One of the types of items that we find OPAS members are most interested in shipping are hand-held electronics like smartphones, tablets, laptops and other portable data devices and media players. In order for these items to carry the longest possible charge away from an outlet, the manufacturers of these devices use Lithium-Ion batteries to power them, which under the right circumstances can prove a fire hazard.
As such, international air couriers have to take certain precautions in shipping these items, and as a shipping company we must comply with these regulations and properly label all Lithium-Ion containing shipments.
First of all, there’s a difference between a battery and a cell. A cell is a single device – the sort of item that you may call a battery, one that you’d put in a handheld device to power it. A battery consists of multiple cells linked together.
Next, we have the various IATA/ICAO Packaging Instructions that deal with Lithium-Ion and Lithium-Metal batteries. These are known as PI 965-970, and Section II of these instructions details that a certain quantity of batteries/cells of a certain power can be shipped without Dangerous Goods handling assessed as long as they are labeled thusly.
PI 965 is for Lithium-Ion batteries/cells shipped independently of their equipment, like individual batteries or a portable recharger. PI 966 is for batteries/cells shipped along with the equipment they’re meant to power, like a replacement battery pack. PI 967 is used for batteries shipped already installed in the equipment they’re meant to power, like the battery in your laptop or cellphone. PI 968-970 correspond with the conditions of the previous listings but apply to Lithium-Metal batteries, which are less frequently used in consumer goods.
The next qualification of batteries/cells is their power level. This is usually measured in mAh, or milliamp hours. Unfortunately, this isn’t generally the most useful, as DHL, IATA/ICAO and other regulatory agencies measure on Wh, or wattage hours. To convert from mAh to Wh, you take the mAh and multiply it by the voltage, then divide by 1,000. So a 300 mAh, 5 Volt battery would rate at 1.5 Wh. (300 x 5 / 1000 = 1.5)
This is important, because any cell rated at 20+ Wh or battery at 100+ Wh is no longer eligible for the Section II exemption detailed above – it is considered Section I or IA, meaning that it is Dangerous Goods and subject to those particular handling restrictions and additional charges.
Luckily, most manufacturers understand this, so they keep their batteries and cells below this output to ensure they can be shipped with minimal hassle. Generally, a cell or battery has to be specifically designed to operate very power-hungry equipment or specially noted as “super charged” to exceed the 20/100 Wh restriction. A simple smartphone battery won’t do it.
There are some other Lithium-Ion battery shipment restrictions, but we’ve covered most of the main ones in this listing. You can reference the below link for further info:
One more thing – USPS will only allow shipment of Lithium-Ion battery items if they qualify for Section II of PI 967 – that is, if they are installed in the equipment they’re supposed to power. So you can use USPS to ship a laptop, but not a replacement battery for the smartphone you already have.
If you have any other questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with one of our IATA/ICAO certified Dangerous Goods shipping experts.