Transportation of lithium batteries by motor carriers

May 6, 2021 | Ellen Kim, Louis Amato-Gauci

Transportation of products containing lithium batteries by motor carriers is becoming increasingly common. This type of battery is found throughout items we use in daily life and can be divided into two categories: lithium ion and lithium metal. Lithium ion batteries are rechargeable and can typically be found in cell phones, laptops and other electronic gadgets. Lithium metal batteries are non-rechargeable and are often found in items such as calculators, pacemakers and watches.

Despite their common usage, lithium batteries are classified as Class 9 dangerous goods under Canada’s Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations, SOR/2001-286 (“TDG Regulations”) enacted pursuant to the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, SC 1992, c 34    (the “Act”). As such, they are subject to several transportation and handling regulatory requirements, including the following:

  • having proper shipping documents for transporting the dangerous goods;
  • using specific safety marks on both the immediate and shipping container which holds the dangerous goods;
  • following specific packaging requirements depending on the size of the immediate container which holds the dangerous goods; and
  • ensuring that those who handle, offer for transport or transport the dangerous goods have proper training and certification.

The TDG Regulations, however, include an exemption which allows the transportation of lithium batteries without meeting the above the regulatory requirements under certain circumstances (“Special Provision 34”).

We note that some of the exemption conditions distinguish between “cells” and “batteries.” Cells are single electrochemical units such as AA and AAA batteries, while batteries are two or more cells that are electrically connected, such as cell phone batteries.

Special Provision 34

Motor carriers must meet several requirements in order to qualify for the Special Provision 34 exemption. As a preliminary matter, each cell and battery type must meet each of the following: [1]

  • the cell or battery type must pass various tests as set out in the United Nation’s Manual of Tests and Criteria. This includes tests simulating low pressure conditions, rapid and extreme temperature changes, vibration during transport, cumulative shocks, an external short circuit, an impact/crash, an overcharge and a forced discharge;
  • each cell or battery must have a safety venting device or be designed to prevent a violent rupture under normal conditions of transport;
  • each cell or battery must be equipped to prevent external short circuits; and
  • each battery containing cells or a series of cells connected in parallel must be equipped with diodes, fuses or other devices that prevent dangerous reverse current flow.

If each of the above criteria is met, then the carrier must also meet each of the following exemption conditions to qualify under Special Provision 34:

  • Cells/battery conditions: Lithium ion cells must have a maximum watt-hour rating of 20 Wh while batteries must have 100 Wh. Lithium metal cells must have a maximum aggregate lithium content of 1g, while batteries must have 2g.
  • Total gross mass of cells and batteries: This must be a maximum 30 kg, unless installed in or packed with equipment.
  • Safety mark displayed on the means of containment: The TDG Regulations set out the particular image of the safety mark that must be used. This safety mark must indicate all applicable identification numbers as set out in the TDG Regulations and must be 120mm wide and 110mm high, with the border hatching at least 5mm wide. If the means of containment is an irregular shape or size, the mark must be at least 105 mm wide and 74 mm high, and every symbol, letter and number on the mark must be reduced proportionately. However, if there are no more than four cells or two batteries installed in the equipment, then safety labels are not required to meet this exemption.
  • Enclosed packaging: The means of containment which holds the goods must completely enclose them.
  • Packed to withstand a drop: The container which holds the cells and batteries must be capable of withstanding a 1.2 meter drop test without: (i) damaging the cells or batteries; (ii) causing battery-to-battery or cell-to-cell contact; and (iii) releasing its contents.

The above-noted requirements do not apply to cells and batteries installed in devices that are intentionally active during transport. These include radio frequency identification transmitters, watches and sensors, and devices that are not capable of generating a dangerous evolution of heat.

For cells and batteries installed in equipment, each of the following exemption conditions will also apply:

  • Protection against short circuit: There must be protection against contact with conductive materials within the same packaging that could lead to a short circuit.
  • Protection against accidental activation: Cells and batteries installed in equipment must be placed in a way that prevents accidental activation.
  • Protection against release of dangerous goods: Cells and batteries installed in equipment must be packed within a container that will not result in the release of dangerous goods during normal conditions of transport and handling.

Limited Quantity Exemption

In addition to Special Provision 34, there is another exemption under the TDG Regulations that may apply to the transportation of certain dangerous goods. This exemption generally states that if the dangerous goods are under a certain specified gross mass, then the transportation requirements under the TDG Regulations will not apply. However, we note that for lithium batteries, the TDG Regulations state that the maximum mass is 0, meaning that this particular exemption cannot apply. As such, lithium batteries do not qualify for the limited quantity exemption.

Conclusion

Although lithium batteries are considered dangerous goods and subject to a number of regulatory requirements, those engaged in transporting goods containing these batteries may be able to rely on an exemption under the TDG Regulations if all of the applicable criteria for the exemption are met. Motor carriers should consider whether their shipments include lithium batteries and work with the shipper to understand whether the shipment might meet the requirements of the Special Provision 34 to decrease the carrier’s regulatory compliance burden.

If you have any questions regarding lithium battery requirements for carriers, please feel free to reach out to any member of Miller Thomson’s Transportation & Logistics team.


[1] Section 2.43.1(2) of the TDG Regulations

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