There’s a lot of talk about lithium RV batteries, and with good reason. RV lithium batteries are rechargeable 12-volt batteries that have become a popular alternative to lead-acid batteries, particularly for RVers who spend a lot of time off the grid and/or who use solar power.
RV lithium batteries are based on a newer, more efficient lithium-ion technology known as lithium iron phosphate (or LiFePO4 for short). And as we noted in our post, “Are RV Lithium Batteries Worth It?”, they’ve earned their popularity for many reasons.
Not only do lithium RV batteries have a significantly longer lifespan than lead-acid batteries do, but they’re also lighter. And, because they’re more efficient, they charge faster.
But there are several high-pitched misconceptions floating around about lithium RV batteries, and today’s post hopes to dispel the three most common of these.
Knowledge is power (literally and figuratively in this case), so let’s get right to it!
What Are the 3 Most Common Misconceptions About Lithium RV Batteries?
Lithium Batteries Are Dangerous
Prior to several technological advancements, lithium batteries used in some electronics could overheat and would sometimes even catch on fire. But technology has advanced substantially since that time, and today RV lithium batteries are made with lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) technology which uses non-combustible lithium chemistry. They’re different from the other “lithium-ion” battery formulations used for cell phones, laptops, and other portable devices… and are much safer for use on RVs.
Even so, lithium RV batteries can be prone to a condition called thermal runaway which occurs when the interior temperature of the battery rises so high that it causes a chemical reaction leading to excessive heat that can lead to a dangerous condition resulting in an explosion. For more on this topic, see our post “What Is Thermal Runaway?”
However, this is precisely why most lithium RV batteries have a battery management system (BMS). A battery management system ensures that the battery operates safely by monitoring and managing the advanced features of the battery. For more information on a BMS and how it works, please see our post “What Is the Function of a Battery Management System?”
So, technology has advanced to the degree that the concern that lithium batteries are dangerous is no longer valid.
Lithium Batteries Can’t Be Used in Cold Weather
Misconception #2 is that lithium RV batteries can’t be used in cold weather. Again, this isn’t entirely true. In fact, some brands of lithium RV batteries allow you to continue to draw power to as low as -4℉.
But the bigger issue is that, when the temperature of a lithium battery drops to or below freezing, it can’t be recharged without permanently damaging it. That’s because, at those temperatures, supplying power to recharge the battery can cause the lithium to form crystals, which pierce the membranes that form the cells of the battery, destroying it.
That recharging issue is addressed in two different ways.
First, with virtually all lithium RV batteries that we’re aware of, the BMS (Battery Management System) built into (or installed along with) the battery(ies) will monitor the internal temperature, ensuring that it does not allow any charging current to flow into the battery if it has reached a dangerous temperature. This will protect the battery from damage, but if that was all you were relying on, could mean that your battery won’t recharge when you need it to.
The second way this issue is dealt with is that there are now lithium batteries on the market that have built-in heating elements. When the BMS detects that the battery’s internal temperature has dropped low enough, it can trigger the heating element to come on, allowing the battery to be charged well below freezing. Two of our favorite lithium RV batteries that include heating are the 100Ah Battle Born and 125Ah Xantrex, both of which are sized to be direct replacements for typical RV batteries.
Lastly, even without these protective mechanisms, lithium batteries have another advantage. Unlike flooded lead-acid batteries (which must be installed in vented compartments due to the flammable gas they produce during their charge/recharge cycles), lithium RV batteries don’t outgas at all. As a result, they can be installed inside your RV and, thus, be better insulated from outside temperatures causing a problem.
Lithium Batteries Are More Expensive
This is true, initially. Lithium batteries do cost more to buy. However, they also last significantly longer than lead-acid batteries, so they’re often less expensive in the long run. In fact, a quality lithium RV battery can last up to ten times longer than a lead-acid RV battery.
So, over the duration of the lifetime of a lithium battery, you’d be likely to replace a lead-acid battery several times. That adds up (and can be a real pain in the neck).
Plus, because lithium batteries for RVs can be drained/discharged much lower than flooded lead-acid batteries can be (lead-acid batteries shouldn’t be drained more than 50% of their capacity before their lifespan is significantly reduced), you can typically install half as many of them.
For example, if you require 200 Ah of battery capacity, you can achieve that with two 100 Ah lithium batteries that can be drained all the way down to 0% State of Charge (SOC). With comparable flooded lead-acid batteries, you’d need to install a total of 4 x 100Ah (for a total of 400 Ah), since you can only use 50% of their capacity (400Ah x 0.5 = 200Ah of usable capacity).
Back in 2018, we created a YouTube video about our Lithium/AGM Battery & Electrical Upgrade project, in which we shared our experiences over the first 3 1/2 months of using our new systems. Spoiler: the benefits were, and have continued to be, tangible and significant.
And, if you really want a deep dive into the pros & cons of the various battery types, we gave a (long!) talk on the subject at the 2019 Xscapers Annual Bash… comparing and contrasting the benefits and limitations of standard flooded lead-acid batteries, AGM (Absorbed Glass Matt) batteries, and lithium. Grab a drink, sit back, and enjoy the video:
Have You Made the Switch to Lithium Batteries for Your RV?
If you’ve made the switch to lithium batteries for your RV, feel free to tell us about your experience. Drop us a comment and share your thoughts. Or, if you’re against it, let us know that, too! We’re curious to hear what you have to say!
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