Written by David Renwick
Lithium batteries are everywhere. They're found in consumer electronics and power common devices like power tools, children’s toys, laptops and so much more.
Naturally, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to shipping lithium batteries. But thankfully, because they’re in so many popular products, there is information out there to help you ship them.
The main focus for lithium battery shipping regulations is safety, so in this guide we’ll run you through the reasons for the regulations. We'll also cover how you can safely ship products containing lithium batteries, and everything you need to know about shipping lithium batteries within Australia.
Commonly referred to as lithium-ion batteries, a lithium battery is a power source whose electrochemistry includes lithium and other rare earth materials. These batteries are extremely energy dense and are able to hold their charge much longer than older battery types such as nickel-cadmium, according to the Department of Energy in the US.
Remember: Lithium batteries are classified as dangerous goods, just like many cosmetics.
From electric vehicles you see on the road to the smartphone in your pocket, lithium batteries have become essential to a massive range of modern devices.
They’re also used in:
Depending on the device, there are two kinds of lithium batteries. They are:
Some shipping partners will also have different guidelines depending on if the lithium battery is part of a product, like in a smartphone, or is a standalone battery like one included with a toy.
When it comes to shipping lithium batteries, there are a few key questions to ask yourself and your delivery partners.
Here’s what you need to know.
The short answer is yes! The longer answer is that lithium batteries are considered dangerous goods, and therefore will be subject to different regulations depending on the device in question and its destination.
For example, when transporting dangerous goods in Australia, loose batteries like power banks can only be shipped by road. The potential risk of fire means they can’t be sent by air freight.
Lithium batteries have strict guidelines when it comes to packaging, so it’s important you’re aware of the specific details for your market. Some general guidelines for shipping dangerous goods are relevant here too, including:
Packaging guidelines specific to lithium batteries include:
Like other dangerous goods, when you’re shipping batteries it’s important you include the correct documentation. On the external packaging, you’ll need to place the correct stickers indicating there are batteries inside. You may also need to provide further documentation declaring the goods are dangerous and identifying the relevant UN number. In some cases where small capacity lithium batteries are packed in with the equipment they will power, a shipper’s declaration is not required.
There are strict rules for the number of lithium batteries you can ship. The quantity restrictions are similar worldwide, but it’s important to check your specific region. In Australia, a single package may contain no more than four cells or two batteries.
Power banks, like external batteries used to charge smartphones, cannot be shipped by air. It is also forbidden to ship damaged batteries, which can make it difficult for you to arrange returns on faulty items.
Wondering to how to ship electronics? Generally, shipping batteries in consumer products is fine as these have likely passed stringent checks before being installed. If the battery is installed in the device and cannot be removed, like in a brand new smartphone, there must be protection to stop the device from turning on. If the battery is separate from the product but still in the same package, the packaging should cover the terminals and prevent short circuits.
While there are strict guidelines for shipping lithium batteries in Australia, couriers are still able to get these products to your customers. Please note they may be limited to road or rail shipment only for products containing batteries.
Our integrated shipping partners that can help you here include:
To ensure your packaged lithium batteries are safe for delivery, we recommend:
Shipping electronics internationally can often be a headache for retailers. Not all of the regulations for the shipping batteries within a country are the same when it comes to sending them across borders. It’s important that if you’re planning to expand to a new market that you’re familiar with its rules.
You can ship lithium batteries overseas in a number of key instances, but you need to be aware of the strict guidelines especially if you’re shipping dangerous goods by air.
These guidelines specify packaging quantities as well as the recommended state of charge for batteries. The positive side is that the rules are governed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), so there’s consistency across many couriers.
If you’re just starting to ship lithium batteries overseas, the IATA official guidelines include a helpful flowchart to help you assign UN numbers and package batteries correctly. The International Civil Aviation Organisation is also a valuable authority for overseas shipping guidelines.
The guidelines above will dictate your overseas shipping strategy for dangerous goods like lithium batteries. When shipping batteries from Australia to other countries, it’s important to think about:
FedEx, one of our integrated shipping partners, has put together an interactive guide for shipping lithium batteries. The breakdown even includes a list of international ports that accept packages containing lithium batteries to make it even easier.
Why are there so many restrictions for shipping lithium batteries?
The main reason for these restrictions is safety.
Lithium batteries are extremely energy dense and can pose a risk if they’re damaged, improperly packaged or shipped as loose batteries outside of equipment.
The main risk with batteries shipped in these conditions is a fire from short circuiting, which is why there are so many restrictions for shipping lithium batteries by air.
If batteries are contained in equipment, or shipped within the same packaging as their intended equipment, you can ship them fully charged. However, according to the IATA any lithium batteries shipped standalone must be at a state-of-charge of 30% or less.
To get an accurate measure of how much extra it costs to ship lithium batteries, we encourage you to look at the dangerous goods surcharges for your shipping partners. Some will offer a set surcharge by weight, which can help you set fair shipping prices at checkout for your customers.
Your best bet for success with these products is to simplify shipping lithium batteries with Starshipit.
We offer a fully-featured dangerous goods shipping solution that can help you keep on top of the tricky paperwork and get your products safely to your customers.
Some of our key features that can help you ship lithium batteries include:
Book a call with one of our shipping experts today to see how these features (and more) can help you with all your shipping needs.