Importing and Exporting Lithium Batteries: All You Need to Know

Lithium batteries are dangerous goods when they’re shipped. When exporting and importing them, we can’t stress enough about how important it is that you are aware of what you can and can’t do. Incidents involving lithium batteries have risen, largely because so many products are powered by them – they power your phone, your laptop, your power tools and more. Demand for these batteries is only getting higher. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration reported the rise in lithium battery incidents in aircraft and airports. Recently, in June 2019, a lithium battery exploded in Sydney International Airport and caused a fire, leading to an evacuation and delays. The batteries are corrosive, flammable, toxic and contain explosive features. Failure to care for them properly can cause fires and explosions leading to serious injury or death. In this article, we will cover all the important things and caveats that you need to know about importing or exporting lithium batteries into Australia.

What Are The Different Types Of Lithium Batteries?

The different types of batteries include:
  • Lithium ion batteries – these are the rechargeable batteries consumers primarily use. You can find them in laptops, cameras, GPS systems and mobile phones.
  • Lithium metal batteries – These are the non-rechargeable / disposable batteries featuring lithium metal or lithium compounds. You can find these batteries in portable electronic products such as watches and thermometers.
Both batteries are dangerous goods when transported by air, road and sea.

How Are Lithium Batteries Classified?

Lithium Ion Batteries have the following classifications: https://www.icecargo.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Lithium-battery-classification.png Lithium Metal Batteries have the following classifications: Lithium metal classification

Can I Import And Export Lithium Batteries Overseas?

Yes, you can. For air: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has published a helpful guidance document to assist in understanding the regulations that must be followed. The Manual is based on the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations and the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Technical Instructions. For sea: The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code provide the global guidelines for shipping dangerous goods by sea safely, including lithium batteries. “I have been advised by my supplier that it is no longer possible to import lithium/ion batteries into Australia”. In addition to the general hazardous regulations, carriers also have their own internal guidelines in place. Some carriers do not transport lithium/ion batteries. In this case, we recommend you to speak to your freight forwarder and clarify all the details of your shipment so they can come up with a tailored solution: origin, destination. quantity, volume, if the batteries are included in the product or are shipped on their own and transport mode (air or sea freight).

How Should Lithium Batteries Be Packed?

In a nutshell, they must be packed very securely, preferably with strong rigid outer packaging. If the batteries are contained in equipment (like stored in a laptop), they must be given the same protection by the equipment as it would be strong packaging. You can make sure the batteries are protected by:
  • packing each battery or device in a fully enclosed plastic bag;
  • separating batteries so that they are not touching each other; and
  • ensuring any exposed parts are protected with non-conductive tape.
Individual Lithium batteries packaging

Individual Lithium batteries packaging. Photo credit: batteryjunction.com

laptop battery right packaging

Source: Alex Breuer

Can Lithium Batteries Be Placed On Airplanes?

Yes. Airlines do allow both types of lithium batteries as carry-on, either installed or carried as spare packs, so long as they meet certain requirements. However, from 2016, certain lithium batteries must not be carried in passenger aircraft as cargo. They may only be on board separate cargo aircraft with packaging stating “For Cargo Aircraft Only”. for cargo aircraft only packing example The designs of lithium batteries, whether by transporting by air or by sea, must meet the requirements of the United Nations Manual of Tests and Criteria. This is called meeting UN 38.3 certification. If the batteries do not pass the tests, they cannot be transported, and the manufacturer must fix the batteries so that they can be transported.

What Are The Regulations For Transporting Lithium Batteries By Air?

There are many so-called “Packing Instructions” that apply when exporting or importing lithium batteries by air. They’re long, dense and complicated – and so won’t be repeated at here. We’ll just tell you what you need to know: the types of batteries that you might want to transport, the relevant weight and number limitations, and how you can carry them.

Packing Instruction 965 (UN3480)

Applicable to: loose lithium ion batteries (i.e. batteries separated from their equipment) Packing Instruction 965 (UN3480) In cases where it is being transported in a cargo-only aircraft, lithium-ion cells and batteries are to only be charged to a maximum of 30% of its capacity. While the rule change applies to cargo, it does not apply to devices being carried or used by passengers in the main cabin, or stored with luggage in the hold. However, this rule do not affect lithium-ion batteries when they are packed with or contained in equipment.

Packaging Instructions 966 and 967 (UN 3481)

Applicable to: lithium ion batteries with and in equipment. Packaging Instructions 966 and 967 (UN 3481) Please note that the max. number of batteries in each package must be limited to those need to actually operate the equipment. If you want to ship extras, they must be transported separately or in an overpack.

