Lithium batteries, especially the Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4 or LFP) ones, have replaced older-style lead-acid and AGM batteries. Even though lithium batteries come at a higher price, the benefits of a lithium battery far outweigh the cost.
Once people have invested in a lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery, a common question is: how do you maintain a LiFePO4 battery? Therefore, this article will address all the questions and doubts about the best way to maintain this kind of lithium battery.
Why Do LiFePO4 Batteries Need Maintenance?
When you buy a lithium battery, you usually get a warranty. For instance, Eco Tree Lithium’s LiFePO4 batteries have a 6-year warranty. All lithium batteries last for at least this warranty period when handled appropriately according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
All lithium-based batteries provide current due to the movement of lithium ions. However, their maintenance requirements differ drastically. Among the various lithium battery technologies, LiFePO4 is the easiest to maintain. However, as any expert will tell you, even the most robust battery needs some maintenance. Correct care can extend battery life (we are talking about years here).
What Makes LiFePO4 Batteries Maintenance Free?
The main reason a LiFePO4 lithium-ion battery requires virtually no maintenance is thanks to its internal chemistries. A LiFePO4 lithium-ion battery uses iron phosphate as the cathode material, which is safe and poses no risks. Additionally, there is no requirement for electrolyte top-up, as in the case of traditional lead acid batteries.
For other lithium batteries, you need to ensure proper venting and check the battery regularly for any buildup of gases. Gases in lithium-ion batteries can be toxic and flammable. However, in a LiFePO4 lithium-ion battery, there is no such requirement.
How Do You Maintain a LiFePO4 Battery?
When you purchase a LiFePO4 lithium iron phosphate battery from Eco Tree Lithium, it comes with an inbuilt Battery Management System (BMS). The battery BMS monitors the battery’s condition and provides a protection mode for events like overcharging, overheating, or freezing. Therefore, most of the work is done for you.
But not all of it – so here are some steps to ensure the battery remains in optimal condition.
Charging and Discharging
- Every LiFePO4 battery comes with a set of instructions for optimal charging. Follow the instructions and use the lithium charger provided by the manufacturer to charge lithium iron phosphate batteries correctly.
- During the initial charging, monitor the battery’s charge voltage to ensure it is within appropriate voltage limits, generally a constant voltage of around 13V. In later years when the battery is at the end of its lifespan, the charge voltage can be a lower voltage than that used when new. If the charge voltage drops below the original value within the warranty period, contact the manufacturer to check if the battery has a defect.
- Only use the battery charger provided by the manufacturer or recommended in the user manual. Using non-recommended chargers may cause improper charging and damage the battery’s capacity.
- It is a common mistake for caravan owners to charge LFP batteries with the in-built charger of the caravan. This should be avoided. Use only chargers that battery manufacturers recommend.
- Lithium-ion batteries are designed for opportunity charging. This means that you should charge the battery whenever possible, in shallow cycles. Shallow cycle charging is better than rapid charging or deep cycle charging, as fast charging can reduce the cycle life of an LFP battery pack.
When should I charge my LiFePO4 battery?
For optimal results, charge an LFP battery before it reaches the 20% charging point (80% depth of discharge). While deep discharge cycles won’t harm the battery’s health, the BMS requires some charging voltage to function correctly. Therefore, a minimal charge of 20% is recommended.
Can LiFePO4 Batteries Be Fully Discharged?
Yes, you can fully discharge an LFP battery. Deep discharge is one of its main advantages over alternatives like a lead acid battery. Lead acid batteries require at least 50% charge to keep them operational. Discharging the battery below this level will reduce battery voltage and affect the battery’s ability to function.
- The battery cell compartment should never be disassembled for any purpose whatsoever. If the battery has any problems, it is vital to contact the battery manufacturer for assistance.
- Never short the external battery terminals. When connecting the battery, it is essential to ensure that each cable is correctly connected to the appropriate battery terminal. No conductive surface should be present between the terminals that can short the battery.
