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Bulk Liquids

4 Best Ways To Transport Liquid Cargo

Bison Group

14 Apr 4 Minutes

Logistics, Weighing


Shipping bulk liquids while keeping product integrity and costs down can be a challenge. And with a number of bulk liquid cargo transport options available, it’s not always easy to determine which will be the most efficient and cost-effective for you in the long run.

So, how do you choose a shipping method that best meets your needs? Keeping in mind how much volume you have and whether it is hazardous or non-hazardous material, we have narrowed down the four best ways to transport liquid cargo.

8126 1920x700 ISO Tank Truck


If you transport a large capacity of liquid cargo, then ISO tanks are ideal. A 20’ ISO tank can carry 20,000 - 26,000 litres (5,300 - 6,900 gal.) of material and a 23’ container up to a huge 33,000 litres (8,700 gal.) You can also ship a wider variety of liquid cargo with an ISO tank. It is possible to ship hazardous and non-hazardous materials and in liquid, gas, or powder form. This is because an ISO tank is built of strong steel or anti-corrosive materials for the long life and protection of your liquid cargo during transport.


However, ISO tank must be filled to 80% - 95% capacity. If the tank is under 80% full, liquids can surge dangerously in transit. Also, if it is over 95% full, it means there is insufficient room for thermal expansion - also known as the “ullage”.

ISO Tank Liquid Cargo Pros:

  • Can ship both harmless and dangerous products
  • Has a large capacity
  • Suitable for ocean shipping, auto and railway transport
  • Reusable
  • ISO Tank Liquid Cargo Cons:
  • High costs (rent, shipping, sanitation)
  • Costs to be repositioned
  • High dependence on cargo for return
8159 1920x720 Bulk Liquids Drums


There are many different types of drums and barrels available, such as steel, plastic and fibre. However, they are all very similar in that they require a liner or coating for food hygiene safety, and a pallet and strapping for safety. Since drums have volumes ranging from 20 to 250 litres (5.3 - 66 gal.), they are better suited if you ship a lower capacity of liquid cargo.

It is possible to use drums to ship hazardous material, as they can be "UN Certified". On the downside, drums can be challenging to use in terms of manoeuvrability, safety and storage.

Drums Liquid Cargo Transport Pros:

  • Uniform size makes drums easily stackable on pallets
  • Can be certified for transporting hazardous products
  • Easily transported
  • Drums Liquid Cargo Transport Cons:
  • Expensive - high packing cost and working cost
  • Refilling process is time consuming
  • Significant space required to store, particularly for empties


Intermediate Bulk Containers - or "IBC's" - are reusable, industrial containers made for transporting bulk liquid and granular substances such as chemicals, food ingredients, solvents and pharmaceuticals. The size and shape of an IBC makes them easy to stack and mount on a pallet, meaning they can be moved using a forklift or a pallet jack without trouble.

In terms of volume, an IBC holds around 200 to 1,250 litres, which is in between the capacity of drums and tanks - hence the term “intermediate”. With both top and side discharge/loading points, they are generally quite easy to use, without the need to transfer cargo to another storage tank.

IBC Liquid Cargo Transport Pros:

  • Easily transported
  • Can get FDA and Food Contact approved containers & liners
  • Lower handling and storage space costs
  • IBC Liquid Cargo Transport Cons:
  • High working cost
  • Refilling process is time consuming
  • Difficult to manage with respect to logistics space
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Flexitanks are a special piece of equipment produced from plastic material. In essence, it is a multilayer bag with a capacity of up to 25,000 litres (6,900 gal.). These tanks are installed within a standard 20” container and the product is pumped into it, either from the top or bottom of the flexitank. Much like the ISO tank, you must fill a flexitank up to 24 - 25 tonnes (53,000 - 55,000 lb) to keep within the maximum pressure limits allowed. Overloading can rupture the side walls of a container. However, If you underload, it cannot be insured as it is be prone to leakages. Optimizing your flexitank cargo load is easy with container weighing jacks.

A key thing to remember with flexitanks is that they are only suitable for harmless (non hazardous) products. That said, they are ideal for oxygen and moisture sensitive products such as wine, flat beer and chemicals, as you can get tanks with barrier coats or osmosis prevention systems.

Flexitank Liquid Cargo Transport Pros:

  • Fast loading / discharging
  • Lower cost than other packing methods (IBC’s, drums & barrels) so you save money on packaging costs
  • No contamination of cargo
  • Low storage costs for empty tanks
  • Maximise payload due to low weight of equipment
  • Flexitank Liquid Cargo Transport Cons:
  • One-way - cannot be reused
  • Must be insured for the intended use
  • Not as ideal for railway transport as the rear walls can be damaged by heavy shaking or from sudden stops during train manoeuvres
  • Can’t be used for dangerous or hazardous goods