Transportation of lithium batteries by sea, air and land

UN 3481

Today, widely used in electric vehicles, e-bikes, power tools, mobile phones and a wide variety of consumer electronics, lithium batteries offer an excellent combination of performance, lightness and efficiency and price.

Many people think lithium batteries are safe to ship, but unfortunately they are wrong. You can't just put them in a box and send them, as there are a number of international laws and regulations to ensure the safety of those who transport them.

While shipping new batteries as part of a product is relatively safe (albeit subject to strict regulations), returning damaged or used batteries for repair, recycling or disposal presents a significant risk.

With the continued growth of the market for products using lithium batteries as a power source, the risk associated with their transportation increases (sales of electric vehicles are expected to grow over the next decade and beyond), this increased risk has forced regulators to act and they have developed a number of rules to regulate transportation. and packaging of batteries.

In order to understand how to transport and what to pack lithium-ion batteries during transportation, you need to refer to the UN regulations (in particular, UN3480, UN 3481 and UN3090, UN3091), as well as the rules established by various transport authorities (including IATA - International Air Transport Association).

To transport batteries, you will need documents such as SDS (MSDS), Test Summary Report, Battery Transpotrion Information.

But first, so that we have an understanding of what is at stake, let's find out what these lithium batteries are, why are they used everywhere and where did they come from?

If all this is not interesting to you then you can go to the information concerning the UN rules.

Show information what is battery Collapse information what is a battery


A battery is two or more electrical elements connected in parallel or in series. Electrical elements are connected in order to obtain a higher voltage removed from the battery (with a serial connection), or a higher current or capacity (with a parallel connection). Usually, this term means a combination of electrochemical sources of electric current, galvanic cells and electric batteries.

The progenitor of the battery is considered to be a voltaic pillar, invented by Alessandro Volta in 1800, consisting of series-connected copper-zinc galvanic cells.

Usually, a battery is usually not quite correctly called single galvanic cells (for example, type AA or AAA), which are usually connected to a battery in the battery compartments of equipment to obtain the required voltage.

Next, let's look at the concept of an electric battery.


Learn what an electric battery is Collapse information on electric battery

Electric accumulator

An electric battery is a chemical source of current, a reusable source of EMF, the main specificity of which is the reversibility of internal chemical processes, which ensures its repeated cyclic use (through charge-discharge) for energy storage and autonomous power supply of various electrical devices and equipment, as well as for providing reserve energy sources in medicine, manufacturing, transport and other areas.

The very first battery was created in 1803 by Johann Wilhelm Ritter. Its battery was a pillar of fifty copper circles, between which a wet cloth was laid. After passing a current from a voltaic column through this device, it itself began to behave as a source of electricity.

The principle of the battery is based on the reversibility of a chemical reaction. The battery's performance can be restored by charging, that is, passing an electric current in the opposite direction to the direction of the current during discharge. Several accumulators, united in one electrical circuit, make up a storage battery. As the chemical energy is exhausted, the voltage and current fall, the battery ceases to function. You can charge the battery (battery) from any high voltage DC source with current limitation.

Since this article is considering lithium batteries, we will continue to write about cells containing lithium.


Learn what a lithium cell is Collapse lithium cell information

Lithium cell

The lithium cell is a single, non-rechargeable electrochemical cell that uses lithium or its compounds as the anode. The cathode and electrolyte of a lithium cell can be of many types, therefore the term "lithium cell" combines a group of cells with the same anode material.

Differs from other batteries in high operating time and high cost. Depending on the selected size and the chemical materials used, the lithium battery can produce a voltage of 1,5 V (compatible with alkaline cells) or 3,0 AT. Lithium batteries are widely used in modern portable electronic technology.

Lithium metal cells are electrochemical cells in which lithium metal or lithium compounds are used as the anode. Lithium metal also contains lithium alloy batteries. Unlike other lithium-containing batteries, which have an output voltage of more than 3 V, lithium metal batteries have half the voltage. In addition, they cannot be recharged. In these batteries, the lithium anode is separated from the iron-disulfide cathode by an electrolyte interlayer, this sandwich is packed in a sealed case with micro valves for ventilation.

