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Lithium Batteries vs Lead Acid

An easy read of what makes Lithium the best battery for your energy needs.

This article will give a general overview of why Lithium batteries are superior than Lead acid batteries. It is a general overview, however it is still informative and easy to read. Much of the comparisons and information are based using our Shoto LFP Phosphate battery. Because our battery range is stringently tested and of highest quality we have reduced some of the lithium comparisons to be more in line with other ‘general’ lithium battery types.

For more information on our range of batteries, visit: https://backboneenergy.co.za/batteries/

Lithium batteries have been around for quite a while and have advanced considerably over the years, only about the last twenty years in fact. Most people think Lithium battery technology is relatively new but it’s been around for a long time, almost as long as lead acid battery technology. It’s only recently that lithium gets major press due mostly to its versatile nature and power potentials.

Interestingly enough, the Nobel prize in chemistry was awarded in 2019 to three chemists, whom each contributed to the development of lithium technology. So the technology has been around a reasonable amount of time and in case you were wondering, here are their names:

John B Goodenough

M Stanley Whittingham

Akiro Yoshino

Read more about these amazing scientists here

What exactly is a lithium battery?

Lithium batteries, unlike their lead acid counterparts, are comprised of completely different chemical systems. The chemicals are namely the following:

  • Manganese
  • Cobalt
  • Phosphate

The different chemistries vary in energy potential, which is to say, depending on the lithium battery you choose you will either have one of the three chemistries mentioned above. Most batteries will still use a Manganese base. These were in fact the first commercially available battery options. Cobalt is slowly being faded out due to how it is extracted, as well as the environmental dangers it poses. Advanced systems like the Tesla Powerwall used this in their first commercially available products. The market is shifting more toward Phosphate given its safety record. Our Shoto LFP uses Phosphate only. Perhaps in the next few years we will see shifts toward Titanese, as this is currently an expensive option, but promise more energy.

Lithium batteries are therefore mainly characterized by a stable chemistry, with an added Battery Management System or BMS, they become very reliable and efficient. Depending on manufacturer, the battery will come housed with communications cable and other ports, to allow for various applications with the BMS and the inverter. For the sake of this article however, lets get into the differences between Lithium and traditional Lead Acid batteries. Here’s a visual of the different chemical options and there benefits.

Lithium batteries promise more energy potential than most other battery technologies on the market as they produce more energy over a longer period and are much safer than most other battery options, for example, a lead acid battery.

It is important to mention that lead acid batteries are still a solid option for many applications but are becoming overshadowed in the energy market due to the rising standard of expected performance that people want and need. Lead acid batteries are a strong and durable technology with great crank power and will continue to be a go-to option for many people in the future.

Here are the major distinctions that set lithium batteries apart from Lead Acid, Lead Gel and Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM).

Safety

Lead acid batteries and their cousins namely Lead Gel and AGM, are and have never been ideal as energy storage mediums especially for solar. With gas and acid being factors but more so now heat. Heat is a major concern for these types of batteries and there are many cases where explosions have occurred under many different conditions. This is not to say Lithium is excused from this entirely, however the risk and likelihood of a lithium battery exploding or catching fire is much less common due to its chemistry and BMS functionality.

Efficiency

Efficiency is a factor that isn’t discussed much. You get a general view of efficiency and then you get Round Trip Efficiency which is more complex. Efficiency in its basic form is to understand how significantly Lithium and Lead batteries vary. Lead acid, Gel and AGM [ deep cycle ] generally give you between 50% – 60% max efficiency. Incorrect inverter settings will make this less.

Lithium batteries, well all good lithium batteries, will produce between 80% – 95% constantly, depending on inverter settings and BMS technology. This goes a very long way when it comes to energy storage and reliability.

Thermal Runaway

Terms like thermal runaway is used a lot in the world of battery speak, essentially this means that a battery can handle higher temperatures and is not susceptible to overheating and catching fire. As mentioned above in safety, thermal runaway, linked to heat, often leads to explosions and fires which is always a risk and a hazard for many domestic household installations. These are generally a result of using non-lithium batteries or lithium batteries with a cobalt or manganese chemistry, whereby the heat threshold is severely compromised. Additionally, a poor BMS can also be a cause for concern when it comes to managing heat. Normally any lithium battery in the 4,8kw range and above, should come with a built-in fan. This fan activates when the heat threshold has been reached.

Battery Management

Lead acid batteries can be difficult to maintain as they release gas and generally need to have there water levels checked regularly, as well as being kept in a safe place with good ventilation. Balancing a lead acid battery or even a large bank of them is difficult. Lithium batteries, again the top end variety, have a built in BMS, this allows the battery enough intelligence to manage and maintain itself such as regulating voltage and charging currents.

Temperature

Temperature is the biggest factor that contributes toward battery degradation. Lead acid batteries, indeed most batteries for that matter, require a perfect room temperature of 25C, which is an unreasonable situation in countries with higher temperature conditions.

