Most of us carry lithium batteries in our cell phones. So it’s not immediately obvious that lithium batteries are classed as dangerous goods in the transportation context.

This classification is due to the fact that lithium batteries may overheat in transport and ignite (and once ignited, any nearby batteries may overheat and ignite). Shipping lithium batteries is accordingly subject to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992 and its regulations.

There are two main types of lithium batteries.

A lithium-ion battery is rechargeable, does not contain metallic lithium, and features high energy density. Lithium ion batteries are used in consumer products such as cell phones, electric vehicles, laptop computers, power tools, and tablets.

A lithium-metal battery is usually non-rechargeable, contains metallic lithium, and features a higher energy density than other non-rechargeable batteries. Lithium metal batteries are often used in calculators, pacemakers, hearing aids, remote car locks and watches.

With the increased demand and supply of lithium batteries in recent years, the need to transport them has also increased.

However, under a new Protective Direction issued by the Department of Transport on March 22, 2016, lithium-ion batteries can no longer be transported as cargo on passenger aircraft (previously only lithium-metal batteries were banned). Shipments of either lithium-metal batteries or lithium-ion batteries can be made on cargo-only aircraft provided certain conditions are met, or through ground transportation. See Protective Direction No. 365 respecting the transportation of lithium batteries by aircraft.

The Protective Direction does not impact the transportation of lithium-ion batteries already installed in consumer products, devices or equipment. The ban only applies to batteries when shipped on their own.

Both types of lithium batteries must meet the requirements of the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria to be shipped. Shippers and importers must meet the requirements set out in the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations for the handling, offering for transport, transporting and importing of lithium batteries in Canada. The requirements vary by mode of transport.

The Protective Direction is consistent with the recent directive of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). On February 22, 2016, the ICAO approved an interim ban on cargo shipments of lithium-ion batteries in passenger aircraft. The ICAO is a United Nations specialized agency. The ICAO ban was a response to the growing concern about the risks of air transport of lithium batteries, including recommendations for greater restrictions from the ICAO’s top technical body.