Have you already heard about the benefits of owning a lithium battery for your RV? But the price tag of such a premium level battery you man wonder if worth upgrading.
Lithium batteries usually last much longer than any other RV batteries out there. Apart from that, it is very lightweight and comes in many different shapes and sizes. You can use them on various ranges of different RVs. The safety margin of lithium batteries is also good compared to other regular ones.
Why You Would Want to Upgrade to A Lithium Battery
Now, some of you might not know the exact reasons behind upgrading your RV’s battery to a lithium one as the benefits are fairly technical. So, for your better understanding, I will very simply explain the key functionalities and features that only a lithium battery can provide and how it can impact your RV.
I know for a fact that lithium batteries have a bad reputation for catching fire and exploding. Many of you might think it would be foolish to purchase a Lithium battery for your RV as many news reports cover how various fire hazards have occurred due to lithium batteries.
Although the FAA has provided some limitations about its size, the batteries you will find for RVs are very safe. Now, after talking with many of my engineer friends, I can confidently say that even if your lithium battery fails in the future and a thermal runaway occurs, it won’t catch on fire.
Nowadays, the batteries have improved significantly and they might provide even a better safety margin than other regular ones. Especially, if you purchase a special variant of lithium battery named lithium iron phosphate, the overall safety you will get will be unmatched. I will extensively talk about this battery later.
To avoid situations like a thermal runaway, the manufacturers have implanted small cells that will be fused and isolated when some anomaly occurs. To put that simply, the battery will not catch on fire even if it malfunctions or the chemicals get mixed.
We all have a basic misconception about the prices of lithium batteries. Almost everyone assumes that the price of these products would be sky high and out of their budget. Well, no one can deny that a lithium battery will cost more than other regular ones, but the prices of these batteries have been falling for the past few years and nowadays, many people can afford this new technological miracle.
Another undeniable fact is that the price will further fall in the future, but I think the market of lithium batteries will expand massively within one or two years. Corporations like Winnebego have a clear vision about mass producing Lithium batteries to sell at an affordable price.
Now, you might wonder how much extra money you will have to pay to buy a lithium battery for your RV. The price of these batteries ranges between 500 US dollars to a thousand US dollars. Undoubtedly, they are still costly, but the benefits you are getting might make up for the extra price you are paying.
One of the biggest benefits of owning a lithium battery is its lightweight. First of all, you have to understand why we desire a lower weight of an RV battery. Lower weight means higher efficiency, better output, and better longevity.
A lithium battery is almost 4 times lighter than a normal RV battery. That basically means you can have as much as 4 times more power from a lithium battery that weighs the same as other normal ones. In today’s time, buying a normal lead-acid battery makes no economic sense.
You can keep your RV powered up for a long period of time if you use a lithium battery. Any normal lead-acid battery has a discharge rate of around 50 percent or less which is very inefficient as it loses the capability of recharging. Thus, the overall battery life drastically degrades.
But as far as lithium batteries are concerned, they can discharge much quickly and efficiently and have overall better battery life. The manufacturers of lithium batteries have claimed that their products will last 60 percent longer. So, spending a few extra cash will be clever as it will be functional for a significantly longer period of time.
Low Voltage Sag
One of the biggest disadvantages of using a lead-acid battery is, the discharge curve of those products is very linear, but as far as lithium batteries are concerned, they discharge gradually. Now, why is this important for you? Well, for keeping the electrical components of your RV safe and functional, it is important to lower the regulation of the voltage.
Most of the DC electrical parts will work best on a power system that does not change the voltage rapidly. That is why, when you are using a lithium battery, components such as radio, horn, headlight, and USB connection won’t be damaged and their longevity will significantly improve. Overall, your RV will stay in perfect condition for a long period if you use a lithium-ion battery.
24-Volt or 12-Volt – Which Should You Pick?
One of the most common questions I hear from people new to RVs is whether they should upgrade to a 24-volt battery or a 12 volt one. For those who don’t have technical knowledge on this topic, it would be complicated for them to understand. Here, I will try to explain it in the simplest words.
Most of the RVs are designed based on the 12-volt system. That means components such as headlights, radio, USB connectivity, horn, and other electrical components will work only on a 12-volt DC power system. So, for most of the people out there, going for a 12-volt lithium battery would be the easiest way to upgrade.
You won’t need anything other than the battery if you decide to go for the 12 volts one. But you must be wondering why would someone even consider buying a 24-volt lithium battery? I will explain that soon but even before buying the 12-volt one, you should check whether your car supports 24-volt DC power or 12-volt.
One of the key reasons behind using a 24-volt lithium battery is having smaller gauge wiring (copper). If you remember Ohm’s law from 6th grade, it says the amperage gets lower when the voltage across the terminal gets higher. That basically means you can use very thin wires without burning them.
It will save you a lot of space and will increase the overall efficiency significantly. If you want to use a solar panel, or a medium-sized inverter, then using a 24-volt lithium battery is a must. The people who go out for long travels usually choose a 24-volt battery. Keep in mind that you will need a 24 volt to 12-volt DC converter if you want to use a 24-volt battery in your RV.
