types and designs of lithium batteries must meet the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria requirements to be shipped safely.
Shippers and importers must also meet the requirements set out in the TDG Regulations for the handling, offering for transport, transporting and importing of lithium batteries in Canada. The requirements range by the method of transportation.
Lithium batteries must undergo rigorous testing according to the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria. If a lithium battery fails to meet the conditions, the manufacturer must rectify any failures and have it retested. This testing guarantees a higher level of safety for design flaws or deficiencies.
The UN Manual of Tests and Criteria lists eight tests. Necessary tests vary depending on the design and type of the lithium battery.
Who is Responsible for Classifying Lithium Batteries as a Dangerous Good?
The responsibility for classifying dangerous goods such as lithium batteries remains with the consignor/shipper. There are different rules for shipping lithium batteries and UN numbers based on the type of battery and mode of shipping (air, road, or marine). It would be best if you researched the shipping regulations for your specific area for specific guidelines on shipping rules, papers, etc.
IATA has developed guidance for shippers, freight forwarders, ground handlers, airlines, and passengers for lithium batteries during air transport. In addition, Transport Canada and the U.S Department of Transportation have guidelines listed for lithium transport.
If you have any questions regarding lithium battery shipping requirements for carriers, please feel free to reach out to Global Hazmat, and we can help. In addition, we offer training and consulting for all types of dangerous goods.