Lithium batteries, which power everything from laptops, data centers, EV cars, and power grids are ubiquitous in today’s modern world. Regardless of if a battery is new, used, a prototype, damaged or end-of-life being sent in for recycling, shipping a battery (or cell) can be very complex and is a highly regulated endeavor. This is mainly due to safety concerns because the threat of a thermal reaction/fire is all too real. As a result, shippers face numerous restrictions, from commercial aircraft bans to state-of-charge rules. Transporting, recycling and disposing lithium batteries compliantly is challenging, but there are best practices that businesses can follow to make the process easier.
As the market for recycling lithium batteries continues to grow, understanding the rules and regulations around transporting them will become even more important.
The Challenges of End-of-Life Battery Shipping
Safely shipping lithium batteries and complying with the many regulations that govern them can be challenging, especially depending on the state of the battery. Lithium batteries fall into two different categories: those that ship fully regulated and those that do not.
Batteries that are not damaged, defective, or recalled (DDR) and have a watt hour rating of 100Wh or less (e.g., laptop batteries) can ship as a non-fully regulated shipment by ocean, ground or cargo aircraft. Batteries with a watt hour rating of 300Wh or less (e.g., power tools) can ship non-fully regulated by ground in the U.S., but only if the proper labeling requirements are met according to the 49 (173.185) CFR.
Batteries with a watt hour rating greater than 300Wh (e.g., electric vehicle batteries), or any DDR battery regardless of watt hours, are considered “fully regulated class 9 shipments” and must ship as such. This means complying with all 49 CFR regulations, which include proper packaging, labeling, documentation, training and specified shipping methods.
It can be confusing, given that anyone with any part in shipping dangerous goods (DG) from a commercial establishment is considered a hazmat employee and must be 49 CFR trained and certified on every aspect of shipping, from filling out the bill of lading to physically loading the freight. Attending an interactive online training course can quickly and efficiently help accomplish this training requirement.
But it doesn’t stop at proper training. Another challenge is that shippers must also comply with all packaging regulations. These are some examples of the regulations you must follow when shipping a damaged, defective, or recalled lithium battery:
Keep in mind this is just a small sample of regulations. Other factors that determine how to ship include whether the battery being shipped is stand-alone or contained in (or with) equipment, the battery’s state of charge, weight and destination.
Another regulatory body to consider is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). When shipping lithium batteries or cells for disposal or recycling, you must follow all proper EPA regulations, which may include environmental waste labeling (when shipping directly to a physical recycler) or – in some cases – hazardous material labeling and proper documentation. But keep in mind it’s not one or the other, it’s both: you must follow all proper regulations from the EPA and the DOT. Additional packaging changes may be needed as well.
Finally, there are the carriers to consider. Even if you are 100% in compliance, and training, paperwork, and packaging are perfect, it is still ultimately up to individual carriers to decide whether to take your shipment or class of DG. That’s why, before moving forward with any shipments, it’s best to first check with your carrier of choice to ensure they will accept it.
Important Questions to Ask
When shipping or transporting lithium batteries as part of the recycling process, it’s important to ask yourself these questions:
To fully determine packaging needs, there’s one more important question to ask: what role does my company play in transporting lithium batteries or products that contain them? Here’s why this matters:
Best Practices for Lithium Battery Transport
While shipping batteries as part of the recycling process is a complicated endeavor, there are steps you can take to simplify the process:
The battery recycling market will only continue to grow. In fact, the global lithium battery recycling market is projected to grow from $4.6 billion in 2021 to $22.8 billion by 2026.1 The U.S. lithium-ion battery recycling market alone is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2027 (up from $764.3 million in 2020), with the consumer electronics segment to dominate that market.2
The primary reasons for growth are increasing demand for electric vehicles, as well as various countries providing government subsidies for battery recycling.1 Additionally, recycling helps meet a growing demand for supply chain sustainability. According to a recent MIT survey, more than one third of executives reported that their company’s commitment to supply chain sustainability has grown since COVID-19.3
With this expected growth in battery recycling, it’s more important than ever to stay up to date and truly understand the latest industry shipping regulations. Regulations change, especially when it comes to shipping and handling lithium batteries, so don’t just assume that what was correct a year or two ago is correct today.
The fact is, the lithium battery industry is complex. When it comes to regulations, it’s best to partner with an industry expert who can navigate new and changing rules for you and help keep your supply chain safe and compliant.
To learn more about how Labelmaster can support your lithium battery shipping needs, visit https://www.labelmaster.com/lithium-battery-resources or contact LithiumBattery@labelmaster.com.