If you’re researching options for your new auxiliary battery system, looking to replace a failed deep cycle battery, or just want to learn a little more about lithium, you’ve landed in the right place!
13+ years of designing and installing custom deep cycle battery systems for many applications has given us incredible experience with a range of battery technologies. Gaining knowledge and remaining at the forefront of the industry is a priority to ensure we offer our customers the right advice and solution that is on budget and fit for purpose.
So why is everybody talking about lithium? What are the truths behind the technology and what are the features and benefits?
Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries (LiFePO4) represent significant improvement in traditional +100 year old lead acid battery options. The next generation technology offers incredible advantages which in our opinion, translate into a true investment in a mobile, off-grid power system that will provide hassle free, future proof performance.
We have developed a standing reputation for quality installations and work with industry leading brands to provide a full suite of quality products. Our team can provide system design including wiring diagrams, individual parts & accessories, complete DIY kits, professional installation and technical support. Find out more HERE.
What follows below are our “4 Reasons To Go LiFePO4”. By no means is it the ultimate guide to lithium batteries – it has been written in the hope of clearing up the unknowns and providing some food for thought to assist with future decision making. We’ve seen the technology shine and feel the features and benefits far outweigh what is perceived as a high cost. We have purposely not focused on the cost of the batteries with a goal of simply proving their “value”. We also felt the need to touch on the lifecycle of lithium and lead acid batteries to paint a picture of the past, present and bright future of battery technology.
1/ LiFePO4 is Light & Loaded!
Have you seen the light? Haha, hows that for a leading question…too much maybe? Well no matter what you’re driving, floating or riding, weight plays a huge factor in vehicle safety and performance. Years of specialised vehicle fitouts have taught us the importance of weight reduction and positioning. When fitting lead acid batteries, careful consideration is required to maintain balance, especially with larger battery banks in caravans that can easily exceed 100 kilograms. Not only does this affect on road performance where speed and fuel economy are significant factors but offroad too with tip and roll dynamics affected dramatically. Whether it’s hitting the trails or cruising down the highway, vehicle weight and balance is crucial!
Did you know that lithium is the lightest and least dense metal? It’s actually 50% less dense than water – this is an amazing comparison to lead which is 11 times more dense than water… (no wonder we use lead sinkers!). Loaded with power and ¼ of the weight of the lead acid equivalent, you’re getting far greater energy storage in a lighter, smaller and single battery case size. When we look at average weight and usable energy of LiFePO4 vs lead acid, the comparison is astounding.
- 100Ah LiFePO4 is approx 12.5 kg = 160Ah lead acid/AGM is approx 50 kg.
- 125Ah LiFePO4 is approx 15.0 kg = 200Ah lead acid/AGM is approx 60 kg.
- 200Ah LiFePO4 is approx 25.0 kg = 360Ah lead acid/AGM is approx 100 kg.
The reduction in weight, size and space required to fit makes the installation quicker and easier too.
2/ LiFePO4 is Fast & Efficient!
We’re always looking for faster, more efficient options in this modern world – sometimes, it means complicating life as we speed things up, losing touch with what’s really important. Sometimes it means hassle free, endless power and we reckon that’s ok – faster is better, hands down! Many of us have had less than satisfactory experiences with lead acid battery systems that just don’t cut the mustard. Running out of battery power can be frustrating – those situations when no matter what you do, you just can’t get enough charge into the battery to keep the fridge running and the lights on at night – pulling your hair out while the family sit in darkness. We forget how much we rely on our batteries but at the end of the day, they’re the heart of your electrical system.
Lithium batteries have an extremely low internal resistance meaning they can accept charge very quickly and at much higher rates than lead acid – LiFePO4 batteries can actually accept 100% of their capacity in charge if need be. The high energy density of lithium also means the batteries discharge much slower and can handle much higher discharge current for extended periods.