This technology represents a compromise made by the developers to ensure that lithium power supplies are compatible with technology designed to use alkaline batteries and was intended to compete with alkaline batteries. Compared with them, lithium metal weighs a third less, have a higher capacity, and, moreover, they are also stored longer. Even after ten years of storage, they retain almost their entire charge.

Lithium metal cells have found applications in devices that place high demands on batteries for a long service life, such as pacemakers and other implantable medical devices. Such devices can operate autonomously for up to 15 years.

Next, let's talk in detail about electric batteries and consider only lithium-ion batteries.


Find out what a lithium-ion battery is Collapse lithium-ion battery

Lithium ion battery

A lithium ion battery is a rechargeable battery in which lithium is present only in ionic form in an electrolyte. Lithium polymer cells are also included in this category.

The lithium-ion battery consists of electrodes (cathode material on aluminum foil and anode material on copper foil) separated by a porous separator impregnated with electrolyte. The package of electrodes is placed in a sealed case, the cathodes and anodes are connected to the current collector terminals. The body is sometimes equipped with a safety valve that relieves internal pressure in the event of an emergency or a violation of operating conditions.

For the first time, the fundamental possibility of creating lithium batteries based on the ability of titanium disulfide or molybdenum disulfide to include lithium ions during battery discharge and extract them during charging was shown in 1970 by Michael Stanley Whittingham. A significant disadvantage of such batteries was a low voltage of 2,3 V and a high fire hazard due to the formation of dendrites of metallic lithium, closing the electrodes. Later, J. Goodenough synthesized other materials for the lithium battery cathode - lithium cobaltite LixCoO2 (1980), lithium ferrophosphate LiFePO4 (1996). The advantage of such batteries is a higher voltage - about 4 V. A modern version of a lithium-ion battery with a graphite anode and a lithium cobaltite cathode was invented in 1991 by Akira Yoshino. The first lithium-ion battery under his patent was released by Sony Corporation in 1991.

The lithium-ion battery is very widespread in modern consumer electronics and is used as an energy source in electric vehicles and energy storage systems in energy systems. It is the most popular type of battery in devices such as cell phones, laptops, digital cameras, camcorders and electric vehicles.

Li-ion batteries differ in the type of cathode material used. A charge carrier in a lithium-ion battery is a positively charged lithium ion, which has the ability to be incorporated (intercalated) into the crystal lattice of other materials (for example, graphite, oxides and metal salts) with the formation of a chemical bond, for example: into graphite with the formation of LiC6, oxides (LiMnO2) and salts (LiMnRON) of metals. Lithium-ion batteries are almost always used in conjunction with a monitoring and control system - BMS or BMS (Battery Management System) - and a special charge / discharge device.


Learn the design of Li-ion batteries Collapse Design Information for Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium Ion Battery Design

Structurally, Li-ion batteries are produced in cylindrical and prismatic versions. In cylindrical batteries, a roll-up package of electrodes and a separator is housed in a steel or aluminum housing to which a negative electrode is connected. The positive pole of the battery is brought out through an insulator to the cover. Opposite electrodes in lithium and lithium-ion batteries are separated by a porous polypropylene separator.

Prismatic accumulators are produced by stacking rectangular plates on top of each other. Prismatic batteries provide tighter packing in a battery, but it is more difficult to maintain compressive forces on the electrodes than in cylindrical ones. Some prismatic accumulators use a roll-to-roll assembly of an electrode package that is twisted into an elliptical spiral. This allows you to combine the advantages of the two design modifications described above.

Some design measures are usually taken to prevent rapid heating and to ensure the safety of Li-ion batteries. Under the battery cover there is a device that reacts to the positive temperature coefficient with an increase in resistance, and another that breaks the electrical connection between the cathode and the positive terminal when the pressure of the gases inside the battery rises above the permissible limit. To increase the safety of operation of Li-ion batteries, external electronic protection is also necessarily used in the battery, the purpose of which is to prevent the possibility of overcharging and over-discharging each battery, short circuit and excessive heating.

