USA Truckload Shipping Logo

Transporting Lithium Batteries: Keeping America’s Power On

Resources > Transporting Lithium Batteries: Keeping America’s Power On
The regulations for transporting lithium batteries can be daunting. Rise to the challenge with our guide that will tell you what you need to do.
Published: September 28, 2022
Last Modified: August 28, 2023
Author: Jacob Lee

Transporting lithium batteries is a service that carriers all across the country have to perform for us to keep our electronic devices powered on. Whether it’s our car or computer, lithium batteries are used by people all across the U.S. for one reason or another. However, you can only ship this type of battery if you follow some of the fairly strict shipping regulations that accompany them.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the transport of lithium-ion batteries, including testing, documentation, packaging and hazard communication requirements.
  • Lithium batteries are most commonly shipped by ground, in both palletized and non-palletized forms.
  • Freight insurance is recommended for transporting lithium batteries given the dangerous nature of this hazmat commodity.

How Do You Transport Lithium Batteries?

The tops of lithium batteries that are standing up next to each other

The way lithium batteries are transported can vary. Some of the most common ways they’re transported include in one package, multiple palletized packages, or within the confines of a powered device or vehicle. Lithium batteries can also be shipped using different modes of transportation, the two most common within the U.S. being air and ground shipping.   

Air Shipping

Air shipping is notorious for being extremely fast and efficient. However, regulations for shipping lithium batteries by air are very strict. For example, lithium metal batteries in particular cannot be transported in a passenger aircraft as cargo, unless packed in a device they provide power for. 

Another regulation for air shipping lithium-ion batteries is that they can only be shipped off if they’re at a charge no higher than 30 percent. If air shipping is the mode of transportation you want to use, you need to make sure that you follow these regulations. Not complying with air shipping regulations can cost you up to $27,000. 

Ground Shipping

Ground shipping is another great method for transporting lithium batteries. Ground shipments are transported by trailer or within the confines of a delivery truck that make stops in residential areas. While transporting lithium batteries by truck will still require you to follow regulations, they won’t be nearly as strict as they would be by air. 

What Are the Risks and Dangers Of Transporting Lithium-Ion Batteries?

A battery power checker on large lithium batteries

Despite batteries being relatively safe, there are quite a few risks that can make transporting lithium batteries dangerous. Some of the potential risks, while rare, could occur during transit:

  • Explosions
  • Catching fire
  • Leaking chemicals
  • Toxic chemicals

Lithium batteries are susceptible to high temperatures. If the batteries start to overheat, a process called thermal runaway begins to take place. Thermal runaway is when the internal temperature and pressure of a battery start to rise. When thermal runaway occurs in one battery cell, it will spark a chain reaction of thermal runaway in the other battery cells near it.

This can cause lithium batteries to explode or catch fire. While rare, lithium batteries can also leak the hazardous materials that are carried within them. Its risks and dangers like these that are the reason there are so many rules for transporting lithium batteries. 

What Are the Regulations For Shipping Lithium Batteries?

Multiple batteries laying on a table

The Department Of Transportation (DOT) is the federal agency responsible for all regulations when it comes to transportation. To ship your lithium batteries across the country, you’ll have to do your part as a shipper to follow their rules. 

DOTs regulations for transporting lithium batteries are located in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Subpart 173.185 is where the specific regulations for lithium cells and batteries are located at. The responsibilities are highlighted in 173.185 of Title 49 of the CFR can be broken down into the following steps. 

  • Testing requirements 
  • Correct documentation
  • Packaging requirements
  • Hazard communication

In addition to these steps, there are also separate regulations for transporting lithium batteries for disposal and regulations for transporting damaged, defective and recalled lithium batteries. For the sake of this article, these regulations will apply to lithium ground battery shipments. 

For more details about the general requirements for hazmat goods, look into our article on what you need to know about freight shipping hazardous materials. 

Testing Requirements

The first DOT requirement that you will need to satisfy is the testing regulations. For lithium batteries to be offered for transport, they have to pass specific design tests prescribed by the United Nations Manual of Tests and Criteria. Section 38.3 of the UN manual is where lithium cell and battery tests are located.   

These tests simply verify that the batteries can be transported and can make their way through the supply chain without incident. You can verify with the manufacturer of the batteries, distributor or vendor to find out whether or not the batteries have passed these tests. However, DOT still requires that you make test summary documents available upon their request.  

Correct Documentation

There is some basic documentation that every truckload shipment is going to need. However, to ship lithium batteries across the country, you’re going to need to include an additional document called a Lithium Battery Safety Document. 

This document is used for both air and ground shipments. On the document is a table with information about lithium ion and lithium metal batteries. Simply check off the boxes that correspond with information listed on the sheet if it matches your lithium battery shipment. Afterward, you only need to give your phone number, name and address. 

The Lithium Battery Safety Document is easy to fill out and easy to find, as most carriers have a copy of the document on their website.

Packaging Requirements 

The packaging requirements that DOT stipulates can differ based on the characteristics of the lithium batteries that are being transported. Below is a list of the shipping guide numbers for lithium batteries:

  • Guide 01: UN 3480 Lithium Ion Batteries (fully regulated cells and batteries)
  • Guide 02: UN 3480 Lithium Ion Batteries (smaller cells and batteries)
  • Guide 03: UN 3481 Lithium Ion Batteries With or Contained In Equipment (fully regulated cells and batteries)
  • Guide 04: UN 3481 Lithium Ion Batteries Packed With Or Contained In Equipment (smaller cells and batteries)
  • Guide 05: UN 3090 Lithium Metal Batteries (Fully Regulated Cells and Batteries)
  • Guide 06: UN 3090 Lithium Metal Batteries (smaller cells and batteries)
  • Guide 07: UN 3091 Lithium Metal Batteries Packed With Or Contained In Equipment (fully regulated cells and batteries)
  • Guide 08: UN 3091 Lithium Metal Batteries With Or Contained In Equipment (smaller cells and batteries)
  • Guide 09: UN 3171 Battery-Powered Vehicle
  • Guide 10: UN 3536 Cargo Transport Units

You only have to figure out which guide best describes your shipment of lithium batteries to determine which one applies to you. Packaging requirements for each type of lithium share many similarities. 

