Lithium revolutionised the world of batteries, but do they suit the 4WD market?
Surely, I’m not alone when it comes to overlanders having issues with their 12-volt systems. From memory, I’ve had to purchase more than six batteries over the past four years. With the expense averaging out to over $250 per battery, it was unsustainable. I even swore never to buy a particular brand ever again (four of the batteries where that brand), but unfortunately, when the last deep cycle battery perished on the Binns Track, it was all I could get in Kununurra.
On my return home, I began researching lithium as an option for powering my auxiliary items (fridge, inverter, camp lights, air compressor etc). It seemed that the more I read, the more confused I became, there were so many different brands that all sounded different and prices from ridiculously cheap to frighteningly expensive. I then met the team from AMPTRON in Western Australia and suddenly had all my questions answered, this is what I learnt.
1. What does LiFePO4 mean?
There are several types of lithium-ion batteries. The main difference between them is their cathode chemistry. LiFePO4 stands for Lithium Iron Phosphate which is the chemistry of the cathode of this type of Lithium battery, and it is these cathodes that help in making Lithium batteries cheaper and safer than they once were, being low cost, low toxicity, well-defined performance and long-term stability. LiFePO4 is also highly resilient during oxygen loss which is what caused exothermic reactions, and fires, in other Lithium cells. This is the main type of Lithium-ion battery used in the 4WD and RV market.
2. Why are lithium batteries so light?
Lithium is one of the lightest elements, with hydrogen and helium the only two that are lighter, and they are gases. LiFePO4 batteries made up of lithium ions and carbon, making them extremely lightweight, whereas a wet cell battery is full of lead alloy or fibreglass plates and sulfuric acid.
3. What is a BMS?
The BMS is the internal Battery Management System that protects and manages the Lithium battery cells. It limits the peak voltage of each cell during charging and preventing the cell voltage from dropping too low on discharge. It also monitors the temperature, charge and discharge rates of the battery, preventing extremes during charging and discharging. This means your LiFePO4 Lithium battery is unlikely to become unstable or unsafe, thanks to these protective measures. Even if punctured, a LiFePO4 battery won’t catch fire.
4. Can I use a lithium battery as my starter battery?
LiFePO4 batteries are sensitive to heat, so placing them in your engine bay may cause the battery to operate under excessively hot conditions which could significantly decrease the battery life. Also, most LiFePO4 Lithium batteries are designed as deep cycle batteries to deliver steady power for a long period, therefore the peak current these batteries are designed to deliver is insufficient for a cranking battery. Further, the charge profile of many modern alternators is not ideal to maintain LiFePO4 batteries. I’ve been advised AMPTRON are in the process of developing a Lithium battery with high heat tolerance and sufficient CCA abilities that can operate within the engine bay and can also be used as a deep cycle battery.
5. Can I use any type of charger on a lithium battery?
The method used to charge a Lithium battery is based on a CV/CC (constant voltage/constant current) charge algorithm. LiFePO4 batteries usually require a slightly higher voltage to fully recharge compared to Lead Acid batteries, but there is no float or trickle charge stage since that is detrimental to the battery life.
Many lead-acid chargers have an equalization mode, which supplies a deliberate over-voltage charge for a short period to combat sulphation and acid stratification. Applying an equalization charge to a lithium battery may damage the cells.
The other function that lead-acid chargers have is a “return to bulk” voltage. Once the charger is in float, it will maintain the battery at a pre-set voltage. When the battery discharges under load, the voltage will reduce. Once the voltage reaches the “return to bulk” voltage, the charger will start a new charge cycle and start re-charging the battery. The problem is Lithium batteries maintain a higher voltage than lead-acid batteries while discharging, and by the time it reaches the “return to bulk” voltage the Lithium battery is already very low.
You can use a lead-acid charger on a Lithium battery, however, you mustn’t allow an “equalisation” stage. A lead-acid charger that can be set to charge no higher than 14.6v (usually the AGM setting is the best option) can be used for regular charging and then must be disconnected after the battery is fully charged. Do not leave the lead-acid charger connected to maintain or store the battery.
Ultimately, using a battery charger with a specific Lithium charge algorithm is the best option for maximum performance and lifespan of any lithium battery. One thing you’ll notice is the speed at which a LiFePO4 battery recharges, up half the time compared to a lead-acid battery.
6. Are all lithium batteries equal?
The simple answer is no, and this is why. Many lithium LiFePO4 battery manufacturers use smaller and cheaper cylindrical cells that deliver reduced discharge capacity and short life expectancy. The tabs on these smaller cells are often welded together which is susceptible to forming micro-cracks that diminish the performance and lifespan of the battery.
Manufacturers, like AMPTRON, use high-quality prismatic cell design with high discharge ratings and exceptional life cycle performance. Connecting cells by bolting them together via threaded terminals provide a stronger and vibration resistant battery.
It’s these differences in construction that also create so a range in the pricing of lithium batteries.
7. When does a lithium battery stop providing power?
Under load, a LiFePO4 battery discharges while maintaining a high voltage until it reaches about 95% Depth of Discharge. The internal BMS will cut the power supply once the battery voltage drops below its low voltage cut-off, which for a 12V battery will typically be near 10V.
