LiFePo vs Lead Acid - Knowledge and myths - Fiberglass RV


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Old 08-07-2021, 04:02 AM   #1
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LiFePo vs Lead Acid - Knowledge and myths

I'd like to start a thread that really discusses in depth what is known about these two battery types and when each should be used. I want to start by providing a very good and in depth analysis of actual testing of both types of batteries.

https://mortonsonthemove.com/best-rv...-test-results/


An in-depth discussion (YouTube) of the actual chemistry and construction. Very good video.





From this what I know is that Lead Acid batteries (PbA) are useful for a very small handful of use cases:
1) Starting an engine. This requires enormous currents for a few seconds and then the battery is immediately recharged by the alternator.
2) An RV where the owner always stays in parks with electrical hookups. This allows the battery to be charged back up if it is used at all during the day, moving around and sight seeing.
3) The RV already has a (dead) lead acid and the owner is getting ready to sell the rv. Let the next owner deal with the problem of a lead acid battery.

Lead Acid Batteries have several very real problems.
1) Their actual usable capacity is dismal
2) They require a full charge after use, every time. Not doing so will shorten the battery life.
3) The battery life is not good, anywhere from a hundred charge cycles if poorly maintained to around a thousand if well maintained
4) They weigh a ton. They are made of lead after all.
5) They do not come with a BMS. YOU are the BMS for a PbA battery

OTOH they are cheap, and commonly available.

LiFePo4 batteries have a couple of very real problem.
1) Charging them at temperatures below freezing will shorten their life.
2) Upfront costs are 2-4 times the cost of PbA

Otoh they have a ton of positives:
1) Their actual usable capacity is very high vs their rated capacity.
2) They charge very fast
3) They are very light. A 100ah battery weighs about 30 lbs.

4) They come with a BMS (Battery Management System) a computer which monitors the battery and controls with an iron fist the charge and discharge of the battery, protecting them from most kinds of damage. This protects them from over charge, over discharge, over temperature charge and discharge and cold temperature charge (in some batteries).
5) They can easily provide gigantic currents. A 300ah battery may well provide 300 amps which will feed a 3900 watt inverter, for a full hour. Large RVs may have 1000 ah batteries and 1K or even 2K watt solar and could actually run the AC on battery and solar.

Myths:
1) LiFePo4 batteries explode and burn down the palace. Not true. Lithium ION batteries do this, a different chemistry.
2) They are damaged by charging at low temperatures. Possibly true. Charging a LiFePo4 battery at a high current will cause lithium plating on the cathode damaging the battery. However trickle charging a fully charged battery does not do this. Some BMS systems prevent this. Some do not. Charge the battery up and flip the switch to disconnect the battery and prevent charging in cold temperatures.
3) Using the battery at a cold temperature damages the battery. Not true, although ALL BATTERIES have significantly less capacity at low temperatures
4) PbAs will provide 50% of rated capacity. Rarely true. See the link above for actual testing about this subject.
5) PbAs are not affected by cold temperatures. PbAs lose a lot of capacity at low temperatures, more that LiFePos in fact.
6) LiFePo4 do not self discharge. They do, about 2-3% per month.

