Shipping Lithium Batteries by Air from China
As an expert in Chinese logistics and international freight, we receive many inquiries from international customers willing to ship lithium batteries by air, and we are fully aware that many customers face some problems with this.
In this article, we will explain how to proceed, by putting an emphasis on the transport of lithium-ion batteries from China.
Today, lithium batteries have become the preferred source of energy for a wide variety of electronics products, with a widespread use in our daily lives: mobile phones and laptops, cameras, power tools, e-bikes, electric cars, etc.
These types of batteries are everywhere today, and the products listed above represent a significant share of Chinese exports.
Lithium batteries are generally considered as dangerous goods when transported by air and
belong to the IATA * DGR 9 class. Thus, the procedures for this type of goods are different.
You have to make sure you are in full compliance with the applicable rules when transporting batteries by air. If not, the airline may not accept your cargo.
Several Definitions of Lithium Batteries
The term “lithium battery” refers to a family of batteries of different chemical components, including many types of cathodes and electrolytes. To meet the standards set by the RDG, they are separated into several categories:
1) Lithium metal batteries
Sometimes called “primary” batteries, lithium metal batteries are generally non-rechargeable batteries containing lithium metal or lithium components such as anode and cathode. Lithium metal batteries are typically used to power devices such as cameras, small electrical appliances, electric toys and long-life devices such as watches, calculators and emergency locator beacons.
Some Chinese suppliers also call these batteries simple batteries or LED batteries
The transport of lithium metal batteries is reserved for cargo aircraft since January 1, 2015 only. The prohibition of carriage on passenger aircraft applies only to lithium metal batteries when shipped separately, and does not apply to the batteries contained within the devices.
2) Lithium ion batteries
Sometimes called Li-ion batteries, these batteries are a type of secondary (rechargeable) battery commonly used in consumer electronics. Lithium-ion batteries are also included in the category of lithium polymer batteries (Li-Pol).
Lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries are typically found in mobile phones, laptops, e-bikes, etc.
Some information on the Classification
Lithium batteries are classified in class 9 – Other dangerous goods:
- UN 3090, lithium metal batteries
- ONU 3480, lithium-ion batteries
or, if contained in a device or packaged separately:
- UN 3091, lithium metal batteries contained in equipment;
- UN 3091, lithium metal batteries packaged separately;
- UN 3481, Lithium-ion batteries contained in equipment;
- UN 3481, lithium-ion batteries packaged separately.
United Nations (UN) numbers are four-digit numbers used in international trade and transportation to identify hazardous chemicals.
Each “Dangerous Goods” has its own UN number informing the shipping procedures to be followed such as labeling, packaging, shipping documents and restrictions.
Some exceptions in the packaging and labeling instructions may apply, depending on the amount of lithium contained in your battery and the capacity (Watt Hour rating) of your battery. For more information, do not hesitate to contact our experts:
Required documents and product tests
When importing goods containing lithium batteries, it is essential to check that your supplier can provide all the necessary documents before placing an order.
It is common for the customer to order goods from suppliers without even checking the transport requirements and without ensuring that the supplier provides the documents and certificates required for the export process.
Always remember that it is the responsibility of the importer to check if his supplier is able to provide all the necessary export documents before ordering.
When you plan to transport batteries by air, the first thing to check with your supplier is:
All batteries must be manufactured to the standards set by the latest IATA DGR.
Your supplier must provide you or your forwarding agent with a UN.38.3 or UN Transportation Testing (UN / DOT 38.3) for every product manufactured or sold by them. This is one of the most important document that the airline will require before booking space for your freight.
This report assesses the response of your cargo to flight conditions and includes 8 parts:
- T1 – Altitude simulation (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
- T2 – Thermal test (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
- T3 – Vibration (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
- T4 – Shock (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
- T5 – External short circuit (primary and secondary cells and batteries)
- T6 – Impact (primary and secondary cells)
- T7 – Overload (secondary batteries)
- T8 – Forced discharge (primary and secondary cells)
Some of the UN numbers that have been classified for packing instructions 966 and 969, Section II also include the requirement for a 1.2 meter drop test for the filled package containing batteries. Another very important document is the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for lithium batteries. This report contains 16 sections, such as:
- Identification of chemicals, plant and supplier
- Information about materials and ingredients
- Identification of dangerous products
- First aid
- Handling and storage
- Stability and responsiveness
- Transport information and more …
Going more in depth about MSDS documents would be too long. Some companies will also request a shipper’s declaration for Section II lithium batteries – a statement signed by your supplier describing the contents of the shipment, the classifications, the complete contact information of the supplier, as well as the consignee’s.
Your agent / forwarder must provide the carrier, upon request, with all relevant supporting documents (ie UN38.3 test report, MSDS, etc.). Carriers will request and review any documentation supporting the shipment prior to booking space on a flight. Your supplier and forwarder must work hand in hand to ensure a smooth and fast export process. As an importer, you need to have very good communication with your freight forwarder, which will save you a lot time, money, and troubles. It’s impossible to work with a freight forwarder who does not fully understand your case and your logistics needs.
At SINO Shipping, we fully understand how necessary it is to ensure a permanent contact and a careful attention to every single shipment, in order to ensure hassle-free services to our customers.
Airports in China have different requirements for the export of lithium batteries via air freight.
Thus, the requirements in terms of paperwork and certification of goods can be very different from one airport to another.
To export batteries from Beijing Airport (PEK): You will need a DGM test report from an official laboratory. The authorities will then accurately identify and describe your cargo and make sure that your Lithium batteries meet the requirements of other tests (1.2 drop test and a 38.3). These documents will be sent to the airline with pictures of the cargo and only then will you obtain approval and prices for the transportation of your cargo.
