Transporting Lithium Batteries in Australia
Lithium batteries are categorized as dangerous goods in transport, and are classified under Class 9 "Miscelleneous Dangerous Goods" and have their own transport label which fully replaces the general Class 9 label after 31 December 2018.
In Australia, the transportation of items with lithium batteries in them or with them are subject to the Australian Dangerous Goods Code of Practice (ADG) and the Act and Regulation governing the transportation of hazardous goods in Australia. (See this website for links to these documents.)
Lithium batteries are used in many electronic devices such as cameras, cell phones, laptop computers, medical equipment and power tools.
Cause for Concern
While most lithium batteries are safe, some have overheated and caught fire. Once ignited, they can cause any nearby batteries to overheat and catch fire. These fires are difficult to put out and produce toxic and irritating fumes.
Counterfeit and no-brand lithium batteries are also of concern because they may not have been safety tested. They may be poorly designed, have little protection, or contain manufacturing flaws.
A well known case involving lithium battery failures is the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 incident of 2016 when it was found that a manufacturing defect in the phones' batteries had caused some of them to generate excessive heat, resulting in fires and even explosions. Some of these incidents had occurred on flights. After a worldwide recall, Samsung discontinued the product. (The results of Samsung's thorough investigation into the matter revealed that the overheating was caused by separate problems in batteries sourced from two different suppliers.)
Other incidents involving the failure of lithium batteries include:
Computer batteries heating up and causing fires on cargo and passenger aircraft.
A charging lithium ion battery exploded on a mini-submarine designed to carry U.S. Navy SEALs to shore.
A passenger's camera batteries began smoking at the boarding gate.
Two large battery packs in a checked baggage began smouldering. The bag burst into flames when an airline agent picked it up.
During a flight, crew found a flashlight's counterfeit lithium metal battery overheating and giving off a strong odour. The damaged battery burned the inside of the flashlight.
Preventing lithium batteries from short circuit is very important to keep them from overheating and catching fire. Lithium batteries need to be kept isolated from metal objects (e.g. jewelry, keys) or other conductive materials by enclosing each one separately and insulating terminals with a non-conductive material (e.g. electrical tape). They must be packed so they cannot shift during transport.
A lithium battery inside equipment is protected from short circuit because it is secured in the actual device and cannot move around during transport. One needs to make sure no switches or power buttons can be accidentally turned on during transport.
What is the difference between a "lithium metal battery" and a "lithium ion battery"?
A lithium metal battery (primary) is usually non-rechargeable, contains metallic lithium and features a higher energy density than other non-rechargeable batteries. Lithium metal batteries are often used in calculators, pacemakers, remote car locks and watches, to name a few.
A lithium ion battery (secondary) is rechargeable, does not contain metallic lithium and features high energy density. A lithium polymer battery is considered a type of lithium ion battery. Lithium ion batteries are used in consumer products such as mobile phones, electric vehicles, laptop computers, power tools, and tablets.
What is the difference between "contained in equipment" and "packed with equipment"?
A lithium ion or metal battery contained in equipment means that the battery is fitted or joined to the actual device. Examples include a calculator, laptop computer or watch—with an integrated lithium battery.
A lithium ion or metal battery packed with equipment is not fitted or joined to the device. An example would be a power tool packed alongside a spare battery.
Common couriers and Postal service rules for transporting lithium batteries
Australia Post: Per their website (2018), Australia Post can carry only the following types of lithium batteries in domestic or international post: Lithium ion (rechargeable) - 20 watt-hour per cell or 100 watt-hour per battery, Lithium metal (non-rechargeable) - one gram per cell or two grams per battery. Lithium batteries can only be sent domestically by air if the battery or cell (maximum of two batteries or four individual cells) are installed in the device and meet all the packaging requirements of the ADG Code. Recalled, damaged or non-conforming cells or batteries are also prohibited from being sent by Australia Post.
Pack & Send: Per their website (2018), Pack and Send does not carry dangerous goods. To use them every customer must sign a "No Dangerous Goods" declaration for ever on their consignment. No consignments are accepted without this signed declaration. Their website also states that "Pack & Send may at its discretion accept some dangerous goods for carriage (such as Lithium Batteries.) Your dangerous goods will only be accepted if they comply with the applicable regulations, codes and technical instructions and our requirements."
Couriers Please: Couriers Please does not accept any dangerous goods on any domestic or international services. They make special mention on their website that they do not transport lithium batteries. They name laptops, mobile phones, power tools, toys, cameras and watches as items they do not carry.
Hunter Express: The website of Hunter Express (2018) says that they do not carry "hazardous or dangerous goods such as flammables, toxins, acid, aerosols, oils, fuels, asbestos." There is no mention of lithium batteries but it is clear that they do not carry dangerous goods in the first place.
Fastway Couriers. Their website states that they do not carry any dangerous goods.
Allied Express. This is a major transport and logistics company with an overnight courier service and last-minute VIP courier services. Per their website (2018) they do not transport dangerous goods of any kind.
Australian Dangerous Goods regulations for transporting lithium batteries
The information following is compiled from the Australian Dangerous Goods Code Version 7.5 (2017)
Cells and batteries, cells and batteries contained in equipment, or cells and batteries packed with equipment, containing lithium in any form must be assigned to UN Nos. 3090, 3091, 3480 or 3481 as appropriate. They may be transported under these entries if they meet certain provisions of the ADG Code.
There are no Concessional Limited Quantities (CLQ) provisions for lithium batteries.
Per Special Provision 188 of the ADG Code, cells and batteries offered for transport are not subject to other provisions of the Code if they meet the following:
(a) For a lithium metal or lithium alloy cell, the lithium content is not more than 1 g, and for a lithium ion cell, the Watt-hour rating is not more than 20 Wh;
(b) For a lithium metal or lithium alloy battery the aggregate lithium content is not more than 2 g, and for a lithium ion battery, the Watt-hour rating is not more than 100 Wh. Lithium ion batteries subject to this provision must be marked with the Watt-hour rating on the outside case, except those manufactured before 1 January 2009;
(c) Each cell or battery meets the provisions of ADG Code 2.9.4 (a) and (e) - see here.
(d) Cells and batteries, except when installed in equipment, must be packed in inner packagings that completely enclose the cell or battery. Cells and batteries must be protected so as to prevent short circuits. This includes protection against contact with conductive materials within the same packaging that could lead to a short circuit. The inner packagings must be packed in strong outer packagings which conform to the specified provisions of the ADG Code,
(e) Cells and batteries when installed in equipment must be protected from damage and short circuit, and the equipment must be equipped with an effective means of preventing accidental activation. This requirement does not apply to devices which are intentionally active in transport (radio frequency identification [RFID] transmitters, watches, sensors, etc.) and which are not capable of generating a dangerous evolution of heat;
(f) Each package shall be marked with the appropriate lithium battery mark - see here with the exception of:
(i) packages containing only button cell batteries installed in equipment (including circuit boards); and
(ii) packages containing no more than four cells or two batteries installed in equipment, where there are not more than two packages in the consignment.
(g) Except when lithium batteries are installed in equipment, each package must be capable of withstanding a 1.2 meter drop test in any orientation without damage to cells or batteries contained therein, without shifting of the contents so as to allow battery to battery (or cell to cell) contact and without release of contents;
(h) Except when lithium batteries are installed in or packed with equipment, packages must not exceed 30 kg gross mass. As used above and elsewhere in the Code, “lithium content” means the mass of lithium in the anode of a lithium metal or lithium alloy cell.