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Updated : 21/05/2018.  


   Battery charger repairs, most makes catered for. Elektroblock EBL 99 repairs at £130

                    

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LITHIUM ION Batteries - The way we see it, without the marketing hype.


Almost all of the Lithium marketing we have seen is misleading. The marketing makes a big deal about them having much longer life than Lead Acid batteries.

Yes they can have long cycle life, but at ten times the price you might then expect 10 times the life? Most will struggle to deliver even twice the cycle life of the best Lead Acid batteries. They are not a low cost option, one Motorhome owner was invoiced almost £3,000 for his Lithium installation.

 

Only 'twice' as good but costs 10 times as much?

For example a Victron Energy Deep Cycle Gel battery has a 12 year design life and 1,500 cycles, not far behind a typical Lithium, yet it costs £280. Just over £1,000 buys 4 Victron Gel batteries, installed one after the other, that will give a total of 6,000 cycles and 48 year life, versus 2,000 cycles and up to £3,000 (with install costs) for the Lithiums being marketed for Motorhomes. 

So the same £3,000 funding one customer reported above might buy a lithium set-up with 2,000 cycles, 10 year life or a Lead Acid set-up with 18,000 cycles and 130 year life.  

So if you are after the longest life batteries for your money, Lithiums are not in the frame. Lead Acid has a serious advantage when cost is a key factor. Lead Acid battery technology has advanced so much in the last 5 years, that many people don't realise just how good they have become. 


Lithiums may, or may not, deliver some of that promised. But why doesn't the marketing include this type of Dollar for Dollar comparison? Is the marketing over egging the pudding in other areas too?


Have you heard the marketing claims that Lithium batteries are the only technology that will discharge to lower than 90% Depth Of Discharge (DOD) and survive? 

Also that no Lead Acid battery can match it's 2,000 charge/discharge cycles?


Yet one of the best battery manufacturers in the World, Victron Energy, market a 'Super Cycle' Lead Acid battery that is designed and GUARANTEED to survive discharge to 100% DOD and still give useful cycle life?

It's Sister has up to a 1,500 cycle life at 30% DOD and it's BIG sister manages a staggering 4,500 cycle life.

Yes you did read that right, Lead Acid batteries that discharge right down to 100% DOD and mega cycle life. While these batteries are more expensive than an old fashioned conventional battery, they are a fraction of the Lithium's cost.

Have a look here on the Victron website : https://www.victronenergy.com/batteries/gel-and-agm-batteries  and click on Super Cycle battery.


Data sheet here : 

Victron Super Cycle battery.pdf Victron Super Cycle battery.pdf
Size : 114.379 Kb
Type : pdf


The data sheet above confirms that quality, high capability Lead Acid batteries exist. 


Those are characteristics that the 'Lithium marketing bandwagon' say a Lead Acid battery doesn't have. 

Lead Acid battery technology has advanced massively in the last 5 years, but the Lithium sellers compare the latest Lithium's to Lead Acid batteries based on technology from the 1950's. 

So they either don't know their batteries very well, or they know what is available but distort the facts because they don't fit their 'Marketing strategy' for what is a very, lucrative high profit item?  



It is not just high quality Gel batteries that are more cost effective, if you compare Lithium to the best Wet Acid Lead batteries on the fairest £ for £ basis, Lithium still fails to be cost effective. You can install 10  Bosch Powerframe '4 year life' batteries, one after the other, with a total 20 year life and 2,000 cycles for half the cost of the average Lithium battery with it's supporting electronics and installation costs.  


The Lithium Iron retailers often claim that Lithium batteries are a lot lighter than Lead technology, which they are. 

However, the advertising claims for being 5 times lighter are just fiction. 

 


Lets take a look at just exactly what 'Lithium Ion' batteries are?