Packaging Instruction 968 (UN3090)

Applicable to: lithium metal batteries (those non-chargeable batteries you find in watches and thermometers). Packaging-Instruction-968-UN3090

Packaging Instruction 969 and 970 (UN 3091)

Applicable to: lithium-metal with and in equipment (such as a watch with a loose battery) Packaging Instruction 969 and 970 (UN 3091)

What Are The Regulations For Transporting Lithium Batteries By Sea?

Completely enclose the batteries. The Code requires lithium cells and batteries, except when installed in equipment, to be packed in inner packaging that completely enclose the cell and battery. They must be protected so as to prevent short circuits, and examples of how to do this are listed above. Each package must also be marked with the new lithium battery label as follows:

custom-lithium-battery-markPass A Drop Test

Each battery-package must be capable of withstanding a 1.2 m drop test in any orientation without damage to cells or batteries (except if the batteries are themselves installed in equipment). The drop test cannot result in shifting the contents causing battery to battery (or cell to cell) contact. The contents also cannot be released. It’s also important to note that, except when batteries are installed in or packed with equipment, packages cannot exceed 30kg gross mass.

Last Note

Please note that regulations for transporting lithium batteries by air and sea regularly change. Please also note that this webpage does not list every single regulation you must follow. Whilst we always aim for accuracy, it is important not to rely on the abovementioned information alone. Please speak to a qualified member of ICE who can provide you specialised advice tailored to your specific circumstances. For further detailed information, we recommend reading this 2017 MDPI academic article on the safety requirements for transporting lithium batteries.
right way to pack batteries for transport

Credit: UPS

Key Takeaways

  • Lithium batteries are considered dangerous goods. As such, they require specific labeling and packaging to be transported.
  • Each battery or device must be packaged individually in a fully enclosed plastic bag with any exposed parts protected with non-conductive tape (preferably with strong rigid outer packaging).
  • Since April 2016, lithium batteries can no longer be carried in passenger aircraft as cargo.
  • Each package must also be marked with the lithium battery label.
  • In cases where it is being transported in a cargo-only aircraft, lithium-ion cells and batteries are to only be charged to a maximum of 30%of its capacity.

Should you have any questions regarding importing or exporting batteries, please leave a comment below (we do read every comment) or contact one of our team specialists for a tailored consultation. 

Request a Free Quote or call us on 1300 227 461

12 Comments

Keith

Bottom line. If I can work through and understand these rules, can I package a Bosch 500 eBike battery so that I can take it from Melbourne to Phuket by air?

Reply
International Cargo Express

Hi Keith, as this is a personal item we’d recommend you to check directly with the airline to see if this battery meets their requirements.

Reply
Peter

Hi,
I am hoping you may be able to assist. I am looking to build a camper/motor home that is able to fit in either a 20ft High Cube or 40ft High Cube container or sending it RO/RO to either the USA or Canada from either Adelaide or an East Coast preferred departure port. I am considering using Lithium batteries for powering the electrics in the camper. Are you able to advise if there are any restrictions or conditions or concerns regarding the shipping of Lithium Batteries or can this be classed as Hazardous Freight.
if you can provide any information I would greatly appreciate it

Reply
International Cargo Express

Thank you for your comments!

You can certainly send a vehicle via Seafreight with a Lithium battery but there are a couple of things to note.

The battery must be disconnected and the connectors taped up. The vehicle must be drained of all fuel.

An M041 Dangerous Goods Declaration must accompany the cargo and the freight will be classed as hazardous. More about this declaration here: https://www.icecargo.com.au/dangerous-goods-shipping/

If you would like to discuss your shipment further please feel free to contact us directly at

Reply
Peter

Thanks for the information
There is a mine field of mixed information out there that doesn’t relate to batteries in vehicles. Cheers

Reply
Priyanga

Needing to airfreight 100 lithium ion batteries from UK packaged in 2 cartons , each carton consisting of 50 batteries each.What is the best way to get them to Melbourne, Australia.

Reply
International Cargo Express

Thank you for your question. To import into Australia please kindly provide us with a Material Safety Data Sheet or UN Number of the goods to . From here we will confirm how the items need to be packaged and your best options.

Reply
Alice

Hi Adan, we would need to see the safety data sheet but generally shipping lithium batteries via air at the moment is extremely difficult. We would recommend a sea freight service.

Reply
Ben White

Have the regulations for importing rechargeable lithium-ion batteries into Australia changed? I have been importing them for e-cigarettes but supplier has advised that they are no longer able to send to Australia

Reply
International Cargo Express

Hi Ben!

In addition to the general hazardous regulations, carriers also have their own internal guidelines in place.

To answer their question we would need to clarify the origin, quantity, volume, if the batteries are included in the product or are shipped on their own and if they usually arrange by air or sea freight. Feel free to send us an enquiry at

Reply

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