Some thoughts:
1) PbAs are not useless. Owning one does not make you a bad person. They have been used for decades.
2) LiFePo4 batteries are in almost every way a superior battery.
3) LiFePo4 should NOT be used as a starting battery, in fact in general CANNOT be used as such. Their BMS will not allow the required currents.
4) LiFePo4 batteries do not care if they are charged all the way up, in fact would prefer not to be.
5) You should NEVER store a LiFePo4battery completely dead. They self discharge at about 2-3% per month and will discharge to below their safe capacity and damage the battery.
6) LiFePo4 can be stored for several years without a charger applied. Just be aware that they will eventually discharge too far and damage the battery. Charge them all the way up and disconnect the battery. Done.
7) LiFePo4 can charge at extremely high rates, often up to their rated charge capacity. That said, in the end the BMS itself controls the charge rate. A 100ah battery may or may not charge at 100 amps. Usually the BMS has MOSFETs which determine how fast the charge can happen. However it is not uncommon for a high capacity LiFePo4battery to charge at 100 amps or even more.
8) LiFePo4 can provide extremely high discharge currents, often up to a 1 C (or more) rating, i.e. at their entire amp hour rating. A 200ah battery might well provide 200 amps of current until the battery is drained. Again however this is determined by the power rating of the BMS.
9) a PbA can only rarely and only briefly provide their rated discharge current. A high internal resistance causes the voltage to drop fairly rapidly and the discharge current out to fall.
10) Discharging a PbA at high current will cause an immediate reduction on actual current available out of the battery FOR THAT Discharge cycle. This effect is NOT permanent however.
11) Watching the voltage of a PbA is not a good way to determine if the battery is at 50%. At high discharge currents the voltage drops well below the recovery voltage. Thus the voltage does not reflect the discharge state except after a rest period.
11) The same is true for a LiFePo4 battery but for different reasons.

Battery type issues using Solar and Generator:

PbA:

PbA requires a full charge as discussed above. The problem with PbA batteries is that their full charge cycle takes a looooonnnng time. It seems that it accepts it's amp rating (100 amps for a 100ah battery) for the first half of it's charge and then slows down dramatically. But it needs to be fully charged, so for several hours it may only be accepting 20 amps, then 10 amps, then 5 amps... as it creeps towards full charge.

So let's say that you have a solar setup with 600 watts. which puts out perhaps 50 amps. Cool, the PbA battery takes 50 amps for some period, then it slows down. Even though the panel has 50 amps available, the battery only accepts 20 amps, then 10, then 5 amps. Lots of solar power just wasted, not stored because the battery cannot accept the current.

The same problem occurs with using a generator to charge the PbA battery. A 1K generator can provide 1000 watts or about 77 amps. The battery may accept that for a little while but then slows down accepting current. So you end up running the generator for many hours because the battery has to be fully charged but it is only accepting a small current for the last half of the charge cycle.

LiFePo4:

Contrast that with a LiFePo4 battery. These batteries can accept pretty much whatever the BMS allows, i.e. a 100 amp hour battery may take 100 amps. But it does so until the battery is about 90% charged before it too starts slowing down the current it accepts. So the 100ah LiFePo battery will accept 90ah in the first hour, i.e. charge to 90% in about one hour. Even the last 10 percent will only take another hour or so.

Which means two things. For solar, you can purchase a smaller solar array, and or it can fully charge the battery even when cloudy. For generators, a smaller generator will charge the battery many times faster. In addition to all that, the LiFePo battery simply does not care if it is charged up, or even what it's charge state is, OTHER THAN, not stored empty. If you run the battery down overnight and it is cloudy out, no problem, no charge. You might be inconvenienced but the battery doesn't care.

These specific issues make owning the two battery types very different in terms of maintenance. LiFePo4 is pretty much just maintenance free. Use it, charge it, use as much as you want, charge as much as you can but it won't kill the battery.

Just to be clear, neither battery chemistry will survive 6 months sitting in a dead charge state.


Connecting house to starting battery:


Connecting a PbA battery to the tow vehicle battery is quite possible and moderately easy. Add an isolator, run a couple of big cables and you're done.

Connecting a LiFePo4 to the tow vehicle battery is not recommended. The biggest reason is that the LiFePo4 can accept enormous charge currents, and can easily burn out the tow vehicle alternator. If you want to charge from the alternator, you should use a Dc-DC converter which is sized to the alternator.

Mixing battery chemistries
Don't do it. Putting the two typed in parallel is bad because they rest at pretty different voltages, and the PbA battery will pull current from the LifePo battery causing it to discharge. You absolutely can charge a PbA battery from a LiFePo but not vv. Just don't leave them connected together forever.


There is more to say on this subject but I think this provides a good place to begin the discussion. I am NOT trying to slam PbAs or people who have them and use them. I used them in my scamp for many years. They still perform just as well (or poorly) as they ever did. It is simply a case of better solutions being now available.

