I’m going to get straight to the point: what packaging you should use to ship lithium-ion batteries (LiBs) cannot be answered in a general manner. Unfortunately. A packaging choice for LiB shipping will always depend on a number of factors. In this blog, I'll walk you through the three main factors. I’ll also provide an example of a developed packaging solution based on these factors. Let’s get to it!
What are the decisive factors for your packaging selection?
The three factors that determine the selection of your packaging are:
- The state of the lithium-ion battery;
- The weight of the lithium-ion battery;
- The mode of transport for the lithium-ion battery.
Let’s discuss the first decisive factor:
Decisive factor 1: the state of the lithium-ion battery
Packaging and transport regulations distinguish between 4 different states of the battery. The state of the battery determines what kind of packaging and therefore protection your LiB requires. Please see the list below for the 4 states:
- A prototype;
- A series battery;
- A waste battery;
- Damaged or defect battery.
I’ll walk you through the different states now:
State 1: A prototype LiB
A prototype lithium-ion battery hasn’t been tested and qualified in accordance with the UN’s Manual of Tests and Criteria, part III, sub-section 38.3. The prototype regulations also apply to a low series production of not tested batteries. In any case, the battery must be deemed by the manufacturer to be safe for transport. A LiB in this state has tougher packaging requirements than the series battery described in state 2.
State 2: A series LiB
When a lithium-ion battery is tested and approved, it’s considered a series battery — a fully developed battery that is probably being mass produced. A series battery is tested and qualified in accordance with the UN’s Manual of Tests and Criteria, part III, sub-section 38.3.
State 3: A waste LiB
Waste batteries are used batteries that are classified as end of life, and that are shipped for disposal or recycling. A waste battery also has specific requirements. For instance, it’s banned from air transport unless approved by the appropriate national authority of the state or country of origin.
State 4: A damaged or defect LiB
An example of a damaged or defect lithium-ion battery can be a battery retrieved from a car crash with an electric vehicle (EV). Damaged LiBs are unquestionably banned from air transport, no exceptions.
Also, if the state of the battery can not be determined, it is considered defect for safety reasons.
Let’s move on to the second decisive factor:
Decisive factor 2: the weight of the lithium-ion battery
The weight of the battery determines the protection level of the packaging and whether it is possible to pack multiple batteries in one transport packaging.
Two requirements are common though, regardless of the weight of the battery:
- The battery has to be protected from a short circuit. A short circuit could cause the battery to heat up from its own energy content and eventually catch fire;
- Movement inside the packaging also has to be prevented.
Time to move on the last decisive factor:
Decisive factor 3: the mode of transport for your lithium-ion battery
Knowing the mode of transport is crucial to determine the correct type of packaging. The type of packaging you will need depends on the regulations correspondent with the mode of transport you’ll be using. The regulations also define requirements on for example marking & labeling, vehicle requirement, education of drivers and shippers, etc.
There are 4 primary modes of transport for LiBs.
I’ll walk you through the corresponding regulations:
Mode of transport 1: transporting lithium-ion batteries road
If you elect to transport your LiB by road transport in Europe, you are required to meet the requirements described in the ADR, the European Agreement concerning the international carriage of dangerous goods by road. You can download the ADR 2017 here.
Mode of transport 2: transporting lithium-ion batteries by rail
If you transport your lithium-ion batteries by rail transport, you are required to meet the requirements described in the RID regulations, concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Rail. You can read the requirements here.
Mode of transport 3: transporting lithium-ion batteries by air sea
If you transport your LiBs by sea, you will have to comply with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG code). The IMDG code is updated every second year. The latest is the 2016 Edition Amendment 38-16. This edition is usable from 2017-2019, where 2019 is a transition year for when the next amendment will become valid.
Unfortunately, IMDG has to be bought. You can order or find more information about IMDG here.
Mode of transport 4: transporting lithium-ion batteries by air
The last mode of transport is the trickiest one. Due to the high probability of a fatal outcome in case of an accident, regulations and requirements for LiB air transport are the most strict. Aircrafts have already been brought down by LiB fires in the past. I think that stresses the importance of compliant transportation.
As I mentioned earlier, the mode of transport is also correlated to the state of your LiB. Reminder: damaged LiBs cannot even be transported by airplane.
In case of air transportation of your LiBs, you are required to meet the Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) issued by The International Air Transport Association, (IATA) / The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In order to summarize the regulations specifically for Lithium Batteries, they sell some good tools like the Lithium Battery Shipping Guidelines (LBSG) guide. The guide will take you through the shipping process step by step. You can also consult their Lithium Battery Guidance Document; it’s free of charge.
It’s a lot to take in..
Yes, shipping lithium-ion batteries compliantly is complex (that’s why we’re releasing a guide on how to ship LiBs soon, keep an eye out for it). Worst of all, regulations will never tell you how to make a packaging — they just tell you what requirements you need to meet. So you will need to make an assumption about the design; a design you suspect will fulfill the requirements.
You come up with the first idea and proofread it against all the regulations. It’s almost like a law text with clauses you have to pass. If you have reached the point where you made a design that seemingly meets all the requirements, you want to find out if it does. That’s when you get your design into prototyping, so that you can test it against the regulations in a certification process at a national competent authority.
The topic of certification (at a national competent authority) is especially interesting since certified packaging is crucial for complying with safety regulations. Because certification is so relevant, one of our next blog posts will cover that topic. If you want to get updated when new articles — like the one about certification — get published, please subscribe to our blog updates in the top right corner of this page.
In the meantime — as promised — you can read this customer case to see how we helped a customer with organizing the shipment and return of lithium ion batteries to various distribution points on a global level. A main requirement from the customer was to be provided with safe distribution of their replacement batteries, but also the ability to switch the old battery with the replacement and send it back in the same box.
Take a look to see how we reduced this customer's cost of logistics with an efficient and compliant Lithium Ion Battery packaging solution — download the free case here:
Download the Lithium-ion Battery customer case
Find out how we reduced our customer's cost of logistics and environmental impact with an optimized and certified Lithium-ion Battery packaging solutionDownload