The dangers of dabbling with Li-Ion Batteries

Many people do not realize it… but the dangers of dabbling with Li-Ion Batteries for your EV might show inverse sale. This doesn’t make sense straight away because people always argue that Li-Ion Batteries are light and have a greater power density and output. These are all good on paper buy if you put it in the market the advantages of Li-Ion disappear completely in front of a layman.

  1. For one the cost of the vehicle is straightaway higher than what is available in Petrol version.
  2. The battery replacement cost of ONE Li-Ion battery is about 5 times the cost of ONE LA battery.
  3. The worst part is that the range (km travelled) difference between Li-Ion Battery & Lead Acid Battery vehicle is almost the same.
  4. On top of it he doesn’t understand you when you talk about the awesomeness of the Li-Ion technology its energy density, light weight, quick charging etc.

Why the layman doesn’t understand all the stuff is because these great points of Li-Ion and bad points of LA Batteries are all stuff that doesn’t affect him “much” anyway… let me explain…

When I say Lead Acid battery it means AGM (Absorbed glass mat). AGM has very low internal resistance, is capable to deliver high currents on demand and offers a relatively long service life, even when deep-cycled. AGM is maintenance free, provides good electrical reliability and is lighter than the flooded lead acid type. It stands up well to low temperatures and has a low self-discharge. The leading advantages are a charge that is up to five times faster than the flooded version, and the ability to deep cycle. AGM offers a depth-of-discharge of 80 percent; the flooded, on the other hand, is specified at 50 percent DoD to attain the same cycle life.  The negatives are slightly lower specific energy and higher manufacturing costs that the flooded. AGM has a sweet spot in midsize packs from 30 to 100Ah and is less suitable for large UPS system.

Weight Advantage – It might give you, as a manufacturer, the advantage to design the vehicle in a compact way and other related advantages. But the benefit doesn’t directly affect the customer as he is not going to “carry” the battery around. So all your talk about weight advantage are like greek and latin to him.

Torque:The torque of electric vehicle is immense in both Li-Ion & LA Batteries… especially when coupled with a high wattage good motor. The advantage difference of Li-Ion battery over LA Batteries are not exceptional in low speed or low wattage (< 1,500 w) motors usually used for small, weak commuter scooters or vehicles. There is not say 5 times advantage!!.. the advantage is probably around 30 to 50% and not 500%. I use 5 times is because the cost difference is 5 times and the customer is always going to measure all advantages with that yard stick.

Charging Time: Li-Ion needs only 1/3 the time of Lead Acid Battery but the benefits are lost when the  customer is charging from home and charging overnight – he plugs it in when he arrives home and plugs out when he leave for office, the electricity consumption cost over 2 hrs charge of Li-Ion is almost same as 8hrs charge of LA, so where is the advantage? Also for Solar charging there is not much advantage for Li-Ion. But Li-Ion has the advantage of quick charge which the LA does not have but for daily use of going to office, running errand, etc there is no need for quick charge.

Once Li-Ion battery can cover longer ranges (200kms) can this quick charge benefit can be used advantageously for intercity travel.

Battery Cost: The cost of both batteries are identical over 5 years. Eg: LA = Rs 6,000 to 10,000 while Li-Ion = Rs 30,000. In 5 yrs you will replace the LA battery 3 times which will cost you only 18,000 to 30,000. But usually the Li-Ion vehicle companies point out and add the cost for “service” at the time of battery replacement. This is not true as over time the cost of battery is expected to reduce also its no big deal to change batteries yourself. The typical cost of an Li-Ion Electric bike would be 70,000 while the same bike could be Rs 40,000 with Lead Acid Battery. Also there are lots of local Lead Acid Battery manufacturers while there are no Li-Ion makers.

Effect of heat: Li-Ion is very bad in this aspect especially while charging, everybody is familiar with the social media posts of many mobile phone that detonated like a bomb. Li-Ion also functions poorly in low temperature, below zero (imagine snowing terrain like Leh, Ladak, Shimla, Darjeeling, Kulu Manali). The lead-acid battery can handle any heat and one of its kin is sitting under all the Petro-car hood right now for starting the car. LA is a time tested workhorse.

Environment Friendly: Both kind of batteries can be recycled and reused. Lead Acid batteries are better in this case as all they require is to be cleaned up and electrolyte added.

People who have touched Li-Ion batteries in Asia have largely failed! Biggest example is E2O. It was selling good as LA battery Reva when nobody wanted electric cars or even heard of it. Now when the world is driving EVs E2O is struggling to sell. Compare this with over 10,00,000 electric rickshaws in India with over 200,000 in Delhi itself, add about 5,00,000 golf carts sold by local companies to be run in golf course, airports  in India and around the world…. all running on LA Batteries. Tata is soon expected to release Lead Acid based Tata ACE electric… there is not an iota of doubt that this will be a runaway hit.

For all developers starting with EVs I would suggest not to take other type of ANY battery unless they can better the Lead Acid battery in THESE TWO major market factors:

1) Cost of the Battery

2) Range.

Unless these two are bettered it is easier and better to work around the problems of Lead Acid battery than any other battery.

This very aspect of Lead Acid v/s Li-Ion has set Indian EV market behind by 10 years and also gave away the World EV market leader advantage enjoyed by Reva. This advantage has been further jeopardized by the sale of Reva to a company who develop, manage and market petrol cars. Today the person (Chetan Maini) who developed E2O is no longer developing the car further… and the 4 door version was supposed to come out in 2012, then 2013 then 2014, 2015 and now 2016… It probably would never be released at all.

The failure of Li-Ion in the Asian market is crystal clear and anybody who walks that path, unless the prices of Li-Ion come down, have a difficult task at hand.

The dangers of dabbling with Li-Ion Batteries is that it could kill your company…be warned…be very warned

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