Lithium Ion batteries come in several technological flavours. The more common ones are  :

Lithium Cobalt Oxide (LiCoO2

Lithium Manganese Oxide (LiMn2O4)

Lithium Nickel Oxide (LiNiO2)

Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo4) 


The above are all Lithium Ion technologies, there may be other derivatives. It is correct to refer to this group as 'Lithium Ion' batteries as that is the chemistry under which the group operate.

However, the addition of trace elements into their make-up can have quite a dramatic effect on behaviour.


For example, there have been documented reports of Lithium Ion Cobalt technology having 'more power' but they can burst into flames when worked hard. Suggest that if you think about using this technology in the Motorhome, you first check your Insurance covers the fitment?


The sources I have found suggest Tesla still use Lithium Ion Cobalt, which now might explain this :


The Lithium technology currently being pushed as the technology for Motorhomes, is Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo4) with claimed cycle life of up to 2,000 Charge/Discharge cycles. 

However note that LiFePo4 batteries, while safer with a longer cycle life, are heavier than previous Lithium technology. They have less capacity than Lithium Cobalt batteries so the batteries need to be physically bigger and heavier. 


Just like the false claims of out performing Lead Acid batteries cycle life and depth of discharge cited above, take with a 'Pinch of Salt' radical claims of weight savings. Some of the adverts citing LiFePo4 technology quote the weights of lighter Lithium Cobalt batteries. 

Some 'marketing' uses the false premise that a Lithium battery pack is lighter weight because it's 'capacity is double' therefore you need only 'Half' the battery capacity.

They incorrectly claim a Lithium can discharge to 100% (yet severely shortened life, or even damage, will result if you do) and that Lead Acid batteries "can only discharge" to 40% DOD.

However, most quality Wet Acid 75Ah batteries weigh only about 17kg and can discharge to 80% DOD, versus the average LiFePo4  of 75Ah at 10kg with 90% DOD capability. 

Obviously the more expensive Victron batteries discharge to much greater depth, bettering Lithiums DOD and almost equalling it's cycle life.

 


If you add into the Lithium battery argument all the extra weight from the required specialised charging systems, massively thick/heavy Copper cabling and the Electronics required for Lithium, the real weight difference is a couple of bags Sugar. 

Remember that Lithium batteries can be charged and discharged at 100amps per 100Ah. For a twin battery setup that is huge 200amps potential through the cabling. That is Starter battery thick cable.



Note the LiFePo4 'claimed' cycle life of 2,000 cycles is the best you will achieve under ideal conditions, not the average life a Motorhome owner might actually achieve. 

Exactly like Lead Acid batteries, Lithium battery cycle life is dependent on how they are used :

The current drawn and for how long.

The charging rate, current and time.

The depth to which they are discharged.

The charger voltage and sophistication.

You won't get anything like 2,000 cycles if you discharge them to low levels.


The NDS LiFePo4 battery documentation supports the above, it states :


"* The number of cycles quoted is purely indicative as it depends on several factors such as environmental conditions, discharge depth, charge/discharge current, and so on *". 


Exactly like a Lead Acid battery.


Don't underestimate the impact some of these factors have on Lithium battery life. For example just a 10 degree temperature rise for many batteries can literally half it's life. While Lithium technologies will discharge deeply and operate at high discharge currents, there is usually a big penalty in reduced cycle life. Up to half the lost life may be typical with such use.

Generally the less the Lithium battery is discharged, the more likely they are to achieve their cycle life. Using anything except a Lithium optimised charger is also accepted will result in shortened life. 

This is specifically mentioned in the NDS Lithium documentation. The documentation is also very clear about the reduced cycle life caused by long term trickle/float charging by Solar or mains EHU. The documentation for the NDS Lithium power pack and the Eza Lithium documents state the charger MUST be turned off once the battery is full, or shortened life will result. Even very low level Float/trickle charging will result in shortened life. 


Taking all the above into account, I would be surprised if many opting for Lithium in the very unique environment of a Motorhome, see even 50% of the claimed life in real use. 

To qualify that statement, much of the marketing focuses on Lithium's High current capability, deep discharge, ultra fast charging, etc. the exact features that result in short life. 