Most Li-ion batteries are manufactured in prismatic versions, since the main purpose of Li-ion batteries is to ensure the operation of cell phones and laptops. As a rule, the design of prismatic batteries is not unified and most manufacturers of cell phones, laptops, etc. do not allow the use of third-party batteries in devices. 

The design of Li-ion and other lithium batteries, as well as the design of all primary current sources ("batteries") with a lithium anode, is completely sealed. The requirement for absolute tightness is determined both by the inadmissibility of the leakage of liquid electrolyte (which has a negative effect on the equipment), and the inadmissibility of oxygen and water vapor from the environment entering the accumulator. Oxygen and water vapor react with electrode and electrolyte materials and completely destroy the battery.

Technological operations for the production of electrodes and other parts, as well as the assembly of batteries, are carried out in special dry rooms or in sealed boxes in an atmosphere of pure argon. When assembling batteries, complex modern welding technologies, complex designs of sealed leads, etc. are used. The laying of the active masses of the electrodes is a compromise between the desire to achieve the maximum discharge capacity of the battery and the requirement to guarantee the safety of its operation, which is ensured at the ratio C- / C + => 1,1 to prevent the formation of metallic lithium (and thus the possibility of ignition). 

Explosion hazard

The first generation lithium-ion batteries were subject to explosive effects. This was due to the fact that in the process of multiple charging / discharging cycles, spatial formations arose known as (dendrites) - complex crystalline formations of a tree-like branching structure, leading to the closure of the electrodes and, as a result, fire or explosion. This drawback was eliminated by replacing the anode material with graphite. Similar processes took place on the cathodes of lithium-ion batteries based on cobalt oxide when operating conditions were violated (overcharging).

Modern lithium batteries have lost these disadvantages. However, lithium batteries from time to time show a tendency to explosive spontaneous combustion. The intensity of combustion even from miniature batteries is such that it can lead to serious consequences. Airlines and international organizations are taking measures to restrict the transportation of lithium batteries and devices with them on air transport.

Spontaneous combustion of a lithium battery is very difficult to extinguish by traditional means. In the process of thermal acceleration of a faulty or damaged battery, not only the stored electrical energy is released, but also a number of chemical reactions that release substances to maintain combustion, combustible gases from the electrolyte, and in the case of non-LiFePO4 electrodes, oxygen is released. A burnt-out battery is capable of burning without air access and means of isolation from atmospheric oxygen are unsuitable for extinguishing it.

Moreover, lithium metal actively reacts with water to form a combustible hydrogen gas, therefore extinguishing lithium batteries with water is effective only for those types of batteries where the mass of the lithium electrode is small. In general, extinguishing a burnt lithium battery is ineffective. The purpose of extinguishing can only be to reduce the temperature of the battery and prevent the spread of the flame.

Plane crashes such as Asiana Airlines 747 near South Korea in July 2011, UPS 747 in Dubai, UAE in September 2010, and UPS DC-8 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in February 2006 were all related to lithium battery fires during flights. Typically these fires are caused by short circuiting the batteries. Unprotected cells can cause a short circuit when touched and then spread, causing a chain reaction that can release enormous amounts of energy.

Lithium batteries can also be subject to "thermal runaway". This means that if the internal circuitry is broken, an increase in internal temperature can occur. At a certain temperature, the battery cells begin to emit hot gases, in turn increasing the temperature in adjacent cells. This will eventually lead to ignition.

Thus, the large number of batteries poses a significant safety risk, which is especially acute when transporting by air. A relatively small incident can lead to a huge uncontrolled fire.

UN Regulations UN3480, UN 3481, UN3090, UN3091

Hazard class -9

Because lithium batteries are potentially extremely hazardous, they are technically classified as Hazard Class 9 “Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods” and must be handled, stored and transported appropriately (as specified in UN3480 and Supplementary Regulations).

Due to widespread use and increased risk, regulations for the transport of lithium batteries have been revised. The danger posed by the transport of lithium batteries is the potential for short circuiting, and as a result, much of the legislation focuses on packaging and shipping regulations to mitigate the potentially catastrophic consequences of this.