Please do chime in with your own experiences. I know quite well that the vast majority of owners have only ever used a Pba and think they are just fine. And they can be just fine. If you only ever camp in parks with outlets then buying a LiFePo battery makes no sense at all. OTOH if you want to boondock, they make a lot of sense.

So comment. But let's keep it civil please.
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Old 08-07-2021, 06:14 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jwcolby123 View Post
Myths:
1) LiFePo4 batteries explode and burn down the palace. Not true. Lithium ION batteries do this, a different chemistry.

Not all "lithium" batteries are equal.

Lithium batteries aren't to be recharged.
Lithium ion (Li ion) are rechargeable.
Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePo4) benefits and drawbacks are the subject of the post above.
Lithium polymer (LiPo) have advantages of their own, but a greater tendency to overheat and explode than LiIon and LiFePo4.



And until this post above and some quick research I had thought that "Po" and "Po4" were essentially the same acronym for polymer, not so.
Jon MB



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_battery
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Old 08-07-2021, 08:12 AM   #3
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Good write up. Its really about the cost. If cost came down to even twice the price of flooded batteries then LiFePO4 would be a no-brainer. I would even build my own if I was sure I could match the quality and safety of the Battleborn ones. I would also purchase a different charger.. one I could use in the trailer or wherever I took the battery.

One thing I would like to hear about is the heater option such as in the newer BattleBorn batteries. How does it work in practice and how does the added power draw affect the usability of the battery?

Battleborn docs have this (bolding added):

The heater will be automatically activated when the internal temperature reaches ~35F and will shut off when the internal temperature reaches 45F.

If the battery has been exposed to below freezing temperatures for a long period of time without the heater enabled, it will take 2 to 4 hours for the internal components of the battery to heat up enough for the battery to take a charge. The heater will continue to operate until the battery disconnects for low voltage cutoff. With no charging, or other loads, this could take up to four days in an insulated box in subzero temperatures.
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Old 08-07-2021, 08:38 AM   #4
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Heating

Yes, heating is something that has to be handled. Otoh these batteries can be stored inside of the coach, under the bed or whatever. Some suggestions have been to simply insulate the storage box and run an incandescent light bulb during storage.



And finally, both battery types can be discharged even down to bitter cold, though of course the total capacity will drop radically.
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Old 08-07-2021, 11:10 AM   #5
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Exclamation The Broad View

Comprehensive discussions of RV technologies is long overdue and hold great potential for product improvement and owner familiarity. This battery thread should be followed by every owner interested in getting functionality from his RV. The place to start is, not with details, but with the broad view which I will address here.

Few owners devote sufficient effort to a rigorous evaluation of their RV needs which causes countless failures, bad experiences and needless costs. The few owners who do consider their future needs nearly always underestimate them. Prudence mandates that, whatever the potential need, a significant safety margin should be included to allow for unforeseen situations. Electrics in general and batteries, in particular, are central to functionality since most systems depend upon them. Since temperature strongly influences battery performance, an unbiased look at the temperature requirement is well worth doing. There can be a +40 degree temperature change in one day with a strong frontal passage, Last month it was 128F in the desert outside Las Vegas. Montana can experience -30F overnight in the winter. Clearly, the lead/acid and LiFe Po technologies mentioned in this thread are not up to the job.

Better technologies are available if not common. Space probe battery systems work just fine over extreme temperature ranges. And they are largely automatic. A major complaint of RV owners is the need to constantly babysit their batteries to the exclusion of having camping fun which is the purpose of an RV in the first place. The market will supply a better more appropriate battery system for RVs when consumers demand it. This is the place to start in fitting out a functional and reliable RV.
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Old 08-07-2021, 11:23 AM   #6
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When I get my RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generator) installed I will be able to boondock forever

I don't want to take this thread too far off track but related to battery choice for the camping trailer is the fairly new idea of powering the camper from an electric hybrid vehicle. You could forget a camper's house battery altogether, although you would probably still want a small one to power a few small loads while you are using the vehicle for sightseeing or grocery runs. Then when you get back the vehicle can recharge the house battery.
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Old 08-07-2021, 01:02 PM   #7
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Well...

