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. 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?
- How Are Lithium Batteries Classified?
- Can I Import And Export Lithium Batteries Overseas?
- How Should Lithium Batteries Be Packed?
- Can Lithium Batteries Be Placed On Airplanes?
- What Are The Regulations For Transporting Lithium Batteries By Air?
- What Are The Regulations For Transporting Lithium Batteries By Sea?
- Pass A Drop Test
- How about LiFePO4 batteries?
- Key Takeaways
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:
Lithium Metal Batteries have the following classifications:
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 provides 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.
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, since 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”.
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)
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 does 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.
Please note that the max. number of batteries in each package must be limited to those needed 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 969 and 970 (UN 3091)
Applicable to: lithium-metal with and in equipment (such as a watch with a loose battery)
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 encloses 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:
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.
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.
How about LiFePO4 batteries?
A newer form of lithium-ion battery solution, Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries are arguably the safest lithium battery in today’s market.
They’re constructed so that the oxygen is bonded extremely tightly, meaning there’s no risk of the object exploding.
It will never overheat or catch fire – even if the material is punctured. Its cathode material is non-toxic, presenting no health or environmental risks.
Some other advantages of LiFePO4 batteries include:
- A longer life span (approximately 5-7 years);
- They’re rechargeable and sustainable, so you can use them over and over again;
- Little to no maintenance is required; and
- They’re lighter and so occupy less space.
Generally, a duty at 5% will apply when importing a LiFePO4 batteries, unless they’re arriving from a country with which Australia has a Free Trade Agreement.
- 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.