Editor’s note: This article by Amanda Miller originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
Officials are set to issue new rules explicitly banning lithium metal and lithium-ion batteries in electronic devices for some moves and limiting the batteries for others, a decision that could add an extra burden for families undertaking household moves during the upcoming permanent change of station (PCS) season.
That means military families may need to ship those batteries separately to their new homes or get rid of them, and possibly the devices containing them entirely.
Lithium batteries can combust due to defects, if they're damaged or if they get too hot. Many or most laptops, phones, tools and toys run on one of the lithium battery types.
While most batteries have broadly been banned from household goods shipments and storage, exceptions for lithium batteries hadn't been specified. In 2022, U.S Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) issued new guidance to the military services, which began advising troops of the change. That guidance affirmed service members' right to ship and store lithium batteries and set a 2023 deadline for transportation service providers to comply with requirements that they "properly package, label, and/or certify" shipments with lithium batteries.
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But now upcoming new changes, which take effect May 15, instead either ban the batteries entirely or limit them, according to information shared with Military.com.
Lithium batteries won't be allowed in any household goods going into long-term storage -- also known as "non-temporary storage" -- as part of a move, TRANSCOM confirmed in an email. And lithium batteries moving as part of household goods shipments going between homes will have to fall below certain size thresholds.
The reason for the change -- namely the fire hazard that can also spread to other shipments on the same vehicle -- makes sense, said Megan Harless, a member of a spouse panel that advises TRANSCOM.
But Harless suspects that in practice, the new rules may be hard to follow, requiring people to know a lot more about all their device batteries and potentially, in cases, to calculate some batteries' watt-hours of output to figure out if they can go in a shipment or if they'll have to be packed in a car or suitcase, sold or mailed separately.
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TRANSCOM officials confirmed that lithium-ion batteries will be limited to 100 watt-hours; and lithium metal batteries will be limited to two grams of lithium content. Individual lithium "cells" amassed within a battery can't go over 20 watt-hours or one gram of lithium content each.
A TRANSCOM spokesperson said the command will publish a fact sheet with more details on the new rules by the end of March. Officials said it's possible that as the rules evolve, more watt-hours could ultimately be allowed and the batteries could eventually be allowed in long-term storage.
How Many Watt-Hours Are in My Device?
If you can see the battery, it may be marked with its watt-hour (Wh) rating. Otherwise, as Harless mentioned, figuring that out may call for doing some math -- multiplying the likes of amp hours and watts, for example.
Harless said some spot-checking revealed that a device as small as an Apple Air Tag amounted to less than one watt-hour; a drill battery about 72 watt-hours; hoverboards about 154 watt-hours; and ebikes from 300 to 1,000 watt-hours.
TRANSCOM officials told Military.com that if a service member can't figure out the watt-hours of a battery or its cells, they won't be able to ship or store it under the new rules.
Easier for CONUS Than OCONUS Moves
Of course, troops and families moving within the continental United States (CONUS) have the possibility, if they're driving, just to pack more carefully, setting aside the battery-containing devices or taking out the batteries and driving with them instead of shipping them with a mover.
Those moving overseas (OCONUS), on the other hand, may need to figure out what to do well in advance with something like a rechargeable tool or an ebike. While a partial personally procured move (PPM) allows service members to ship belongings to themselves overseas separately, Harless pointed out, they'll be reimbursed according to the weight rather than the cost of the shipment, a factor that almost always leaves troops paying costs out of pocket.
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