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Updated : 28/09/2018.  


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


Much of the Lithium marketing we have seen is misleading. The marketing makes a big deal about their qualities, but by comparisons with the worst of Lead Acid batteries, not the market leaders. 

For example did you know there are Lead Acid batteries that have 1,800 cycles and others that can be discharged down to 100% without short life?

See this chart that shows Victron batteries with 2,500 cycles:


Have you ever seen in the Lithium advertising that a Lead acid battery can be discharged to 80% and still deliver 1,500 cycles? The above chart shows they can.


Did you know that Victron Energy also have a Super Cycle battery that is guaranteed to discharge to 100% DOD, or you money back, Deeper Discharge levels than Lithium can survive and guaranteed, not a vague claim? 

At 90% DOD it still gives more cycles than many Lithium packs at the same depth of Discharge, yet is a quarter of the cost and these batteries don't require the specialist chargers and BMS electronics that a Lithium needs.


So be cautious of the claims of Lithium versus Lead Acid batteries. Yes Lithium Iron can have long cycle life, but at ten times the price you might then expect 10 times the life, yet many will struggle to deliver even twice the cycle life of the best Lead Acid batteries when used in a motorhome. 

They are not a low cost option, one Motorhome owner was invoiced almost £3,000 for his 190Ah Lithium installation.

 

Only 'twice' as good but costs 10 times as much? Are you sure?

Yes, 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 £298. 

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, wiring changes, specialist chargers, etc. costs) for the Lithium's 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 on a real £ for £ basis. 

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.


Data sheet here : 


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



Those are characteristics that the 'Lithium marketing bandwagon' say a Lead Acid battery doesn't have, clearly they do, the above is irrefutable truth. 

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?

 

Either the Lithium marketeers don't know how good the competition is, or they do 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  Yuasa L36-EFB '4 year life' batteries, one after the other, with a total 20 year life and 2,300 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 lighter than Lead technology, which they are, but only by a couple of bags of Sugar. 

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 suggested with potential use in 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 some 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 are more capable than Wet batteries in this respect.

 


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 200 amps potential through the cabling. That is Starter battery thick, very heavy cable running from the Alternator to the leisure battery.



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 use that results 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 by greater depth of discharge and higher currents, 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 with it's claims of 'Ultra Long Life' 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 otherwise the battery warranty becomes void? 
I did print that correctly, take the motorhome back to the installer every 12 months for a battery check-up or the warranty will be void.

 
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 ever do that. 



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.




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 actually  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 200amp draw will place on a 120Amp 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?
The reality is that much of the time a 10amp Solar regulator will be putting back the power so where is the advantage in 12 times charging when only 10 amps are being applied? 





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 accidentally 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.




We would strongly advise you treat any Motorhomes with Lithium batteries 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 warranty ran out 6 months earlier..................



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 EC325 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 100 amp mains chargers are installed will a Lithium achieve a 100 amp 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 untouched during the Lithium installation. Clearly the fast charging the customer specifically wanted would never be achieved.


 

Just because some techno wizzkid has DIY 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 the '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.

 
Will your Lithium installation follow the same path as the hoverboard, Dreamliner, Samsung, etc with you being the Guinea pig to find the fire risk issues in your particular battery manufacturers product? 
Boeing and Samsung are not small back street companies who just buy in the cheapest Lithium Cells on offer, yet they got caught out.


Heat and vibration can create defects in a Lithium battery. 
This extract is from a specialist site :-

"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 issues. 

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




Why take the risk with Lithium?


This photograph below is from a customer who wrote -
"Hello Allan, I have a problem with my Hymer MLTxxx, 
I recently had 2 new Lithium batteries fitted. when the engineer was doing the fitting he connected them with the polarity reversed. This blew the 50 amp habitation fuse and the 50 amp Start battery fuse. 





Not only didn't the engineer understand what he was dealing with, but if you look at the Solar install it is also very poor. 
A low quality, single battery Solar charger that is not compatible with either Schaudt's or Hymer's recommended way of wiring Solar to the EBL.