- Every battery’s user manual contains instructions on how to dispose correctly of the battery. Follow the conditions in the user manual for correct disposal and recycling. Under no circumstances should an old battery be thrown into fire or water.
- Avoid extreme temperatures. The temperature limit in the battery compartment should be checked to ensure that it is in the safe operating range. Keep a temperature compensation of a few degrees to account for any environmental changes.
- Keep the battery away from excessive physical shocks or vibration. These can damage the battery’s internal structure and hamper its operation.
- If the battery is damaged, contact the manufacturer for repairs or replacement. Avoid using a defective battery, as it can lead to improper battery voltage ruining your appliances. Damaged batteries can also cause a fire.
- If a battery begins to leak fluid, do not make contact with these fluids. Generally, unlike other lithium batteries, LFP batteries do not leak any toxic or acidic fluids. Despite this, any fluid leak can be a sign of damage. Contact the manufacturer for replacement or dispose of the battery according to the guidelines.
- If, in any case, the battery fluid makes contact with your eyes, do not rub them. Flush your eyes immediately with water for at least fifteen minutes. Lift the eyelids and flush underneath to ensure no traces of fluid remain. It is advisable to consult a physician as a precautionary measure.
- Transporting any kind of battery, including an LFP battery, can be prohibited in specific areas such as airports. Check the local and institutional laws before transporting an LFP battery pack.
- Some governments and local laws are specific regarding transporting a dead battery. Ensure that you follow these laws when transporting a lithium battery.
Storage of Lithium Batteries
- When you intend to store lithium-ion batteries, charge them to at least 50% charging level. Do not store batteries that are fully discharged. In the case of a fully charged battery, it should be discharged to 50% before it is stored.
- When storing a battery for extended periods, disconnect it from any load.
- Every lithium battery has a range of ideal temperatures for storage. This is typically provided by the manufacturer. Make sure that you store the battery within these temperatures.
Mistakes to Avoid with LFP Lithium Batteries
There are common mistakes that users make which can affect the health of an LFP battery. If you own an LFP battery, ensure you avoid these mistakes to prolong battery life.
- There are many differences between lithium-ion batteries and sealed lead acid batteries or AGM batteries. Do not use the guidelines for a sealed lead acid battery to maintain an LFP battery, and vice versa. In particular, never use a lead acid charger for charging a lithium battery.
- A lithium-ion battery, in general, has a low self-discharge rate. Therefore, it does not significantly discharge when left in storage. Fully charging lithium-ion batteries before storage is not required. Fully charged lithium-ion batteries can be dangerous when left unused for long periods. On the other hand, a lead acid battery slowly discharges in storage every day and can run out of juice quickly.
- An overcharged lifepo4 battery pack is just as bad as an undercharged battery. Never overcharge the battery, regardless of the type. High-quality LFP batteries, such as those provided by Eco Tree Lithium, have a BMS that provides overcharge protection so that the battery cannot be overcharged.
- Dirty battery terminals can lead to improper flow of current during operation. Therefore, it is recommended that you clean the terminals while installing the battery pack.
- Do not throw the battery away just because its cells appear swollen. Swelling of an LFP battery bank is a common occurrence and, usually, a sign of an overcharged or undercharged battery. The swollen battery cells will likely reduce performance but not degrade the battery bank enough that you need to dispose of it.
- Using the right terminal mounting tools is just as important as using the correct charger for the battery. Many people think that nuts and bolts do not make any difference but, in fact, even the thread depth of these tools matters.
It is hardly a debate about which battery technology is best nowadays – LFP batteries win by an impressive margin. One of the best things about LFP is there is hardly any maintenance needed.
Therefore, if you are considering buying a new battery, browse the catalogue of Eco Tree Lithium to look at the various products available. Each battery comes with an integrated battery management system for optimal battery life and a warranty of six years.
LiFePO4 units have the most extensive temperature operating range and function well in both high temperatures and low temperatures. The inbuilt heater offers protection when starting in freezing temperatures that may cause other batteries to fail.