To further support that, Exide publish the chart below for their Lead batteries showing how the deeper you discharge, the fewer the life cycles available :


 

If you look at the top line on the graph it shows how the Exide G80/ES900 Gel battery will return over 1,200 cycles at 25% Depth Of Discharge, but only about 20 cycles at 100% DOD, so how deep all batteries discharge has a massive impact on battery cycle life. 

While all the Lithium documentation we have seen states a Lithiums life is shortened dramatically the greater the depth of discharge and higher the current, just like a Wet Acid battery, the ratio of loss may be slightly different so I would love to see a similar Lithium battery manufacturers graph depicting the same cycle life at 100% DOD and 25% DOD so we can estimate real world life time. 

Strange that the journalists who write about 'their' Lithium installations don't provide such important information? Come to think about it, we haven't seen any Motorhome magazine article on Lithium's that actual give any meaningful info, just regurgitate the marketing. 

 


If you think we are being over sceptical about Lithium battery lifetime, why does the NDS LifePo4 battery only have a 3 year Warranty?
Why does the EZA130 have only a very feeble 2 year warranty


Isn't that ridiculous on a 'ultra heavy duty long life' battery with a claimed 10 year life? Even the cheapest, most awful Wet Acid batteries have a 3 year warranty.


Did I mention the EZA130 Lithium battery has to have an annual check of the battery otherwise the battery warranty becomes void? 
That is right, take the motorhome back to the installer every 12 months for a battery check-up.

 
Doesn't that sound a little bit like, "We know it's not going to deliver the claimed life, so lets put as many barriers as we can in the way of anyone making a claim". 

Yes you are right, we are being over sceptical, no company would do that. 
Would they?


By contrast, Victron Energy has a fantastic reputation that says the "Super Cycle" battery will perform. The guarantee is money back if it doesn't. This isn't just the usual warranty on 'manufacturer defects', it is guaranteed to deliver the performance Victron claim.




Before you get absorbed into the huge expense of Lithium batteries with their 'claimed' 10 year life, specialist supporting electronics and unknown real world performance in a Motorhome environment, take a look at Victrons much more cost effective long life Gel batteries. 

Victron Energy's Deep Cycle/Long Life Gel's have a claimed 1,500 cycles and a 12 year design life, yet are compatible with almost all Motorhome electronics.These Gel batteries have a World Wide reputation for quality and long life. One of the highest regarded battery companies in the world. 

While £280 (average price) is expensive for a 110A Gel battery, their 12 year life makes them a bargain compared to Lithium. 

Just over £1,000 buys 4 Victron Gel batteries, installed one after the other, that will give a total of 6,000 cycles and 48 year life. A MINIMUM 3 times longer life than Lithium Iron, for less money.


The performance of these Gel batteries makes a mockery of the majority of Lithium retailers comparison claims. See the evidence of these Gel batteries for yourself  : https://www.victronenergy.com/batteries/gel-and-agm-batteries

Click on the above link and then select the Gel and AGM Batteries to download the very easy to read data sheet. 


We are not recommending these long Life Gel batteries, just highlighting how the Lithium marketing teams either don't know anything about Lead Acid batteries, or are deliberately misleading the public by comparing the best of Lithium to the lowest Lead Acid technology, from the 1950's. 




The only real area in which Lithium exceeds the best of Lead Acid habitation batteries is in the area of very high discharge/charge current. But that is also a weakness when used in a Motorhome, as Motorhome charging systems are not designed to cope with such enormous loads.
LiFePo4 battery marketing claims discharge currents up to 100amps per 100Ah battery. They claim to accept up to a 100amp charging rate, but imagine the loading that will place on a Motorhome Alternator? 

Imagine the 200amp potential draw from the Alternator that 2 x Lithium 100Ah batteries might try and pull through wiring designed for batteries that charge at 30amps? 

How will the typical Motorhome 18amp charger cope with such a load? 