In the end, my recommendation would be to go for a 12-volt lithium battery as it would do the job just fine. But if you still want to use a 24-volt battery, I would highly recommend you go to a garage for installment.
Which Type of Lithium Battery Would You Choose?
Different lithium batteries have different sorts of ionic and chemical components.
For keeping everything simple, I will characterize every battery that is based on lithium nickel manganese and lithium cobalt as lithium-ion batteries. All of them have a nominal voltage of 3.6 V so this characterization should not create any complications.
And, the second type of battery would be lithium iron phosphate that has a nominal voltage of 3.2 V. This classification is very important as both of them have a set of pros and cons.
The term “Lithium-ion” might be familiar to you as they are the most widely used battery type. In fact, there is a very good chance that your mobile phone has a lithium-ion battery. These batteries are also used on electrical components like laptops, power banks, PC, electrical cars, regular cars, and so on.
- Small in Size
One of the best aspects of using a lithium-ion battery is, you can pack a lot of power in a very small space.
That means the batteries based on lithium-ion technology are very lightweight, efficient, and can be used on various devices.
- Reusable Parts
Another advantage of using the Lithium-ion battery is, they are salvageable. That means, even when they are dysfunctional, the parts of the battery can be reused to make a new one. This will definitely put an impact on reducing the pollution problem.
- Can Combust
Although lithium-ion batteries are perfect for devices like smartphones and laptops, they are definitely not ideal for use in a car. One of the biggest disadvantages of using these batteries is, they have thermal runaway issues.
That basically means the battery will likely catch on fire when positive and negative terminals are shorted. Just imagine what would happen if your RV catches on fire while driving. On top of that, these batteries have a very high discharge rate which would be ideal for an electric car. As far as RVs are concerned, a huge discharge rate might lead to a thermal runaway problem.
- Lower Efficiency
As I have discussed earlier, the nominal voltage of Lithium-Ion batteries is approximately 3.6 volts. For running an RV perfectly, you will need a power system that can deliver around 12 volts. That means, you will need at least 3 Lithium-ion batteries in series for getting 10.8-volt output, which would be lower than what you desired.
Now, if you instead use four lithium-ion batteries, you will get an output voltage of 14.4 which is higher than what you desired. So, you only have the choice of using a good quality voltage regulator in the case of 4 Lithium-ion battery cells connected in series. It will definitely get the job done but will lower the efficiency significantly.
LiFePO4 Battery (The Best Lithium Battery)
When it comes to RV, LiFePO4 batteries are widely used and the popularity of this product is increasing every day. Here are some of the features of LiFePO4 battery:
Cells: The cells of a LiFePO4 battery are of high quality and the rating they have is 100 percent accurate.
Good BMS: BMS stands for Battery Management System. The BMS of the LiFePO4 battery is unmatched.
ABB: Having an Active Battery Balancer (ABB) is essential for keeping the battery at an optimal temperature. Fortunately, most of the LiFePO4 batteries come with a preinstalled ABB.
LifePO4 is the best lithium battery for RV. But it is not A perfect battery. It too has some advantages and disadvantages. Let’s learn about them.
- Low to No Chance of Thermal Runaway
One of the biggest disadvantages of using a Lithium-Ion battery was, it had a thermal runaway problem. But that issue was almost fully resolved while designing the LiFePO4 battery. First of all, this battery was designed in such a way that having the shortage problem between positive and negative terminals is almost impossible.
Even if a shortage occurs, chances of a fire hazard are very minimal. On top of that, this battery can tolerate a much higher temperature than the previous one. So, for use in RVs, a LiFePO4 battery would be ideal.
- Can Achieve Ideal 12 Volt
As we have discussed earlier, installing a perfect 12-volt battery in an RV is essential for keeping other electrical components safe. The Lithium-ion battery could not provide an ideal 12 volts output due to its design, but in the case of LiFePO4, you will get an almost 12 V ideal output. On top of that, you won’t need to spend extra money on a voltage regulator.
- Has More Cycles of Charge
Charge cycle basically means having lower degradation on battery life when charging. In the case of the Lithium-ion battery, the longevity of its life would significantly degrade on every charge. But that problem was again resolved while designing the LiFePO4 battery. If you take proper care, it can easily handle 5 to 6 charge cycles.
The only disadvantage of having a LiFePO4 battery is, it has a much lower energy density than a regular lithium-ion battery. For instance, you can expect around 2/3 of energy compared to a standard lithium-ion battery.
Although Lithium-ion batteries have thermal issues, there are ways to reduce them. But because you are reading this article, I would assume you don’t have in-depth knowledge about thermal protection.
Due to that fact, my recommendation would be to go with the LiFePO4 battery as it provides safety, and the installation of this battery is very straightforward.
