Transportation of Lithium Batteries

The Basics of UN 38.3 and its Requirements

25 April 2019

Lithium batteries are considered dangerous goods and as such, they must meet certain provisions laid out in the global UN 38.3 standard to be transported. This test standard is part of the dangerous good regulations, and focuses on their transportation, not their electrical safety. 

As such, it considers all points where a lithium battery may be transported, from: sub-suppliers to end-product manufacturer; manufacturer to distributor, in or out of the product, in the field, product return or within non-original packaging. It requires several tests:

  • Tests 1-5, conducted on the same samples, in order, on all battery types:
    • Altitude simulation (Test T1)
    • Thermal testing (Test T2)
    • Vibration (Test T3)
    • Shock (Test T4)
    • External short circuit (Test T5)
  • Test T6, conducted on the primary and secondary cells, evaluates impact and crush
  • Test T7 is intended for secondary batteries, assessing effects of an overcharge
  • Test T8 is also conducted on the primary and secondary cells, assessing forced discharge

The most recent update, 6th Edition, Amendment 1, went into effect at the start of the year, and it includes several key changes:

  • Integrated batteries: Updated to allow testing of batteries within equipment.
  • Disassembly: Allows for additional test criteria; We recommend any cases that may be considered "borderline" disassembly to be treated as test failures.
  • Rechargeable batteries considerations: Changes to the cycling requirements reducing to 25 charge/discharge cycles prior to test, from 50 previously; also updates testing tables to reflect these changes.
  • Test summary: Now clearly defines "battery test summary," as well as the requirement that the test summary "shall be made available." Additionally, it notes the requirement for the name and title of the signatory as an indication of validity.

To adhere to the basics of UN 38.3 it is important to get test reports from cell vendors and subcontractors and to complete the test summary for your shipments, maintaining the supporting information. Always consider what level or subassembly of battery will be offered for shipment. The "Battery Assembly" clauses are useful for larger assemblies, as long as cell and "subassembly" level of battery is already tested. Identify the samples tested and the models/versions to be covered by a single test report.  Be aware of model number changes, which may call the test summary into question.

This is the first in a two-part series on UN 38.3; keep an eye out for the second post, which is coming soon. For more insights into the basics of UN 38.3, including answers to common questions, download our complimentary webinar recording.

Rich Byczek is the global technical lead for electric vehicle and energy storage at Intertek. He has more than 20 years of experience in product development and validation testing, and is an expert in the areas of energy storage, audio equipment and EMC. Rich sits on several SAE, IEC, UL and ANSI standards panels.