ask the expert series

Batteries shipment

Lithium batteries, especially lithium-ion batteries, have become a preferred energy source for many items due to their high power density and light weight as well as their rechargeable capability. Lithium batteries can be found in most consumer electronic items such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets as well as larger items such as portable power tools, portable vacuum cleaners and e-bikes. However, many people have no idea that lithium batteries are classified as dangerous goods. With the increasing demand for electronic devices, the number of lithium batteries being shipped increases as well. 


What are lithium batteries?

The term “lithium battery” refers to a family of batteries with different chemistries. For the purposes of the dangerous goods regulations they are separated into two types of batteries: lithium metal and lithium-ion. 

What is the difference between lithium-ion and lithium metal batteries?

While both types of lithium batteries have similarities, their differences are noteworthy. Lithium metal batteries contain metallic lithium and are primarily non-rechargeable. They have lithium metal or lithium compounds as an anode. Included in this group are lithium alloy batteries.

On the other hand, lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable, and lithium is only present in the electrolyte in the ionic form. Included in the lithium-ion category are lithium polymer batteries. Lithium batteries are sometimes abbreviated Li-ion batteries.

What are lithium batteries used for?

As lithium batteries are the preferred power source for most consumer and portable electronic devices, lithium batteries are found everywhere. They are in items you may not have even considered. Lithium metal batteries are found in items such as watches, calculators, cameras, car key fobs, and defibrillators. Lithium-ion batteries are generally found in products such as mobile telephones, laptop computers, tablets, power tools, and e-bikes. They are in everyday items carried by airline passengers and are transported as cargo every day. 

Can lithium batteries be shipped by air?

Despite lithium battery shipping restrictions, lithium batteries can be shipped by air but not without stipulations. Lithium metal and lithium ion cells and batteries shipped by themselves (meaning alone and not installed in a device or packed with the device they will power) are forbidden to be shipped as cargo on a passenger aircraft. In addition, lithium-ion cells and batteries shipped by themselves must be shipped at a state of charge not exceeding 30% of their rated capacity.

Lithium batteries are dangerous goods, and all of the regulatory requirements must be complied with, as set out in the Lithium Battery Shipping Regulations. 

Shipping lithium batteries by air is possible, but it is crucial to note these are dangerous goods and the applicable regulations must be complied with to ensure the safety of all personnel, aircraft, and passengers. 

What to know when shipping lithium batteries by air?

When shipping lithium batteries by air, you must follow some basic rules. It is important to closely follow these regulations for the safety of all involved. You will find all of the required steps and guidelines in IATA's Lithium Battery Shipping Regulations manual.

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