For a good read on Lithium, try Wiki's : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_iron_phosphate



While LiFePo4 batteries can tolerate discharges to very low levels like 80% DOD if you take them down below 95% discharge (like leave them without charging over winter) they can be destroyed.

Those are seriously expensive consequences for a mistake which is easily made. If you forget about a Wet Acid Lead battery over Winter and let it discharge, the mistake will cost about £100. A lapse of memory with a Lithium can result in a £3,000 bill.



Are we wrong in our assessment of Lithium? Maybe, but have you ever bought a Lithium powered phone that started off lasting 4 days between charges, but after 18 months was only giving 2 days use before a recharge was needed? 
Equate that to Motorhome usage where a loss of 50% renders a battery useless. Not the same I know, but EVERY Lithium technology has promised more, but never delivered it's promised life.



Do Any Mainstream Motorhome Manufacturers Either Fit Lithium as Standard Or Recommend Them in Mainstream Products? 


Hymer have recently introduced a hybrid Lead Acid and Lithium battery option for Hymers to give an extra 3 days off grid, but the cost is enormous. The installation of 3 quality Deep Cycle Gels would give the same off grid duration for an awful lot less money. 

To our knowledge, none of the big Motorhome specialist electronics manufacturers, like Sargent, Schaudt, BCA, Calira, Arsilicii, Nordelettronica, etc produce Lithium compatible set-ups. 

So any converter that does install aftermarket Lithium batteries will have to create a bodge that effectively isolates the battery from the existing Motorhome Charger/Power Controller. 

There are a few converters that shoehorn a Lithium pack into the existing infrastructure, but I guarantee they won't have 100amp charging systems or the 100amp + wiring that should be installed with such set-ups.

We have seen one small Converter that fits Lithium 'at the factory', but the wiring from the Alternator was exactly the same as that in a Fiat white van that only has a Starter battery to look after. So make sure you have good Motorhome Fire Insurance cover.


We would strongly advise you treat these Motorhome builders with GREAT caution unless the Warranty on the equipment is unlimited and covers the claims of 'Ten year life'. 

One other important point is that the installation is complex but the installation work is often only guaranteed 12 months. So even if you find a Lithium with a 4 year warranty, that warranty will be dependent on correct installation. 

If the battery is damaged through poor installation which isn't discovered for 18 months, and the installation work is no longer covered....................


Long term Motorhome reliability and usability will, in our opinion, be compromised. Trying to get anyone to look at any issues after the 12 months installation warranty expires may be a challenge, even assuming they understand both batteries and the Sargent, Schaudt, Nordelettronica, etc  Power Controllers that have been bypassed to fit the Lithium.



 
One we saw had been fitted into an Autotrail with a Sargent EC328 Charger/power controller, yet it is universally known that this charger puts out 18v to boost charge it's Lead Acid batteries. 
You can guess the damage done to the LiFePo4 battery after being fried with 18v?  



In 3 cases we have seen the owners were disappointed with the actual amount of usable power they got from the battery. In our limited testing, all three batteries had lost significant capacity, yet were all less than 2 years old.

The worst was an EZA130 which gave back less than half it's 'rated' capacity before the Battery Management System shutdown and stopped all power being drawn.
Whether that was a fault in the Lithium cells or the BMS malfunctioning I have no idea. 

The EZA 130 documentation specifically states that the charger must be disconnected once the battery is fully charged.
Long term 'Trickle' charging a Lithium power pack is something that will reduce it's life. 
The NDS documentation also states the same, that once charged the charger should be turned off, not continue to Float/trickle the battery or it will suffer.

Yet it is not unusual for Motorhomes to be left on permanent EHU AND for Solar to be permanently charging the battery during daylight hours. 

I don't know if being left on long term EHU was the issue with this EZA 130 we saw, but it did have permanent Solar.


