Introduction

Lithium batteries have become a common and widely used energy source for a variety of consumer goods (eg, mobile phones, laptops, e-cars and e-bikes). Despite this widespread use, most people are unaware that lithium batteries are dangerous goods and need to be shipped in compliance with the respective transport regulations to avoid safety risks.

Safety risks, especially those regarding air transportation, are not only of a theoretical nature. Several serious incidents caused by lithium batteries have taken place in recent years in connection with air transportation, including a 747-44AF crash on September 3 2010 near Dubai where both crew members were killed.

IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations

The International Air Transportation Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations – the only standard recognised by airlines – contain the globally applicable provisions for shipping dangerous goods by air.

The regulations are published in an annually updated handbook. The 58th edition is the most recent, incorporating all amendments made by the International Civil Aviation Organisation Dangerous Goods Panel and the IATA Dangerous Goods Board.

A violation of the regulations might lead to criminal proceedings and infringements are a notifiable fact to be reported to the competent authority.

With effect from April 1 2016 and January 1 2017, changes to the provisions for lithium batteries have been established. In order to assist shippers in understanding the complete requirements, IATA has prepared the Lithium Battery Shipping Guidelines, which were updated and revised in 2017.

Definitions

The term 'lithium battery' refers to a family of batteries with different chemistries. The regulations categorise the batteries as follows:

  • lithium metal batteries – generally primary (non-rechargeable) batteries that have lithium metal or lithium compounds as an anode; and
  • lithium-ion batteries – rechargeable batteries where the lithium is present only in an ionic form in the electrolyte.

The regulations further categorise the batteries as follows:

  • cells – single encased electrochemical units; and
  • batteries – two or more cells which are electrically connected together and fitted with devices necessary for use (power banks are classified as batteries).

Further, regulations categorise lithium batteries shipped by themselves, shipped inside a piece of equipment or packed separately with a piece of equipment to power that equipment.

Lithium batteries are usually Class 9 dangerous goods and must be shipped in accordance with requirements.

Changes and considerations

As of April 1 2016, lithium-ion and lithium-metal cells and batteries sent as cargo are forbidden on passenger aircraft. All packages must bear a cargo aircraft-only label in addition to existing marks and labels.

Airlines allow two items of both types of lithium cell or battery as carry-on, either installed or carried as spare packs, as long as they do not exceed the following lithium limitation:

  • 2 grams (g) per battery for lithium metal (content printed on battery); and
  • 100 watt hours (Wh) per battery for lithium ion.

For lithium-metal batteries in portable medical electronic devices, the lithium content must range between 2g and 8g. For lithium-ion batteries in portable medical and other electronic devices, a watt-hour rating between 100Wh and 160Wh is permitted in checked and carry-on baggage with operator approval.

Effective as of April 1 2016, lithium-ion cells and batteries packaged alone may not exceed a 30% charge of their rated design capacity (as defined in the United Nations Manual of Tests and Criteria). Shippers may ship lithium-ion cells or batteries with a charge greater than 30% only if they have received approval from the state of origin and the state of the operator.

The number of packages containing lithium batteries that are not shipped with equipment that may be placed in a shipment is limited. It is prohibited to place more than one package containing lithium batteries in an over-pack and more than one package of lithium batteries prepared for transport in any single consignment.

Effective as of January 1 2017, IATA has restricted the labelling exemption for lithium batteries that are shipped in equipment. Previously, lithium batteries in equipment were exempt from the handling label requirements if each package included no more than four lithium cells or two lithium batteries. From January 1 2017 the exception will apply only when there are no more than two such packages in a consignment. IATA is providing an extended compliance period of 12 months to allow for updates to shipping procedures.

IATA has also clarified that portable medical and other electronic devices which are carried in checked baggage must be completely switched off (not in sleep or hibernation mode).

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.

For further information on this topic please contact Andreas Fuchs at Arnecke Sibeth Rechtsanwaelte by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0) or email (afuchs@arneckesibeth.com). The Arnecke Sibeth website can be accessed at www.arneckesibeth.com.