I absolutely agree that it al begins with a needs assessment.


I'm just going to say that anyone camping out in 130 degree weather has mental issues far beyond this discussion. Likewise -40.We could perhaps agree that this subject falls well within the "needs assessment" (psych counseling anyone?).


My Rv is a scamp 19' I fully intend to live in it full time someday, but it will never deal with those weather extremes. I will be in Quartzsite in the winter but long gone by summer.

I grew up in Yuma AZ, believe me I understand heat. I spent the summers hiking the deserts up around Picacho Peak (Ca) which is just a few miles as the crow flies from my old home. Yuma doubles in size in the winter from the "snowbirds", of which I will soon be one. But by April they were all long gone, as will I be.

So Yea, I expect LiFePo4 to handle my needs very well for many years. Not that better things won't come along someday. And LiFePo4 isn't known for large baby sitting tasks.
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Old 08-07-2021, 01:14 PM   #8
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Power from the ev

Quote:
Originally Posted by gordon2 View Post
When I get my RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generator) installed I will be able to boondock forever

I don't want to take this thread too far off track but related to battery choice for the camping trailer is the fairly new idea of powering the camper from an electric hybrid vehicle. You could forget a camper's house battery altogether, although you would probably still want a small one to power a few small loads while you are using the vehicle for sightseeing or grocery runs. Then when you get back the vehicle can recharge the house battery.

This may in fact be a viable option someday soon, quite the little motor generator driven battery. However right now, today, I can build a 280 AH battery from 4 prismatic cells for total cost somewhere around $600 if I'm willing to shop China. And prices are dropping.


https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005...4b48565a8SXIQQ


A plug in hybrid has anywhere from 8kw to 18kw battery. 8kw is only 615 ah. So two of those 280 ah batteries, in series, 24v, is getting close to that battery in the wife's Ford plugin hybrid.With a 2Kw inverter and 1kw solar and suddenly a small air-conditioner is feasible for my Scamp 19'.
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Old 08-07-2021, 01:19 PM   #9
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Near daily solar charge (weather permitting) is a good thing for common PbA batteries. The draw and charge cycle is short, they also don't mind having current draw while being charged. I know my laptop and many others have issues with that constant load while charging.

LiPo4 delivers full voltage until almost discharged, PbA voltage drops as discharge is taking place. Not sure how much this matters as most RV equipment will run on voltages provided by the PbA battery though most of its discharge but some devices might depend on a more constant voltage.

As was of interest to me with an question of inverter installation. A flooded battery can under high draw have the delivered voltage drop enough to cause the inverter to cut out even though there are many amp hours potentially available. Just a case of drawing faster than the chemical reaction can deliver so voltage drops. Let it sit without load for a bit and voltage comes back up. LiFePO4 don't have this tendency nearly as much. Puckette effect (spelling?) is less for them.

I do wonder if the high tech Battery Management System is a plus and a minus. It exists in the LiFePO4 because the battery would not be very good without it. Has to work for battery to work but can fail. Typical PbA has to break to fail. Or fill up with sediment to point it shorts out.

I think price is a the driving factor. And amount of use. Many people don't really gain much from having the "best" technology. Those who do half dozen camping trips a year have less use to amortize the higher cost over. Better doesn't beat good enough in those circumstances. Spending a lot less on a good battery maintainer for the inexpensive PbA battery makes more sense for those people. Like paying the premium for Snap-On tools, only makes sense if using the tool is your profession, then having a tool break costs you money, otherwise a decent set of Craftsman are the better value for the shade tree mechanic.

I think as market grows it may bring price down. Cordless tools the higher capacity newer batteries don't cost more than the ones from several years ago with fewer and smaller cells. My 12 volt B&D battery of years back and the 18 or 21 volt of today are about the same cost.

Tech has to solve a problem for the cost of said technology to be worth purchasing. Just being better isn't enough to make a decision on so threads such as this that help outline the use cases where it matters are I think very useful.
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Old 08-07-2021, 01:27 PM   #10
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There is one use case that might warrant the extra expense. People with electrical devices they depend on. CPAP or oxygen machines come to mind. For those who must have these devices working to survive the ability to carry more capacity and charge it in a shorter period might well matter a great deal.