Lithium efficiency is unparallelled when we also consider the way the charge is delivered. Lead acid batteries require a full periodic charge cycle with several charge stages over longer time periods. The lead acid charge cycle is also greatly affected by temperature increase, both ambient and from internal chemical reactions creating excessive heat and partial charging is not ideal.
Lithium batteries have a very fast, two stage charge profile – This is known as CV/CC charging (constant voltage/constant current) in which the battery is charged at a set voltage & high current until the battery is approx 95% then current is reduced as the battery becomes fully charged. Lithium is also unaffected by partial charge cycles.
Not only do the above characteristics show the amazing efficiencies, lithium also maintains a higher voltage (approx 13.4-13V) throughout the entire discharge cycle meaning all loads draw less current making them more efficient too!
Lithium’s energy efficient technology works both ways in the sense that it provides the energy more efficiently than lead acid but also uses energy more efficiently. The faster charging – for example from a DC-DC charger in your vehicle, your LiFePO4 battery will charge faster and therefore put less load on your alternator providing better fuel economy and less emissions/energy overall, the same when charging from an AC power source…
It’s a win win, whichever way you look at it.
3/ LiFePO4 is Long Lasting & Clever!
The lead acid battery is a sacrificial design with an average lifespan of 2-3 years, much of which is to do with maintenance and care of the battery as well as application and environment. From loss of fluid, gassing & plate corrosion caused by over charging and excessive heat, to the breakdown of the chemical reaction, sulphation and the weakening of lead plates from undercharging or operating in high heat conditions or being left in a partial state of charge – deterioration accelerates if they’re not maintained properly.
All batteries have a cycle life and failure rates increase with the number of discharge cycles and the depth of that discharge. In short, if the depth of discharge (DoD) is kept to a minimum, the battery life will be extended. Lifetimes of 250 to 500 cycles are typical for lead acid batteries at 80% DoD and the aging process is directly related to discharge/recharge cycles. Something as simple as one accidental deep discharge can mean immediate sulphation resulting in a very quick end of life for a lead acid battery. Another aspect is that when deterioration begins, it’s difficult to tell what’s actually going on inside the battery. There are so many unknowns…
Enter lithium – so how does it compare? Lithium batteries require no active maintenance and have an average cycle rate of 2000 at 80% DoD. As in the case of lead acid, if the DoD is kept to a minimum, the battery life will be extended and at 20% DoD some +6000 cycles can be expected on average making the total cost of ownership far less than lead acid.
Most consumer level LiFePO4 batteries have an internal, electronic Battery Management System (BMS) which not only protects the battery from abuse but also keeps the battery within the required parameters, actively balancing individual cells and preventing under and over voltage providing optimum safety and performance. Essentially all the battery needs is the right charge and discharge…
Some more advanced BMS systems have the addition of a Bluetooth chip providing wireless communication between your battery and smartphone via a free app. The smartphone app gives instant access to your battery’s health providing details of state of charge (SOC), voltage, current and temperature. You’ll also see the active cell balancing, cycle counts and a complete log of any alarms or potential issues.
In our opinion, this is a MUST when considering any brand of lithium! Not only does this feature offer full visibility of your battery’s status and health, it’s providing accountability for you, the consumer in how you care for your battery and it also holds the manufacturer accountable for quality. There’s no secrets and no lies – battery status and history are clear!
Consider this – when you last purchased a battery, was it supplied with a detailed owners manual or data sheet outlining exact care instructions and application guidelines? The answer in most cases is no and unfortunately, this is the battery industry. A battery is a consumable – it has a lifespan and even under ideal conditions, at some point it’s expected to wear out. With no instruction on how to care for your battery the retailer knows that it’s likely the battery will be mistreated, fail prematurely and you’ll be back in a few years to buy another one, and so the cycle continues… With a quality lithium, detailed owner manuals provide all operational guidelines. We believe this alone clearly shows how advanced the technology is – manufacturers know the limitations of LiFePO4, the cells are designed and produced accordingly, the internal BMS controls parameters and protects the battery, Bluetooth connectivity provides full visibility and accountability and the charging is simple.
