Are Li-ion Batteries HazMat Material?

Li-ion Batteries HazMat Material

Are Li-ion batteries HazMat material? In some cases, yes. On May 16, the postal service stopped shipping iPads, Kindles, laptops, and other items overseas. You wouldn’t think this was a big deal except that, well, lots of our troops are located there and families can no longer (legally) send them electronics powered by Lithium-ion batteries… at least not by US mail. Lithium batteries have been implicated in at least two fatal cargo plane crashes since 2006, including a UPS jet in Dubai. As a result, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the US DOT (and FAA), and IATA are preparing to implement new lithium battery shipping regulations that will actually require Class 9 HazMat (Dangerous Goods) labeling for smaller lithium batteries in addition to package testing requirements.

Are Li-ion Batteries HazMat Material?

Turning our eyes back home, has the government-led USPS simply shot itself in the foot (temporarily, at least)… or is it just ahead of the curve?

To figure this out, we need to look at several big issues which are facing lithium battery shippers this year (and if you think this won’t affect sales prices of tools, you’re not looking hard enough):

  1. Increased enforcement and focus on both ground and ocean shipments.
  2. Pending new regulations for Domestic Air and International Air Shipping that may treat any lithium battery or cell, over 2.7 Wh as “HazMat” when shipped in certain packaging configurations (that’s a battery smaller than the average size of the ones typically found in point-and-shoot cameras). The current threshold between “excepted” batteries and “HazMat/DG” batteries is 100 Wh. These rules have already been approved by the international community (ICAO/IATA) and right now are in the process of being adopted by the US DOT. The final word is expected soon.
  3. And for those that use the postal service – there’s the recent USPS ban on shipments of lithium batteries in international mail. Though the ban is set to expire January 1, 2013, increased regulations and packaging/handling costs could make the shipment of Lithium-ion more difficult.

Now, all is not lost. For starters, as we said, the USPS is telling customers that by January 1, 2013, things will go back to normal – at least regarding small quantities of lithium batteries that are properly installed in the personal electronic devices they are intended to operate. But what about now? Well, you either fail to declare the contents of your packages (which is illegal) or you pay considerably more for international service from the likes of FedEx, DHL, UPS or some other carrier.

Why the Increased Regulation?

Fires. That’s what’s going on. Lithium-ion batteries are catching on fire, even as they are catching on like wildfire (pun intended) and there is very little in the way of monitoring safety controls on manufacturers and their processes. With everyone (mostly in China) jumping on the bandwagon, there’s always a potential of things slipping through the cracks… or overheating and blowing up as seems to be the case with some of these batteries.

Because of accidents like truck fires, shipping container fires, and plane crashes, lithium batteries are now one of the most important focuses of the US DOT for Ground Shipping, by the Coast Guard for Ocean shipping and by the FAA for Air Shipping.

Here are some charts outlining the actual changes by the numbers:

PI 965 – Section II Package Limits Table – By Watt-hour rating

Contents Lithium-ion cells and/or batteries with a Watt-hour rating not more than 2.7  Wh Lithium-ion cells with a Watt-hour rating more than 2.7 Wh, but not more than 20 Wh Lithium-ion batteries with a Watt-hour rating more than 2.7 Wh, but not more than 100 Wh
Maximum number of cells / batteries per package No limit 8 cells 2 batteries
Maximum net quantity (mass) per package 2.5 kg n/a n/a

PI 968 – Section II Package Limits Table – By Lithium Content

Contents Lithium metal cells and/or batteries with a lithium content not more than 0.3 g Lithium metal cells with a lithium content more than 0.3 g but not more than 1 g Lithium metal batteries with a lithium content more than 0.3 g but not more than 2 g
Maximum number of cells / batteries per package No limit 8 cells 2 batteries
Maximum net quantity (mass) per package 2.5 kg n/a n/a

Note: A package may contain either cells/batteries of not more than 2.7 Wh or 0.3 g or lithium-ion cells not exceeding 20 Wh / lithium metal cells not exceeding 1 g or lithium-ion batteries not exceeding 100 Wh / lithium metal batteries not exceeding 2 g.

Is Lithium-ion Going to Get More Expensive?

Even as the pricing for Lithium-ion continues to drop, this hanging liability and increased regulatory pressure are in direct opposition to the falling prices. Cordless power tools and electronics manufacturers are used to the special packaging and certification requirements for larger battery packs. But what about when new regulations cause companies to have to certify and recertify new employees for smaller-sized batteries? What about the increased packaging and safety requirements and shipping regulations? What about the increased liability? Costs are bound to increase as a result.

In 2013 some small batteries shipments, when packed more than 2 to a box (or more than 8 cells in total), will actually be considered “HazMat” and be required to be labeled with a Class 9 Hazard Label and marked with the proper shipping name and UN number. Additionally, each employer who uses employees to pack these boxes, prepare the paperwork, and load or drive the trucks will be considered “HazMat Employees” under 49 CFR 171.8.

And what about returns? Consumers could get caught up in this mess as well. How many hundreds or thousands of consumers will unknowingly break the law by returning a product to a manufacturer without proper regulatory procedures? For people in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam this will be a particularly important consideration as ground shipping options are limited or not available.

So What’s Next?

Expect manufacturers to begin taking these new regulations into account. Prices may go up if the increased costs aren’t met by a decrease in costs due to manufacturing efficiencies. Smaller companies may also suffer from increased costs due to finding themselves designated as a “HazMat Employer”, responsible for not just informing but “certifying” their employees involved in packaging these boxes, loading or driving trucks, and of course anyone involved in offering these shipments to the carriers.

Some shipments will require new HazMat labels. For example, in 2012 a half dozen small camera batteries shipped alone just need an “Excepted Lithium Battery Handling Label” on the box… But in January 2013 they will also need a Class 9 Hazard Label and Hazardous Materials marking of the proper shipping name and UN number. That’s a 4-inch label that has to go on the box. This may fundamentally change the way batteries are packaged and the number of products that can be sent on containers.

Will the next line of 12V and 18V tools need to be shipped with HazMat labels? We’re not sure, but in either case they may come with some added costs due to new regulations. We’ll just have to keep our eyes peeled to see how manufacturers tackle these new added regulations.

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