The packaging requirements are essential to ensure that the lithium batteries receive the best possible protection. One stipulation that each of these guides demands is that the inner packaging of the container must be made of some type of non-metallic material. 

These materials must protect the battery or cell from coming into contact with electrically conductive materials. Another common theme across each of these guides is that the batteries or cells must be packed tightly together. Doing so will prevent them from shifting while they’re transported.  

Beyond these two recurring regulations, guides 01 through 08 have slightly varying regulations among each other. 

Hazard Communication

Hazard communication requirements refer to the marks and labels that will need to be attached to the box that your lithium batteries are traveling in. Like the packaging requirements, hazard communication guidelines can differ based on which shipping guide you’re going by. 

That said, one thing that you can expect to place on the package holding your lithium batteries is either the class of hazardous materials or the label with the UN ID number that applies to it. Typically, the guides that apply to fully regulated cells and batteries are the ones that require the hazard label which would apply to the following:   

  • Guide 1
  • Guide 3
  • Guide 5
  • Guide 7

Lithium batteries fall under miscellaneous hazard class 9. For lithium battery shipments that fall under the even number guides, you will need to include the UN ID number. Those guides are the following:

  • Guide 2 UN ID 3480
  • Guide 4 UN ID 3481
  • Guide 6 UN ID 3090
  • Guide 8 UN ID 3091

In addition to lithium battery shipments with the class nine hazard label, the UN ID number must also appear in the center of the box accompanied by the proper shipping name. The sample UN specifications package marking also needs to appear in the left bottom corner of one of the sides of the box. 

Regulations For Shipping Lithium Batteries For Disposal Or Recycle

Shipping lithium batteries off for disposal or to be recycled is a bit easier than it normally would be for regular shipments of lithium batteries. There are two exemptions from subpart 175.185 of the Title 40 of the CFR that lithium battery shipments for disposal or recycling are afforded. These exaemtptions are:

  • UN 38.3 Cell and battery testing
  • Specific packing requirements for the shipments (as long as there is strong outer packaging)

However, these exemptions will only apply if the batteries meet the conditions prescribed by the “fully regulated cells and batteries” shipping guides. If the lithium batteries you’re shipping to dispose of or recycle meet the “smaller cells and batteries” criteria, then the exemptions don’t apply. 

Our guide to hazardous waste transportation will help you with some of the generalities of hazmat disposal.

How to Ship Damaged, Defective or Recalled Lithium Batteries

Lithium battery shipments that qualify as damaged, defective or recalled are only permitted to be transported by ground. Other than this stipulation, batteries that are damaged, defective or recalled must be shipped by the regulations provided by the shipping guides we discussed above. 

Are Regulations For Transporting Palletized Shipments Of Lithium Batteries the Same? 

Lithium batteries with digital code printed on them

Whether your shipment of lithium batteries is traveling as non-palletized freight or palletized freight, the DOT regulations will be the same. However, when it comes to transporting palletized shipments of hazardous materials, pallet requirements might vary depending on the retailer or store you’re sending the batteries to. 

Retailers and stores are very particular about how they want freight secured to pallets and where labels should be placed. Fortunately, you can abide by both DOT lithium battery regulations and the pallet requirements dedicated by the store or retailer you’re shipping the lithium batteries to.

Two common places you might be sending palletized shipments of lithium batteries to are Amazon and Wal-Mart. We happen to have articles on Amazon pallet requirements and Wal-Mart pallet requirements if you need to get batteries to either of these businesses.  

Should I Get Insurance For My Lithium Battery Shipment?

A close up view of the tops of packaged lithium batteries

We’ve discussed what can go wrong when transporting lithium-ion batteries, as well as the regulations that are supposed to prevent them. Nonetheless, transporting lithium batteries still comes with risk and danger, even if all the proper regulations are fulfilled. 

There’s a chance that another piece of freight in the trailer traveling with your batteries could fall on top of them, damaging the box and the batteries inside. A liquid shipment could also spill and soak the box holding your lithium batteries. Therefore, it’s best to get some added protection for your shipment by obtaining insurance that will compensate you if an incident does occur. 

The data below shows why shipping insurance, especially for hazmat goods, is essential.

Highway HAZMAT Incidents by Year


Provided by DOT

Let R+L Global Logistics Handle Your Lithium Battery Shipment

At R+L Global Logistics, we’re experts at transporting lithium batteries and other bulk shipments of freight. As a 3PL that serves as the bridge between the customer and the carrier, we ensure that your shipment will be handled with the utmost care, speed and accuracy. 

We have multiple connections with various carriers all over the country that can handle transporting your shipment. In addition to providing you with some reliable carriers, we offer shipping insurance that will protect your goods if anything goes wrong with your shipment.

Lastly, we also offer consulting sessions that you can take advantage of. Consulting sessions will be useful because you will be able to learn about what regulations you will need to follow if you ship certain goods like hazmat materials. 

Don’t wait any longer, contact us today about our shipping insurance or consulting sessions. Or, you can fill out your free quote. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

USA Truckload Shipping Logo
© Copyright 2023 R+L Global Logistics

R+L Global Logistics
315 NE 14th St., Ocala, FL 34470

(866) 353-7178