Another example, Shanghai Airport (PVG). To export lithium batteries from PVG airport, you must provide: 1. Chemical Identification published by SRICI (Shanghai Chemical Industry Research Institute) 2. Dangerous Goods Packaging Certificate.
- Test report of the UN38.2 lithium battery
- Drop test report of 1.2 meter
- Magnetic examination report
A large number of cargoes from CAN and SZX are being transferred to Hong Kong Airport, considered as the “easiest” departure airport.
Responsibilities of the supplier and the forwarder
As a professional freight forwarder, our job is not just to ship cargo from one place to another, we also need to stay close to the interests of our customers. We have encountered many situations where Chinese suppliers are not 100% comfortable with the process of exporting goods containing lithium batteries.
It is the responsibility of the supplier to ensure that all air transport requirements are met.
Before a supplier offers such products for air transport, he must ensure that:
- the cargo is not prohibited for air transport
- the goods are properly classified, marked and labeled
- the goods are properly packed in accordance with the packing instructions for the dangerous goods (PI-xxx)
- all relevant documents have been correctly issued and the shipping declaration has been signed. It’s up to your freight forwarder to make sure everything is up to standard BEFORE the cargo is removed. This will save you a lot of troubles.
The world of shipping lithium batteries is a complex one – and their regulatory requirements continue to expand and evolve. In January of 2019, there were several significant IATA lithium battery regulatory changes including:
• The current lithium battery handling label has been replaced by a new label.
• Class 9 will have an additional label to reflect when lithium batteries are being transported.
In this complicated shipping space, dealing with challenges in classifying your lithium battery shipments and ensuring adherence to all of the requirements can be a concern. A good way to mitigate these challenges is by asking a few key questions before preparing your shipment. Knowing those answers in advance will help you classify, mark, pack and ship in compliance.
1/ Is the battery a lithium ion battery or a lithium metal battery?
The short answer: a lithium ion battery is rechargeable – such as those found in a cell phone, laptop computer or tablet. Lithium metal batteries – which may be found in aviation black boxes and locator transmitters – are not rechargeable and must be replaced at certain intervals.
2/ Is the battery being shipped by itself or is it contained in or packed with the equipment or device?
To be classified as “contained in equipment” the battery must be physically contained in the equipment or device for which it is intended to provide electrical power. This is an important point, which required clarification beginning in 2016. Prior to that, some shippers would mount a lithium battery on a charging device in an attempt to classify the shipment as “contained in equipment.” The clarified definition first appeared in the 57th Edition of the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations and has been reinforced each year in subsequent publications.
“Packed with equipment” shipments are those where the battery and the equipment it is intended to power are packaged in the same container, but the battery is not installed in the device.
3/ For regulated shipments, what quantity of dangerous goods should be recorded on the Shipper’s Declaration?
Shipping only a lithium ion or metal battery by air is forbidden on passenger aircraft, however, these same items are allowed on passenger flights when packed with or contained in equipment. In those cases, the quantity of dangerous goods material per package is used to determine the aircraft type used to transport the product. IATA Packing Instructions 966, 967, 969 and 970 each allow 5 kg or less net quantity of material per package for passenger flights. It’s important to note that the dangerous goods article to consider is simply the battery, if no other dangerous goods are present.
For example: A shipment consists of a flight data recorder containing a lithium metal battery. The recorder, with battery installed, weighs 5.9 kg, but the battery used to provide power to the device only weighs 0.67 kg. The net quantity of dangerous goods that would be recorded on the Shipper’s Declaration would be 0.67 kg, not 5.9 kg. The net quantity of 0.67 kg would be eligible for movement via passenger aircraft; while an incorrectly recorded net quantity of 5.9 kg would not. Recording the actual quantity of material enables you to take advantage of the increased frequency of operations of passenger aircraft – getting your shipment where it’s needed as quickly as possible.
4/Is there an impact of marking a shipment Cargo Aircraft Only if it isn’t?
Yes. You should not mark a shipment CAO if it is allowed on passenger flights unless an operator variation requires you do so. Not only is this prohibited by the regulations, but you also severely impact flight options to move your shipment if only cargo flights may be considered due to improper declaration of the product.
What is the proper labeling to be used with lithium batteries?
Regulations define lithium batteries as either lithium ion batteries, which are rechargeable, or lithium metal batteries, which are not rechargeable – and there are specific labeling guidelines for each. With the new design of labels becoming mandatory in January 2019, use of the old labels is no longer allowed. If shipments are presented with the old marks, customers will need to re-label them
What are the current packaging and documentation requirements?
For shippers of lithium batteries – whether ion or metal, “contained in equipment” or “with equipment”— it’s important to know and execute your shipments following the current requirements. Having the correct markings, packaging and documentation for your shipment makes all of the difference. Compliant transportation of lithium batteries is critical – from both a safety and financial perspective. Asking the right questions upfront and adhering to the latest guidelines, are essential for all lithium battery shippers.
For specifics on packaging and labeling for lithium batteries shipped by air, click here or visit: https://www.iata.org/whatwedo/cargo/dgr/ Documents/lithium-battery-shipping-guidelines.pdf (page 11)
In addition to the topics we’ve covered here, Sino Shiping dangerous goods shipping experts are ready to provide the knowledge, experience and support you need. Please continue to visit our website for additional resources and feel free to contact Quick to help address your specific questions and requirements.
This article is for informational purposes only. Please contact us to learn more about the transportation of dangerous goods and their classification. We are an experienced forwarder, specialized in import-export in China and Hong Kong. We have built a strong expertise over the past decade, ensuring prompt and efficient shipments.
Through our offices and our staff in China, we work hand-in-hand with our customers, their suppliers and the relevant official institutes to ensure a safe and hassle-free transportation from China to the rest of the world.
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