8. What is the cost comparison between LiFePO4 and Lead Acid batteries?
While the initial layout cost for a lithium battery is at least twice that of a deep cycle lead-acid battery the expected life span of the lithium battery is more than four times longer than that of a lead-acid battery. A lithium battery will also provide as much as twice the usable energy of a deep cycle lead-acid battery of the same rated capacity because you can use a greater Depth of Discharge (DoD). For a quality LiFePO4 battery, you’ll realise more than 2000 cycles at regular 100% DoD and up to 5000 cycles at less than 80% DoD, compared to an AGM battery may be having a life of 400 to 800 cycles at 50% DoD. You can expect to buy at least three lead-acid batteries to one AMPTRON LiFePO4 battery that has a typical lifespan of 7-15 years.
Who is AMPTRON?
AMPTRON® is an Australian owned and operated company supplying high-performance energy storage, generation and monitoring solutions used in Recreational, Marine, Commercial, Industrial and Mining applications such as Lithium batteries, chargers, power monitors, solar panels and portable power packs including off-grid installations. Its founders have deep roots in the Electrical Manufacturing and Industrial Automation industries, but also share a love of the outdoors and like to “get out there”. AMPTRON is focussed on providing quality products and solutions at competitive prices combined with great customer service. AMPTRON have supplied me with a lithium battery to use in my 4WD.
For more information visit the team at AMPTRON
Having decided it was time to check oil levels, it was a challenge to open the bonnet of my Prado as it suddenly weighed heavily. One of the gas struts had decided to fail, hydraulic fluid leaking down the shaft. I was impressed that it had lasted so long, especially having been in the midst of my engine bay fire, the scars still evident on the hardened plastic cover. Thankfully, changing the gas struts that open and hold up your bonnet is very simple, just remember that if you have to replace one, it’s better to replace both so they have the same pressure and age.
First thing I did was jump online and check out what was available for my 14-year-old vehicle. The usual automotive stores sold suitable replacements, but for my vehicle, individually not pairs. Then Google led me to Gas Struts Guys, an Australian owned and operated business that specialises in supplying automotive and universal gas struts. It was easy to enter my vehicle details and find the right kit to suit, and it came as a pair. When the kit was delivered, here is what I did to replace my old gas struts with new ones.
1. Remove the old struts:
This was just a matter of unscrewing the mounting points on the bonnet and body panel using a 12mm spanner and removing the strut with the mounting point attached. I used a broom handle to hold the bonnet up, but it is safer to have someone hold the bonnet for you, just in case. I replaced the faulty strut first so that the good strut could help hold the bonnet up.
2. Install the mounting points:
The kit comes with four mounting points, easily screwed into the existing holes and tightened with a 12mm spanner.
3. Attach the new struts:
Once the mounting points where installed, I used a flat blade screwdriver to release the clip and then pressed the strut onto each mounting point, before closing the clip. Having viewed videos since, releasing the clip may not be necessary for installation, only for removal of the strut. Having replaced the failed strut, I then replaced the second strut just as easily. The entire job took less than 10 minutes and was one of the easiest maintenance jobs ever performed.
So, if the gas struts that support your bonnet give up the ghost, it is simple and easy to replace them. The replacement gas struts cost me $39.95 with free postage for the pair from www.gasstrutguys.com.au.
Projecta have recently released their new and improved range of Intelli-Start 12V Lithium Jumpstarters. I got my hands on the IS1210E, and must say I’m impressed with the compact unit at first glance. Not much larger than a tub of margarine and weighing in at only 630 grams it packs a real punch when it comes to jump starting your vehicle or keeping your mobile devices charged.
It may only be small, but according to Projecta, the IS1210E is capable of jump starting most vehicles up to 3.2L diesel and 7.0L petrol engines.
So what are my initial thoughts? Check out my video below
You can find out more on the Projecta website
Disclaimer: Projecta are a product sponsor, I receive no cash for comments.
You know what it’s like. You buy a new set of spotlights or light bar or air lockers and the switch that comes with the kit isn’t one that fits your blank switch plate or the wording \symbols are rubbish.
I found the solution though, Lightforce allows you to create custom switches to suit most common vehicles and they’re virtually a plug and play installation. Here is how I did it.
Step One: Ordering the Switches
- Head to the Lightforce website and click on Custom Switches, once the page opens navigate to the Custom Switches section.
- Select the custom switch that suits your vehicle. Switches range from $23 to $38 each.
- Follow the instructions to select the image that you prefer before typing in the text that you want. The switch must be edited before you can purchase it and profanity is not permitted. It is also advisable to check your spelling as you won’t get a refund if you muck it up.
- Once you’re happy with your edits, add the switch to the cart and repeat the process until you’ve completed your order.
- Head to the checkout and complete the purchase.
Step Two: Installing the Switches
The only tools you’ll need are:
- wire cutters
- wire strippers
- soldering iron if you prefer
Each switch comes with a harness and connector as well as instructions on the wiring colours, making things very easy. As I already had switches installed, it was just a matter of crimping connectors onto the blue, yellow, red and black wires and then swapping out the old switches one wire at a time, making sure the correct wires were being connected.
To illuminate the switches when the lights are turned on, I used a test lamp to find the power on the dash light circuit and then connected the switch wires to that. Once everything was installed, it was just a matter of testing each set of lights with the corresponding custom switch.
Now I am very happy as all my switches fit perfectly and do exactly what I chose for them to do.
I also decided to grab one of the Lightforce dual USB switches as the one already in the Prado was a cheap and nasty one and only one socket worked. This was easy to install also as it was plug and play. I decided not to connect to the dash light circuit as a lit switch might become distracting considering its position on the centre console.