How to send by courier … lithium and acid batteries

Batteries, especially traction batteries, i.e. ones used in electric vehicles or cars, are a real hot potato for couriers. Incorrectly packed and ineffectively protected they can spark, generate dangerous amounts of heat, and also create the risk of leakage of electrolyte, which contains mainly sulphuric acid. How to safely pack batteries?

The difficulty associated with shipping batteries by courier parcel is proportional to their size. The second factor affecting the safety of the shipment is the technology applied to produce batteries.

Small battery – small problem

Shipment of small size batteries is relatively simple and safe due to their technology, their low weight and the small amount of electrolyte. The chemistry of popular AA/AAA, button or rectangular batteries, or batteries used to power tools and toys, may differ – they may be zinc-carbon (the electrolyte is an aqueous solution of ammonium chloride or zinc chloride), alkaline, mercury or zinc-air type (in all three types, potassium hydroxide is the electrolyte) and very popular lithium-ion (lithium salts in organic solvents). Substances that act as the electrolyte in batteries could pose a significant threat while being transported, were it not for their small quantity. The probability of unsealing the batteries while the package is damaged is really low. However, this does not release you from sticking to the principles of prudent and careful packaging.

It is easiest to ship batteries in their original packaging. All you need is protection against slippage in the package and the appropriate thickness of the filler, which, in case the package falls or is hit, will act as cushioning to protect against mechanical damage. What to do if you have batteries without their original packaging?

How to pack a large battery or a large number of small batteries?

However, if you do not have the original packaging or you want to ship larger batteries, such as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), you should spend more time on assuring they are packed safely. Below, you will find the most important recommendations in the order in which they should be applied while packing:

  1. electrode protection – you should protect the electrodes against short circuiting  (if they are inside powered devices, e.g. toys) – the easiest way is to seal them with insulating tape,
  2. airtight non-conductive packaging – batteries with insulated electrodes should be placed in sealed and non-conductive packaging, e.g. foil sachets that protect other items in the package in the event of the battery leaking and spilling electrolyte,
  3. protection against movement – if you send a larger number of small batteries, you should combine them into one compact package and adjust the size of the outside box to fit, leaving space for the filler – you can similarly adjust the cardboard packaging to a single large battery,
  4. protection against mechanical damage – it is especially important in the case of large and heavy batteries, for which a fall even from a low height or a heavy impact is likely to cause serious damage.

A rule that does not apply directly to packaging, but is closely related to the security of the shipment, is the prohibition of sending batteries past their expiry date. Old, worn out, and often damaged batteries may spill electrolyte or generate large amounts of heat, and even cause the package to ignite.

More complicated – acid battery in a package

Courier companies do not rule out the transport of acid batteries, i.e. batteries with a significant amount of liquid electrolyte. If you notify the courier that the item inside the package is an acid battery, it will be handled with special care –  it will avoid flipping or tipping over, which will minimise the risk of damage and leaks. To ship in accordance with the regulations, several conditions must be met. The first is to check whether the battery itself is well sealed. The battery must not have damaged casing or traces of electrolyte leakage on external surfaces. It is necessary to protect the electrodes with appropriate pads or wraps made of professional insulation tape. Regardless of its size, the battery should be placed in an airtight package made of non-conductive material. It can be a plastic crate or barrel. The proper amount of filler should prevent the battery from sliding inside the container. The final stage of preparation is choosing the mode of transport. Large traction batteries require securing on a pallet. However, smaller batteries, sealed in an airtight container, can be put into a cardboard box. Of course, it is necessary to apply appropriate filler to ensure proper cushioning and mark the packages with labels informing about the need to handle with care and ensure the correct vertical position.

Whoever takes the risk, pays

Of course, there is always some blockhead, who – behaving as usual – packs the battery in a cardboard box and sends it by standard courier service. Interestingly, sometimes they are lucky and it gets sent. However, it is worth noting that if you send a package without disclosing the real contents on the consignment note, you may face serious financial consequences. In case of any problems, you will pay fines imposed by the courier company, cover the costs of losses caused by your shipment (e.g. damage to other parcels and goods being carried) and you will not receive any compensation for damage to the battery you sent. It is easy to calculate that trying to be “smart” can cost significantly more than the value of the battery and the price of its shipment in compliance with regulations.