If LiFePO4 can charge on less solar as opposed to simply being faster that could matter. And I don't know if it is noted but Deep Cycle PbA batteries don't take a charge especially fast from a generator/charger. So if one can get 100% charge in 2 hours of generator as opposed to needing 6 hours it could make their camping experience more enjoyable in a way that justifies the added expense.
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Old 08-07-2021, 01:32 PM   #11
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The cost difference is closer to 10X. If/when it gets down to 2X, its over. Group 27 marine/RV battery at Walmart = $81.




"2) Upfront costs are 2-4 times the cost of PbA"
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Old 08-07-2021, 01:46 PM   #12
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The cost difference is closer to 10X. If/when it gets down to 2X, its over.

"2) Upfront costs are 2-4 times the cost of PbA"
A month ago I bought a 100ah LiFePo AmpereTime (Chins) for $500 + tax, shipped to my door through Amazon. But... it replaces 2.5 100ah PbA batteries. So it would cost north of $200 for those two PbA batteries. Sounds like 2.5 times to me. Plus my single battery is 3 times faster charging, and provides a solid 100ah for an entire hour if I need.

I am not saying that you can't pay 10x more, that is possible. But I didn't and I'm quite happy with my battery.

The bigger question is do you even need it? Many folks camp a few times a year and only go to the local campground. They hook up their water, sewer, electricity and haul out the BBQ and lawn chairs. Zero need for a LiFePo battery. Needs analysis as the previous gentleman mentioned.

I plan on retiring in three years and hitting the road. I don't use campgrounds, I like to boondock. I have studied batteries intensely as part of my own personal needs analysis, and my objective of my initial post was just to start a discussion around what anyone needs to know as they do their own needs analysis, to decide what battery one needs for a specific use case.

What I want to stress is that I can't say what is right or wrong for you, only what is right or wrong for me.
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Old 08-07-2021, 02:21 PM   #13
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One more difference between battery systems.

Because a LFP can handle a high charge rate until nearly full it works well with a MPPT solar charge controller. A PbA will causes the MPPT to drop of MPPT mode when the current starts to tail off at a significantly lower state of charge, wasting energy.
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Old 08-07-2021, 02:45 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by jwcolby123 View Post
A month ago I bought a 100ah LiFePo AmpereTime (Chins) ...
You got me looking at those Chins batteries.. I like what I see. Tear down video, reviews, and price. I might just pull the trigger. I have not been able to do really any camping of late but the Scamp is also a backup shelter, and the current 100 AH AGM with 100 watt solar might limit that function.
Quote:
Originally Posted by jwcolby123 View Post
I don't use campgrounds, I like to boondock...
I see you live in NC.. boondocking in NC or nearby states? I would be interested in suggested places but PM me if you wish instead of derailing this great discussion.
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Old 08-07-2021, 07:16 PM   #15
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More than just a different battery!

I agree that lithium batteries are the most appropriate battery for replacement. But... in my case I will also need to replace my solar charge controller and the battery charge portion of my converter. The expense for it all will be significant and not just the cost of the battery.
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Old 08-07-2021, 07:37 PM   #16
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I agree that lithium batteries are the most appropriate battery for replacement. But... in my case I will also need to replace my solar charge controller and the battery charge portion of my converter. The expense for it all will be significant and not just the cost of the battery.
I have the progressive dynamics lead acid charger which works just fine with my new battery. I'm not sure why you will need to replace the solar charge controller. A LiFePo battery looks very similar to a PbA battery to most electronics. The charge voltages fall completely within the voltage range of PbA batteries.

Why don't you post what your equipment is, brand / model. Pictures if possible. I'm not saying you are mistaken, but without more info it is impossible to really say what is going on.