4/ LiFePO4 is Safe, Stable, Clean & Green!
Not all lithium chemistries are developed equally and it’s the common consumer electronics versions of lithium that carry many horror stories of fire or explosion. These are mostly small capacity cells using manganese, cobalt and nickel oxide lithium chemistry formation which are known for their instability. The main cause of fire is excessive overheating during charging. Once the cell oxidises, it begins to trigger a perpetuating reaction called thermal runaway resulting in uncontrollable burning and often explosion.
LiFePO4, lithium iron phosphate is an inherently safe and stable lithium chemistry. It has been developed with a strong safety profile and superb thermal stability including an incombustible cell design. The phosphate based cathode material inside a LiFePO4 cell will not burn and is not prone to thermal runaway. The batteries are able to withstand rough conditions and can operate at much higher temperatures than other lithium types. The BMS keeps all cells in balance and prevents over and under voltage situations occurring. It also protects the battery from over temperature and short circuit making it as safe, if not safer than lead acid.
Battery recycling has been an issue forever… Here at GlobalSat, we are extremely conscious about promoting and supporting products that have the least amount of environmental impact. This is a huge problem in our consumer driven, throw away society and at the end of the day much of it comes down to the choices we make when purchasing. Our belief has always been buy less, buy better. Rather buy a product of higher quality that is set to last longer or is multi-purpose versus buying cheaper product that needs replacing more often. With this in mind, ultimately we have to consider the entire lifecycle of a product as it’s the only way to get the complete picture of it’s entire carbon footprint. Raw material extraction, energy to produce and transport the batteries, energy required to keep the batteries charged and cooled and finally, end of life recycling and environmental impact when disposed.
With growing demand on renewable energy sources and energy storage, approximately 85% of global lead consumption is now for the production of lead acid batteries alone. This increasing demand is met by primary lead production from mining which caters for half the global demand and the remaining 50% is from lead recycling. Recycling of lead acid batteries has been well refined throughout the decades with up to 98% of the battery able to be recycled but despite the success, it still carries an unwelcoming stigma as much of the process is unregulated in developing countries. The highly poisonous material is known for causing significant environmental contamination and human exposure seriously affecting the nervous system and organs leading to sickness, disease and often death.
The lead acid battery life cycle management has over a century’s head start on lithium and we as consumers need to be realistic in understanding that there’s a lot of catching up to do. Whilst lithium batteries are recyclable, the battery has a more complex chemistry and mix of materials bringing increased challenges to the recycling process. This means that purpose built lithium recycling facilities are required globally, all of which need significant investment, specialised equipment, future proof strategies and continual research to ensure the recycling process is refined. Victorian company Envirostream is leading the charge here in Australia with their innovative processing technology that recovers 95% of material used in a battery. The company plans to create a circular battery economy which will be an incredible achievement for the industry and we’re behind them 100%!
The fact that LiFePO4 batteries contain no toxic chemicals is a huge positive. Increased life expectancy of lithium also means a lower turnover and lithium also requires far less energy to be maintained. There is no doubt that lithium recycling is in the early stages of development and the demand is growing. Whilst the process may not be as well refined and “Green” as lead acid, we believe that LiFePO4 batteries are not far behind considering the entire lifespan carbon footprint.
Currently, the number of end of life lithium batteries is low however it is set to increase rapidly as lithium becomes the future of consumer battery technology. To ensure lithium battery recycling processes surpass and outshine that of lead acid, as a community, we need to focus on sustainable development and raise awareness of the importance of battery recycling. It is the only way we’ll achieve a circular battery economy, something that is vital for the growing renewable energy sector. Collectively, we can make a positive shift towards these environmental solutions and enjoy the incredible features and benefits of lithium batteries well into the future.