Lithium batteries offer a higher temperature threshold than most other batteries, especially when they are purposed as Telecommunication batteries. These robust lithium batteries can take heat levels of up to 55C, which is very important to prevent degradation and explosions.

Charging

Lead-acid batteries do not take well to deep cycling. A full discharge causes extra strain and each cycle robs the battery a part of its service life. This wear-down characteristic also applies to other battery chemistries in varying degrees. Lithium batteries are designed to be cycled repeatedly and offer repetitive deep cycling. A good quality lithium battery can be discharged at 100% depending on need such as off grid applications. Important to note is what the recharge times are. A lead acid battery including AGM’s can take longer than 12 hours to charge, whereas lithium batteries can recharge in 3 hours and offer repetitive cycling, especially for higher probability everyday power cuts in certain parts of the world, such load shedding in South Africa as an example.

Warranty

There are 2 major warranty differences between lithium batteries and lead acid batteries. Whilst most lead based batteries offer a maximum of 2 years and AGM batteries offering maximum of up to 3 years on some manufacturers batteries. Lithium batteries can however offer anywhere between five and ten years, depending on the manufacturer and the quality of the battery itself.

A warranty is a good measuring tool to gauge the quality of a lithium battery. For example our Shoto LFP 4.8kw LiFePO4 battery offers a 10 year / 6000 cycle warranty, which is class leading as only a few others can and do offer this. Warranties can become a bit complicated where you need to pay attention to fine print.

Price

Lithium batteries are more costly than lead acid batteries in the traditional outlay, mainly due to the reasons listed above and a few more. Lead acid batteries mainly come in 12v with most inverters being 48v which means you need at least 4 lead acid batteries of 12v each to match the voltage of a normal 5kw inverter. When you start taking into consideration how many lead acid batteries needed to match only 1 or 2 lithium batteries, the cost factor becomes more understandable.

Here is a basic table of cost, this is a general assumption and determined by market conditions, between battery technologies to get a better understanding.

Battery cost and efficiency comparison
Battery Voltage Power QTY Power Potential Actual Power Cost
Lead Acid 12v 200Ah 8 4,8kw 2,4kw R13 600,00
Gel 12v 200Ah 8 4,8kw 2,8kw R17 600,00
AGM 12v 200Ah 8 4,8kw 3 kw R32 000,00
Gen2 LFP 12v 200Ah 4 4,8kw 4,8kw R28 000,00
Shoto LFP 48v 100Ah 1 4.8kw 4.8kw R26 000,00
*Lead Acid and Gel batteries have an average efficiency of only 50%
** AGM batteries are noted as 60% efficient
*** Lithium’s are based on 90% efficiency as designed and managed by the BMS

The Gen2 LFP and Shoto LFP battery are supplied by Backbone Energy. The table illustrates a generalization but based on accurate in-field data. What is important to note if we come back to warranties, you will note that lithium’s are designed to produce peak power over several years whereas Lead Acid, Lead Gel and AGM, generally need replacement within 3 years. What this tells us is that over a period of 10 years, your non-lithium bank will need changing an average of 3 times making the cost unnecessary and the ROI for lithium a better choice.

Modular support systems

Lead acid batteries are not modular in nature and have a limited system size capacity. This means that should you want to start with a standard storage system then upgrade to an off grid system in say 2 years, the batteries used now will either allow this or not. Many people the world over are building systems in stages due to budgets. Lithium batteries allow for more modular designs, again this is with regards to higher quality lithium batteries.

For example, a telecommunications lithium battery is perfectly suited for modular design systems as this is a requirement for the Telecommunications market. They are built for this meaning they answer the demands of energy, heat and rack mounting. Lead acids, again due to factors like efficiency, cannot be scaled once put into a specific project. When using lead acid you will need to replace the bank or upgrade to lithium which then becomes expensive and an unnecessary cost, instead of implementing lithium in the beginning.

As mentioned above there are differences in lithium batteries and not all lithium batteries are the same. Have you ever wondered why some lithium batteries make the grade for Telecommunication towers such as our Shoto LFP, whilst other batteries are not found suitable?

It is important to note that the world is advancing in battery technology faster than ever before, this is mainly due to Telecommunication needs and the rapid development of electric vehicles or EV’s. In fact the current weighting of lithium power markets is the following:

  1. Telecommunication 55%
  2. Electric vehicles 45%
  3. Renewable Energy 5%

What does this tell us? Lithium batteries are developing rapidly and they are becoming a must have for energy storage. Choosing a Lithium battery is similar to choosing a high performance vehicle. You need to consider its technology, warranty and performance standards to make correct buying decisions.

About the Shoto LFP Lithium Phosphate Battery

Our Shoto LFP range is a major Telecommunications player. Just in Africa alone, the Shoto LFP operates in thirteen countries, supplying energy to a massive network of Telecommunication towers and infrastructure alike. With stringent testing and a highly advanced BMS, our batteries are perfect for domestic and commercial use, giving the security and peace of mind that your clients are receiving the very best in lithium technology that is tried and tested in the harshest of conditions!

Learn more about our range batteries, click here: https://backboneenergy.co.za/batteries/