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Regulatory Alert: Transportation of Lithium Batteries

On August 6, 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA) published a final rule revising the requirements in the U.S. hazardous materials regulations (HMR) applicable to the transportation of lithium batteries. The revisions include changes to hazardous communication and packaging provisions for lithium batteries and harmonizes the HMR with international standards including applicable provisions of the United Nations (UN) Model Regulations, the International Civil Aviation Organizations (ICAO) Technical Instructions and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.


PHMSA’s revisions to the lithium battery requirements are significant in that they impact labeling, documentation and packaging requirements for lithium ion and lithium metal batteries and cells as well as equipment that contain lithium cells and batteries. The rules will apply to any person or entity that offers lithium batteries or equipment containing lithium batteries for transportation in commerce by ground, air or vessel.

The major changes included in the final rule are as follows:

  • The terms “equivalent lithium content” and “aggregate lithium content” used to classify lithium-ion batteries by size have been replaced by a battery or cell’s Watt-hour (Wh) rating
  • Separate shipping descriptions and UN numbers are adopted for lithium metal batteries and lithium ion batteries
  • The requirements for transportation of “small” and “medium” cells and batteries have been revised to align with international standards
  • Lithium cells or batteries shipped for disposal or recycling are excepted from record-keeping and specification packaging requirements when packed in a strong outer packaging and transported by motor vehicle to a permitted storage facility or disposal site
  • Regulations concerning the transportation of low production and prototype lithium cells and batteries are aligned with international standards
  • New regulations requiring recalled, damaged and defective lithium batteries to be packaged in combination packages, surrounded by non-conductive cushioning material, and transported by highway, rail or vessel only, with consideration of situations requiring air transport on a case-by-case basis

The rule also maintains PHMSA’s current prohibition against transportation of lithium metal cells and batteries aboard passenger aircraft, regardless of size, when the cells and batteries are NOT packed with or in equipment.

The rule is effective on February 6, 2015. However, PHSMA encourages affected parties to begin voluntary compliance immediately. The changes are expected to simplify compliance for shippers and transporters of lithium batteries and alleviate confusion between ground and air shipments.

“Our continuing efforts to harmonize U.S. Hazardous Materials Regulations with international standards improve consistency in procedures and terminology when shipping lithium batteries around the globe,” noted PHMSA Administrator Cynthia L. Quarterman.

Companies who offer or transport lithium batteries should ensure that any hazardous material shipping procedures for lithium batteries are revised to reflect the new requirements. Additionally, hazardous materials employers will be required to ensure that employees responsible for any pre-transportation functions relating to lithium batteries are provided with function-specific training on the revised lithium battery regulations.

A copy of the final rule is available for review on PHMSA’s website.



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