One last thought:
The marketing men make much of the 'faster charging Lithium' capability, and it is true some 100Ah versions can accept up to 100amps charge. However, if they are installed with the same motorhome 18amp charger used to charge Lead acid batteries, they will charge at exactly the same rate. 
Only if 100amp mains chargers are installed will a Lithium achieve a 100amp charge rate, that is just physics.
So, bearing that in mind, why have all the installations we have seen, only had low power mains chargers? 

In one installation the salesmen had made much of the fact that the Lithium they were installing would charge ultra fast, yet the 'uprated' mains charger was just 25amps peak output, the most that will charge at continuously once it gets hot is 20amps, the same rate as a Wet Acid Powerframe battery. The Alternator and wiring were untoched during the Lithium installation.
 

Lithium (or Nickel-Metal Hydride?) might be the future, but lets wait until the infrastructure, battery chargers, wiring, etc is in place ready for them. Lead wet Acid technology, with it's huge price advantage over anything else, is advancing at such a rate that maybe in a few years time it will still be the dominant technology?



Just because some techno wizzkid has fitted Lithium with great results in his Motorhome, doesn't mean your 'Professional' fit install will be as successful. 
Nor does it mean the 'wizzkid' is on target for 10 year life when it has only been 2 years into his 'project'.
Those people fitting Lithium pack themselves, generally have a huge amount of background knowledge that enables them to both integrate it correctly AND because they generally understand batteries and battery technology, they can use that knowledge to manage 'features' of the technology. I.E. work around it's limitations.

Be wary about taking advice from such people as they have usually spent a huge amount of time/money on their project and tend to get very 'protective' about being thought a fool.



Where a Lithium pack might work well, is on an old 1993 motorhome that has a very basic electrical set-up serving the habitation area. A Lithium pack could be introduced as a total entity to become the new central hub of the infrastructure along with all new high capacity fire resistant wiring. Plus a 100amp mains charger, uprated high power 250+ amp variable voltage Alternator to match the demands of a Lithium pack, etc.

But then again, all the kit and cabling would weigh quite a bit and probably cost more than the motorhome was worth?





Lithium Battery elevated Fire risk as the batteries age?
The Battery University website writes :   
Quality lithium-ion batteries are safe if used as intended. However, a high number of heat and fire failures had been reported in consumer products that use non-certified batteries, and the hoverboard is an example. This may have been solved with the use of certified Li-ion on most current models. 
A UL official at a meeting in the Washington, D.C. area said that no new incidents of overheating or fire had been reported since Li-ion in hoverboards went through a  certification process. 
Fires originating in the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 were due to a manufacturing defect that had been solved. The main battery in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner also had defects that were resolved.

 

Heat and vibration can create defects in a Lithium battery. 

Usage that stresses Lithium batteries are excessive vibration, elevated heat ...  

Li-ion, like lead acid, batteries should not be fully discharged

Additionally they should not be left without some remaining charge. Li-ion batteries must not dip below 2V/cell for any length of time. 

Copper 'shunts' form inside the cells that can lead to elevated self discharge or a partial electrical short. 

If  affected cells are reused, the cells might become unstable, causing excessive heat or showing other anomalies.
Heat combined with a full charge is said to induce more stress to Li-ion than regular cycling.


Harsh vibration 

The drawing of high currents can stress a Lithium, that may later lead to stress. 

Prolonged high current draw elevates this stress which, as noted above,  can lead to issues.



Lithium Fires

We heard that the Samsung issue wasn't a design fault in the Lithium cells, but in the electronics that allowed the battery to discharge too low, placing stress on the cells which subsequently failed and caught fire. This is supported by the evidence that the batteries were made by two different suppliers. 
While only one battery manufacturer was initially blamed and new batteries rushed out, the second manufacturers batteries also started failing. This led to total withdrawal of the phone. 

The later Samsung 8 also has battery issues, announced Jan 2018, where the phone will not turn on if the battery has been allowed to fully discharge. 
If the battery management electronics was working correctly, it should prevent the battery from discharging too low and being damaged.