An overview of these rules is as follows:

  • Packaging and shipping methods that ensure that batteries do not come into contact with each other.
  • Methods of packaging and transportation that exclude contact of the battery with a conductive or metal surface.
  • It is imperative to check that all batteries are securely packed to prevent movement (inside the package) during transport, which could potentially cause loose terminal covers or accidental activation.

The shipment of lithium batteries is effectively regulated by 4 UN laws, although there are many features that can affect the exact process you need to take to ensure safe delivery (or at least minimize the risk as much as possible).

  • UN 3090 - Lithium metal batteries (shipped by themselves)
  • UN 3480 - Lithium ion batteries (shipped by themselves)
  • UN 3091 - Lithium metal batteries contained in equipment or packed with equipment
  • UN 3481 - Lithium ion batteries contained in equipment or packed with equipment.

There are also various labeling requirements packaging that will be used to transport lithium batteries. These requirements differ mainly based on the following 4 factors:

  • Are batteries contained in the equipment supplied (for example, a watch, calculator or laptop)
  • Packaged with the equipment (for example, a power tool packed with a spare battery)
  • Shipped in small quantities (which may be covered in Limited quantities - the lowest of the four dangerous goods transport levels)
  • Ship in very small quantities that are not subject to dangerous goods regulations at all (eg two batteries installed in equipment).
Show ADR / RID requirements for the carriage of lithium batteries by road and rail Minimize ADR / RID (Road and Rail Transport) requirements

Class 9 Packing Group II Tunnel Category E ADR / RID 9 Labels

Proper shipping name Lithium-ion batteries, UN 3480

ADR special provisions 188, 230, 310, 636 and Packing Instruction P903, P903a and P903b apply.

Damaged and defective batteries: contact your national competent authority.

If your lithium-ion batteries are being transported by truck for transport in Europe, you must ensure that you comply with all the requirements set out in the ADR 2017 manual.

In fact, this is a European agreement that regulates the transport of lithium batteries by road / land (and indeed any dangerous goods).

Transporting lithium batteries by rail requires that you follow a different set of specific dangerous goods regulations. These rules are detailed in the Guide to the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Rail (RID).

These regulations, combined with the ADR guidelines used for road transport, actually require similar packaging, processes and protection.

For more information, visit UNECE website.


Show IMO requirements for shipping lithium batteries by sea Minimize IMO (Sea Shipping) requirements

Class packing group II Labels IMO 9

Proper shipping name Lithium-ion batteries, UN 3480

Code IMDG: Special Provisions 188, 230, 310 and Packing Instruction P903


Storage category A

Damaged and defective batteries: contact your national competent authority

Shipping lithium batteries by sea

If you are shipping lithium batteries by sea, you must comply with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. This document is updated every two years, which means that Amendment 38-16 of the 2018 edition is the current set of rules.

To familiarize yourself with the rules set out in the IMDG Code, you must purchase a copy of the Code from the International Maritime Organization or work with a freight forwarder who is familiar with these rules.


Show IATA-DGR requirements for lithium battery air travel Minimize IATA-DGR (Air Freight) requirements

Class packing group II ICAO marks 9

Proper shipping name Lithium-ion batteries, UN 3480

IATA: Special Provisions A88, A99, A154, A164, Packing Instruction P965, P966, P967, P968, P969, P970

Damaged and Defective Batteries / Waste Batteries: Not permitted for air travel.

Shipping lithium batteries by air

Shipping lithium batteries by air is the most challenging of all forms of transit due to the increased risk (ie, accidents caused by fire can be fatal). Since damaged batteries have previously been identified as the cause of plane crashes, transport of damaged or defective batteries is strictly prohibited.

When transporting lithium-ion batteries by air, the Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) must be followed. These rules are governed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

To familiarize yourself with IATA Lithium Battery Guidelines Click here to go to this resource.


Importance of UN3480 / UN3090 rules

The lithium battery shipping company or individual is solely and solely responsible in the event of any accident caused by non-compliance.

Failure to follow the packaging guidelines for lithium batteries that comply with UN3480 can have serious consequences for your business. This can lead to significant fines, jail time for your organization's employees, and reputational damage from a (potentially fatal) accident.

If you need advice and assistance regarding the shipment of items containing lithium batteries, please contact us and we will help you deliver them quickly and safely.
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