Lithium battery transport research

This page contains abstracts of research on lithium battery transport done by the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Directorate.

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Evaluation and analysis of substandard lithium-ion batteries by UN 38.3 testing – March 2023

Lithium-ion batteries are a class 9 dangerous good and can start a fire if they’re damaged, mishandled, or defective. To minimize this hazard, lithium-ion batteries shipped in Canada must pass United Nations (UN) Manual of Tests and Criteria Part III, Subsection 38.3 (UN 38.3) before they are transported.

There are concerns that some sellers may be shipping substandard lithium-ion batteries (ones that fail UN 38.3). This study tried to find out if substandard batteries are being transported, and if they pose a greater risk to the transportation system and public safety.

We chose replacement batteries for three (3) models of power tools and one (1) smartphone to test. We chose these models by looking at the bestselling or highest selling lithium-ion battery products on major online stores.

For each model, we bought:

  • one (1) set from the original equipment manufacturer
  • five (5) sets from third-party battery manufacturers

In all, we tested 24 sets to the UN 38.3 criteria.

All packaging and labels were documented and compared to the appropriate regulations for dangerous goods transportation. We did this to determine if there were any trends between packaging, labelling, and the battery being substandard.

We opened and examined batteries we found to be substandard to determine what the issues were (teardown analysis). We also removed and examined the cells inside these batteries separately.


  • All (4 of 4) sets of batteries from the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) passed UN 38.3 testing
  • Third-party (non-OEM) replacement batteries are more likely to be non-compliant with UN 38.3 tests (10 of 20), and thus can present a higher safety risk during transportation than their OEM counterparts:
    • seven (7) sets failed in the vibration test because their voltage dropped below the test limit
    • five (5) sets failed in short circuit and/or overcharge tests because they caused a fire and explosion
    • three (3) sets that failed were also transported by air, at a state of charge greater than 30% (which is not allowed)
  • Third-party replacement batteries with a high voltage (e.g., 20V) are more likely to be non-compliant with UN 38.3 tests than third-party replacement batteries with a lower voltage.
  • Most suppliers couldn’t produce a UN 38.3 Test Summary when asked
  • More than half of the packages had missing or incorrect labels, including from original equipment and third-party manufacturers
  • We found no trend between UN 38.3 test failures and package weight, handling, marketplace, seller, courier, packaging & labelling compliance, or mode of transport
    • however, for only the sets that caused fire and explosion, we observed the substandard batteries were cheaper, lighter, and had typos on the labels compared to OEM batteries
  • Our teardown analysis revealed issues in cells used in substandard batteries made them more likely to seriously fail in UN 38.3 testing

To help address the safety risks identified by this study, Transport Canada is developing strategies to increase awareness and compliance with safety requirements.

Learn more

Read a summary of the report: Evaluation and analysis of substandard lithium-ion batteries by UN 38.3 testing

To get a copy of the reports, please contact us

TP Number: TP 15550E

ISBN: 978-0-660-46834-1

Catalogue: T44-3/33-2022E-PDF


Assessment of the environmental conditions for lithium batteries shipping – October 2019

Every year, large quantities of lithium-ion cells and batteries (LiB) are shipped around the world by air. If they’re damaged, mishandled or have manufacturing defects, they can ignite and start a fire. Several incidents have already occurred when LiBs have been shipped.

To mitigate these risks, LiBs are required to pass the UN’s Manual of Tests and Criteria, Sub-Section 38.3 (UN 38.3), before they’re prepared for transport. UN 38.3 outlines testing to minimize hazards that might occur during transportation by all modes, including air.

To better understand the conditions LiBs experience in transport, Transport Canada shipped several instrumented packages. LiB packages weighing 5 kg and 32 kg with data loggers were sent to Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and within North America. The packages logged environmental & physical conditions (temperature, pressure, humidity, shock and vibration) during transport. This lets us compare what packages experience with different destinations.

We also sent packages via several couriers. Some instrumented packages included lithium-ion batteries, while others did not. The packages that included lithium batteries were labelled with appropriate dangerous goods markings. The goal was to compare the handling differences of regular packages versus dangerous goods marked packages.

Our study found:

  • most LiB packages in our study experienced environmental conditions within the test limits of UN 38.3
  • environmental & physical conditions were about the same, no matter the package’s weight, markings, or courier used
  • one package marked as a dangerous good was dropped from a height higher than specified in UN 38.3, occurring at the courier’s sorting facility
  • many packages were exposed to humid environments, becoming less rigid after being stored for a long time
  • some packages experienced levels of random vibrations that were above the limit recommended for air transportation, during transportation by rail or road
  • handling conditions were inconsistent, so package shock profiles varied regardless of their weight and dangerous goods markings

Recommendations to improve the safety of LiB shipments include:

  • that all couriers should use best practices to make sure that only properly packaged and marked LiBs enter the transportation system
  • looking into the effects that high humidity, vibrations and large drops have on packages

Full report: Assessment of the environmental conditions for lithium batteries shipping

Review of environmental conditions during freight transportation – October 2016

As the global demand for lithium batteries continues to increase, so does the demand for safe shipping particularly by air.

In this study, NRC assesses the environmental, mechanical and human induced conditions that lithium batteries are exposed to while in the transportation cycle. The study focuses on the risks posed by lithium batteries and will help to explore effective mitigation strategies for air shipments in various segments of the supply chain.

During transportation, lithium batteries are exposed to many environmental stressors, including low pressure (due to altitude), high humidity, temperature extremes, high rates of temperature change and air quality. While there are a number of cell and battery standards as well as shipping and packaging standards to address some of these exposures, gaps still exist in currently adopted standards and testing related to mechanical stressors such as shock, vibration, drop, puncture and abrasion.

Human factors are also important to consider when assessing the risks associated with lithium battery transportation. Appropriate, standardized procedures for safe handling and transportation are required to avoid serious incidents. However, many of the existing requirements are difficult to monitor for compliance.

Further investigation is required to identify the gaps in battery certification and shipping standards, as well as inconsistencies between different standards.

Full report: Review of environmental conditions during freight transportation

Lithium batteries market data collection and analysis final report – May 2016

In this study, NRC explores the supply chain and commodity flows of lithium batteries and equipment containing lithium batteries in Canada to better understand and mitigate the hazards involved with the transportation of lithium battery shipments, with a focus on products travelling by air.

The report includes global and Canadian trade data analyses of lithium batteries and products containing batteries. It also contains data and trends in the global lithium battery market and an industry survey on the transportation of lithium batteries and practices within various organizations in the Canadian supply chain.

Full report: Lithium batteries market data collection and analysis final report

Contact us

Safety Research and Analysis Branch
Transportation of Dangerous Goods Directorate
Transport Canada