Ways To Upgrade Your RV Battery With LiFePO4
There are a number of routes you can take when deciding to replace your regular RV batteries with LiFePO4. Here, I’ll be explaining them.
- Buy a Complete Pack
This is undoubtedly one of the simplest ways to upgrade your RV’s battery to LiFePO4. All you have to do is buy the complete package and install it in your RV. In fact, the installation process is so simple that even an amateur can do it without any problems. Companies like Jackery, Max0ak, and GoalZero sell such packs at a high price.
The LiFePO4 packages come with components like outlets, inverters, and chargers. There are some specific packages for RVs, but most of them are sold for use as a generator. The convenience you will get from these packages is unmatched but they have a few shortcomings.
First of all, if you would like to expand the battery life of the LiFePO4 in the future, then you have absolutely no option. Also, I know many people use solar panels on their RV especially if they are on a long trip. But this option is also absent if you purchase a complete package of LiFePO4 batteries. The price of this battery is a bit high as well.
- Buy Company Assembled Batteries
This is another great way to upgrade the battery of your RV if you are an amateur. Many companies sell assembled LiFePO4 batteries and installing them is also very simple. All you have to do is take out your old lead-acid battery and place the new one.
Before purchasing an assembled battery, check whether the compartment of the battery is in or out. Keep in mind that all lithium batteries are temperature sensitive and exposure to hot or cold weather will completely destroy their functionality.
Another important thing that you need to check is whether the assembled battery has a temperature regulator. Without it, the battery will not last long and there is a slight chance of a fire hazard.
- Use New Cells to Build a LiFePO4 Battery
Now, this is an advanced process of upgrading your RV battery to a lithium one. If you are not an expert, then I will highly recommend you to just buy a complete package or a company assembled battery.
Various organizations manufacture cells of a LiFePo4 battery and they are extremely cheap. How you will assemble them will depend on which type of cell you are buying. One of the biggest advantages of buying cells and manufacturing your own battery is, the overall cost would be half of what you would pay for a package.
- Use Old Cells to Build a LiFePO4 Battery
Using the old cells of your lead acid battery to make a LiFePO4 is undoubtedly the most cost-efficient choice. But performing this process requires a lot of expertise and deep electronics knowledge. A slight malfunction can lead to a drastic accident. So, you will have to be extra careful while manufacturing the battery.
For getting a good efficiency, you will have to know which cell would be compatible with which one. To determine that, testing every cell individually before manufacturing is important. It is a very lengthy process and testing the final product several times before using it is essential.
If you don’t have enough knowledge on how to manufacture electrical components, then my advice would be to buy a LiFePO4 package.
Is it Important to Survey Your RV Before Upgrading the Battery?
It is extremely important that you survey your RV before upgrading the battery.
But before starting the process, it would be wise to survey your vehicle as you will know exactly how much power you need.
For instance, if you are a traveler and ride in your RV for a long period of time, then having a solar panel along with a high-power lithium battery would be wise. But if you only use your RV on weekends, then just charge the battery before starting a new journey. That means, different people have different needs.
But it is recommended for everyone to survey their RV before upgrading the battery. How you can survey your RV is provided below.
- Calculate How Much Power Does Your RV Consume
Before upgrading your battery, it is very important to know how much power your RV will consume especially while it is under heavy load. After getting an exact value, it would be easy for you to determine which battery you’ll need for a long trip.
There are many cheap watt meters available on Amazon that you can buy right now. Use that to measure the power consumption of every electric component of your battery. Then you will have to guess for how long those components will be used in a day. Finally, add them and you will have an approximate power consumption value.
Before upgrading your battery, keep in mind that the power capacity should be 20 percent more than the total power consumption of the components. For example, if the total power consumption is 960 watts, you will need a lithium battery of at least 1200 watts per hour.
- Calculate How Much Current Will the Components Draw
Knowing the exact amount of current your RV’s electrical components will draw is also essential especially if you are manufacturing the battery yourself. For instance, if you use thinner wires and the total drawn current is higher than what wires can tolerate, the battery will become dysfunctional.
Now, if you have regular components, this step would be optional. But if you use electronic devices like hair drier, microvan, fridge, or television, performing this step is essential. If the capacity of the LiFePO4 is lower than the drawn current by the component, it will be seriously damaged. You can use a regular multimeter for measuring the current.
- Determining the Battery’s Installation Place
As I have discussed earlier, all lithium batteries are temperature sensitive. The regulation of temperature directly affects the health of the battery. That means, you will have to pick a place to install the battery where the temperature stays fairly constant and regulation rarely occurs.
This is probably the most important point of the survey as a misplaced battery will not only work inefficiently, it might also lead to a drastic accident. I would say placing the battery inside the RV would be ideal. But temperature is not the only thing you need to keep in mind.
You would have to charge your RV’s battery every now and then. So, don’t install the battery in a place where the charging process gets complicated.
I will highly recommend you to use thermal pads on the lithium battery for adding an extra layer of safety margin. They are pretty cheap and extremely useful especially when you are traveling.