Is this HazMat regulation an American thing? I've been buying batteries from the Far East, into the UK, for years without any hint of any issue. Is it a post 9/11 thing maybe?
HazMat regulation seems to be widespread.
It just seems like the US carriers are making some money off it by charging plenty money for the extra cardboard.
I'm an infrequent visitor (and, as far as I can recall, entirely new poster) to this forum. I do happen to own a pair of Archos devices... an Archos 5IMT (250GB) and an Archos 5IT (500GB), as well as three DVR stations (bedroom, living room, and "business travel apartment" living room) and a bunch of other bits and pieces (camera, FM receiver, battery docks, HDMI dock, std. dock, etc, etc).
I love my devices. But as of right now, neither one will hold a charge, and the 500GB is showing a little bit of a hint of what I'm sure is battery swelling (which is NOT a good thing!). So I've just ordered one of these batteries. I ordered another for my 250GB piece (even though it isn't swelling) on Ebay, since my 250GB's HD is pretty much shot now and needs replacement (a whole 'nother story).
The reason I'm posting is because I have some personal experience with the battery shipping issues. I worked for several years at a company called Valence Technology, which makes large-format lithium-ion batteries... mainly "automotive replacement" sizes, but also the batteries for the Segway, for some marine applications, and for "stationary power load-leveling" in residential and commercial applications. When I went to work for Valence, they were planning to do production in the United States (I was going to lead the mechanical engineering team at the new facility, in fact). They eventually changed their minds and the whole production process is being done in China now... and so is the engineering work. (sigh)
What this means is that I became very familiar with the shipping restrictions on lithium-ion battery hardware. Our batteries were unique, in that we had a (patent-protected) chemistry which produced very little oxygen during combustion. Yes, you read that right... it's not a typo. Lithium-ion batteries PRODUCE OXYGEN during combustion. If you can start combustion of a li-ion battery in a pure vacuum, it will continue to burn, as it produces its own oxygen.
That's why you hear stories about cell phone or laptop batteries "exploding" (they don't actually explode, they just burn... very hot... and can't be put out until totally burnt out!)
This is also why the rule for shipping Li-Ion batteries are so robust. Imagine a stock of these things, improperly packaged, in the cargo hold of an aircraft. The carton shifts, a battery pack gets crushed and starts combusting... and the whole underside of the aircraft is in flame in mere moments. (And yes, that HAS HAPPENED in the past.)
International shipping is the most difficult, of course, because this form of shipping is governed not by local or national regulations, but by (yes, again, you're reading this right) UN REGULATIONS. The UN is a MASTERPIECE of the bureaucratic mentality. People who have literally no grasp whatsoever of the issues involved, making draconian regulations of every time, for reasons which may not always be what they seem to be. But in this case, there's a legitimate concern, and they've gone commensurately OVERBOARD in terms of how they govern international shipment of Li-Ion battery systems.
Basically, you have to pack each one individually, in non-flammable packaging (which needs special treatment to, supposedly, be flame-retardant). These then need to be packed inside of barrels (yes, again, you read that right... metal barrels, like 50-gallon drums for example) filled with a non-flammable mineral-based filler material. The barrels need to pass through several inspection steps, and then must be sealed so that they cannot be opened in-transit... and a series of inspections must be performed, by several different groups (supposedly to prevent "expediting through bribery").
They also cannot be transported in quantity via air. All shipments of anything more than the smallest quantity, which cross international boundaries, must be by land or (as we face in the USA) by sea.
Now, once inside of a country, the rules are basically the responsibility of that nation. Here in the USA, the rules are less draconian than the ones in the EU, for example, but quite a bit more stringent than those in, say, Colombia.
I get why this is the case... though it was frustrating to have a battery chemistry which was NOT subject to that "uncontrollable burn-out" condition and still have to comply with those regulations! And I do think that they're "overkill." But I get it, and there's at least a little bit of logic behind it.
I thought you guys might appreciate knowing WHY it's so much more expensive to ship these across international borders. Now you know!