The transportation of lead acid batteries by road, sea and air is heavily regulated in most countries. Lead acid is defined by United Nations numbers as either:
- UN2794 – Batteries, Wet, Filled with acid – Hazard Class 8 (labeling required)
- UN2800 – Batteries, Wet, Non-spillable – Hazard Class 8 (labeling required)
The definition of ‘non-spillable’ is important. A battery that is sealed is not necessarily non-spillable. The meaning is defined in the US by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR 173.159A) and the International Air Transport Association ( IATA Section 4.4, Special Provision A67) as a battery containing “no free-flowing liquid, and the electrolyte must not flow from a cracked case at 55°C (131°F)“.
Most Sealed Lead Acid batteries using Gel or Absorbent Glass Matt (AGM) technology is classed as non-spillable while even a ‘sealed’ standard lead acid battery with liquid electrolyte is spillable.
The information detailed in this article covers all known requirements, however all carriers have their own rules and regulations regarding how lead acid should be shipped. If you do not ship this product type regularly, it would be wise to contact your chosen carrier in order to double check if they have any specific restrictions or packaging and labeling regulations.
UN2794 – Batteries, Wet, Filled with acid
For all methods of transport the U.S. legal requirements are laid down in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR 173.159) which state:
- Batteries should be individually wrapped so that there is no chance of the terminals coming into contact with any external material or other battery terminals in the same package – plastic is recommended. Exposed terminals should have separate covers attached.
- Where this type of battery is being shipped the vehicle can contain no other hazardous material with the exception of battery acid.
- If there are multiple batteries there should be packaging designed to specifically separate them from each other.
- Where batteries are stacked the terminals should not form part of the stacking structure. The batteries should be placed in boxes strong enough to withstand the weight on their own.
- The package should be labelled with the Hazardous Materials 8 label that also include the UN number and proper description “Batteries, Wet, Filled with acid”.
- If the battery is fitted in an appliance there must be appropriate packaging to prevent the appliance from accidentally being switched on.
The regulations also include great detail on maximum package weight and height as well as defining the materials which can be used for packaging in various circumstances. If you are shipping more than one or two batteries at a time you will need to familiarize yourself with these requirements.
When transporting by air
- Packaging is regulated by IATA Section 5, Packing Instruction 870 which, in addition to the above requirements, specifies that the battery must be contained within an “acid/alkali-proof liner of sufficient strength and adequately sealed to positively preclude leakage in the event of spillage.”
- Batteries must be packed so that any fill openings or vents are at the top, even if they are sealed closed.
- The package must have a “Package Orientation” label.
- If being transported on a passenger aircraft any one package can be no more than 55lbs (25kg) in weight (there is no limit for cargo only aircraft).
UN2800 – Batteries, Wet, Non-spillable
Non-spillable lead acid batteries (those that use Gel or Absorbent Glass Matt technology) require the same packaging as those filled with acid with the following differences:
- No acid proof liner is required.
- The box must be clearly marked “Non-spillable battery”. Labels are available but there is no specific requirement other than that it must be, in the words of the IATA, “plainly and durably marked”. Note that although this is an IATA requirement many sea and ground carriers stipulate it as well.
Shipping damaged lead acid batteries
Carriers will usually require these to be drained of acid and enclosed in an acid proof liner. Some may state that the battery is also covered with soda ash (which neutralizes acid). Check with your carrier for specific regulations.
Shipping lead acid batteries for recycling
Just because your lead acid battery won’t do what you want it to do like start and engine does not mean that it is completely dead. Shorting out the terminals could still cause over-heating, an explosion or a fire. As such, so long as the battery is not damaged (see above), the same regulations apply as those described above for shipping new batteries.
I would disconnect all the Negative Cables first.
Negative cable FIRST, then positive. Do this to avoid sparking any grounded metal around the battery or welding your wrench or worse a ring on your hand and shocking yourself. There will be no spark if you are disconnecting the negative. Be careful not to allow a wrench to touch a positive and negative terminal / wire at the same time, which could cause electrocution.
Use a wrench with an insulated handle. Safety glasses recommended.
To replace, Positive cable first, negative LAST
Also smart to take a photo before you touch anything. Use black and red tape to clearly identify cables going to negative and positive terminals.