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All lithium chemistries are not created equal. In fact, most American consumers – electronic enthusiasts aside – are only familiar with a limited range of lithium solutions. The most common versions are built from cobalt oxide, manganese oxide and nickel oxide formulations.

But then came along lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4). This newer type of lithium solution was inherently non-combustible, while allowing for slightly lower energy density. LiFePO4 batteries were not only safer, they had many advantages over other lithium chemistries, particularly for high power applications.

Although lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries aren’t exactly new, they’re just now picking up traction in Global commercial markets. Here’s a quick breakdown on what distinguishes LiFePO4 from the other lithium battery solutions:

When subjected to hazardous events, such as collision or short-circuiting, they won’t explode or catch fire, significantly reducing any chance of harm. If you’re selecting a lithium battery and anticipate use in hazardous or unstable environments, LiFePO4 is likely your best choice.

Environmental Impact

LiFePO4 batteries are non-toxic, non-contaminating and contain no rare earth metals, making them an environmentally conscious choice. Lead-acid and nickel oxide lithium high rate batteries carry significant environmental risk (especially lead acid, as internal chemicals degrade structure over team and eventually cause leakage). There is also VRLA battery.

What are some advantages of Li-ion batteries?

Compared to the other high-quality rechargeable battery technologies (nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal-hydride), Li-ion batteries have a number of advantages. They have one of the highest energy densities of any battery technology today (100-265 Wh/kg or 250-670 Wh/L). In addition, Li-ion battery cells, including a 3.2V Lithium Battery Cell, can deliver up to 3.6 Volts, 3 times higher than technologies such as Ni-Cd or Ni-MH. This means that they can deliver large amounts of current for high-power applications, which has Li-ion batteries are also comparatively low maintenance, and do not require scheduled cycling to maintain their battery life. Li-ion batteries have no memory effect, a detrimental process where repeated partial discharge/charge cycles can cause a battery to ‘remember’ a lower capacity. This is an advantage over both Ni-Cd and Ni-MH, which display this effect. Li-ion batteries also have low self-discharge rate of around 1.5-2% per month. They do not contain toxic cadmium, which makes them easier to dispose of than Ni-Cd batteries.

Due to these advantages, Li-ion deep cycle batteries have displaced Ni-Cd batteries as the market leader in portable electronic devices (such as smartphones and laptops). Li-ion batteries, like a 12V lithium battery, are also used to power electrical systems for some aerospace applications, notable in the new and more environmentally friendly Boeing 787, where weight is a significant cost factor. From a clean energy perspective, much of the promise of Li-ion technology comes from their potential applications in battery-powered cars. Currently, the bestselling electric cars, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, both use Li-ion batteries as their primary fuel source.

What are some disadvantages of Li-ion batteries?

Despite their technological promise, Li-ion batteries still have a number of shortcomings, particularly with regards to safety. Li-ion batteries have a tendency to overheat, and can be damaged at high voltages. In some cases this can lead to thermal runaway and combustion. This has caused significant problems, notably the grounding of the Boeing 787 fleet after onboard battery fires were reported. Because of the risks associated with these batteries, a number of shipping companies refuse to perform bulk shipments of batteries by plane. Li-ion batteries require safety mechanisms to limit voltage and internal pressures, which can increase weight and limit performance in some cases. Li-ion gel batteries are also subject to aging, meaning that they can lose capacity and frequently fail after a number of years. Another factor limiting their widespread adoption is their cost, which is around 40% higher than Ni-Cd. Addressing these issues is a key component for current research into the technology. Finally, despite the high energy density of Li-ion compared to other kinds of batteries, they are still around a hundred times less energy dense than gasoline (which contains 12,700 Wh/kg by mass or 8760 Wh/L by volume).

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