Just a caution, "Lithium batteries" come on many shapes, sizes and chemistries. That is a term I do not use. I am specifically talking about Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries, which are one specific chemistry. There are "lithium" batteries which are just flat not suitable for use in an RV. Just as an example many folks try to "rescue" used 18650 batteries from old laptop batteries or ebike batteries. These are small round batteries, ranging from 1.2 amp hours to as much as 2.8 amp hours. These are the ones people "weld" into battery packs.

While those can be made to work, those are in fact the "dangerous" chemistry and I specifically do NOT recommend doing that for use in an RV.
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Old 08-07-2021, 08:18 PM   #17
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The PbA chargers are generally "close enough" on voltages for LFP (it'll charge slower and not quite to 100%), but you do have to watch out for ones with a desulfation mode. That'll either damage the battery or cause the BMS to shut off from overvoltage.
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Old 08-08-2021, 06:31 AM   #18
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Charging slower

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Originally Posted by Defenestrator View Post
The PbA chargers are generally "close enough" on voltages for LFP (it'll charge slower and not quite to 100%), but you do have to watch out for ones with a desulfation mode. That'll either damage the battery or cause the BMS to shut off from overvoltage.
I believe what is true is that they will finish charging slower. And even then they will finish charging about three times faster that that old PbA battery.And yes they may not get to 100% however even that is debatable.

Here is where I personally come down on this whole "charge it all the way to 3.65v (individual cell)..." By the time the cell comes out of the flat part of the charge curve and enters the knee, it is about 90% charged. The published curves unfortunately are all over the map on this. One thing that most of them agree on is that from 3.60-3.65v is about 1%. Do I care? I don't.

I view it this way, if I am getting a very real 100ah from my battery (if it manages to get fully charged) then I am miles ahead of any Pba. If I get even 90% from my LiFePo4 battery then I am miles ahead of any PbA battery. If I am going to die if I don't get another 10%, if I am on dialysis or a cpap and I am barely getting there ... then I am going to buy another battery, another 100ah battery (or 280ah battery). Not spend $300 replacing a perfectly good charger to get that last 10% out of the battery I already have.

Unless of course I have plenty of money and then I will. But that is just me.

As for desulfation mode, can it be turned off? I have never run across that, except in a dedicated widget I purchased at walmart specifically to keep my PbA in best shape.
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Old 08-08-2021, 06:50 AM   #19
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According to Battleborn their battery enters a rebalancing mode when the charging voltage gets to around 14.2-14.3 volts. This is necessary to maintain optimum performance.

Battleborn has an overvoltage cutoff, so equalize on a PbA charger will not harm it, but will rebalance the cells.

Depending on the charger it may or may not have an equalize mode, so you may need to find a way to rebalance your cells.

A PbA charger will work with a LFP but will not take advantage of the LFPs higher charging capability.
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Old 08-08-2021, 07:01 AM   #20
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A month ago I bought a 100ah LiFePo AmpereTime (Chins) for $500 + tax, shipped to my door through Amazon. But... it replaces 2.5 100ah PbA batteries. So it would cost north of $200 for those two PbA batteries. Sounds like 2.5 times to me. Plus my single battery is 3 times faster charging, and provides a solid 100ah for an entire hour if I need.

I am not saying that you can't pay 10x more, that is possible. But I didn't and I'm quite happy with my battery.

The bigger question is do you even need it? Many folks camp a few times a year and only go to the local campground. They hook up their water, sewer, electricity and haul out the BBQ and lawn chairs. Zero need for a LiFePo battery. Needs analysis as the previous gentleman mentioned.

I plan on retiring in three years and hitting the road. I don't use campgrounds, I like to boondock. I have studied batteries intensely as part of my own personal needs analysis, and my objective of my initial post was just to start a discussion around what anyone needs to know as they do their own needs analysis, to decide what battery one needs for a specific use case.

What I want to stress is that I can't say what is right or wrong for you, only what is right or wrong for me.

Not being argumentative or picking nits here, but with PbA batteries, all you need for charging off the alternator is a high amperage relay (~$10). For a Li-ion or LiPo you need a DC-DC charger ($150-200) to make it work. So, you must factor that into the initial cost as well, but still with the 2-4x range originally quoted (but much closer to 4x).

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