Updated: May 27, 2020
If you are reading this, you have probably already seen all the information on the internet comparing LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries to the traditional lead acid batteries. I won’t duplicate that information here but will list a few reasons why LiFePO4 batteries are ideal for RVs. Then I want to tell you real life stories about actual Lithium installs that I have done recently.
The top 5 reasons why Lithium batteries are better than lead acid batteries.
1) They are completely maintenance and worry free. If you totally ignore them, they are perfectly happy.
2) Extreme long life, in fact, your RV will probably wear out before the batteries.
3) They provide 4 times more power, making them light and small and easy to use.
4) They are very safe, with no fumes, no acid, no noise. You can mount them anywhere.
5) They are compatible with your RV charging systems, making then a drop in replacement for lead acid batteries.
A few months ago, a customer came to me with a nearly new pull behind travel trailer. This trailer was made in Oregon (not Indiana!) and was really set up well. It had 4 of the Interstate Golf Cart batteries in a nice battery box on the tongue (BCI size GC2). This was about 400AH at 12V, which is a pretty darn big battery bank for a 27’ trailer. One issue for this customer was all that weight (about 300 pounds) on the tongue was creating a burden for his tow vehicle. Additionally, their camping style meant they would be using the batteries a LOT, and they were concerned about longevity.
This customer wanted a full blown solar setup, including panels on the roof and portable panels for when he parked in the shade. They camp all over the western USA, from Oregon to Arizona, so they wanted a system that would keep them warm in the cold north and cool in the hot south. So far, so good. The difficulty came in when he told me they only had room for a tiny, 1000W gas generator. And they wanted to be able to run the air conditioner when they needed it.
The solution came in the form of a moderate size Lithium battery bank and a Victron 3000W hybrid inverter/charger. The hybrid inverter/charger has the unique ability to limit the current it draws from the generator (or shore power) and draw from the batteries when it needs extra power. For example, a 1000W generator can comfortably make 7 amps continuously, but if you load it up more than that it will bog and sputter and wear out very quickly. We were able to program the Victron to never demand more than 7amps from shore power. When anything in the camper wants more power, the Victron will pull the additional power from the batteries and add it to the 7amps of generator (shore) power. This is very nice, but it does put quite a burden on the battery bank.
We designed the battery bank using three Battle Born 12V 100AH group 27 batteries. This gave us 300AH, or about 3600WH, of usable energy. The air conditioner needed about 9amps continuously, and up to 18amps to start! The Victron handled both starting and running the A/C easily. While running the A/C, we were pulling about 20amps out of our battery bank. In fact, the A/C will run 3-5 hours off of the solar and batteries alone! The combination of light weight, longevity and ease of use made this customer very happy with their new solar and battery system.
Our next story revolves around a really nice integrated camper on a Ford F350 4X4 truck. This customer likes to get far off road in the Colorado mountains and the surrounding states. Their initial problem was the factory integrated battery system was comprised of two 80 pound flooded lead acid batteries that were mounted underneath the truck, where the spare tire is usually found. Checking the water level on flooded batteries is mandatory to maintaining them, and it was nearly impossible to do that with this setup. Additionally, since this camper would be way off the grid, possibly a long way from any help, it needed to be really reliable.
We replaced the 160 pound batteries with two of the Battle Born 12V 100AH LiFePO4 batteries. We mounted them inside the camper, and added a custom designed battery heater to keep them warm in the coldest of the Colorado mountain winters. With the insulation we wrapped around the batteries, our heater only needs 1amp per hour to keep those batteries between 35 and 45 degrees. Because LiFePO4 batteries do not produce any toxic gasses (or any gasses at all) it was safe to put them inside the main living area. You would never do that with lead acid batteries! Most important for this customer was that they no longer had to even think about maintenance or what the batteries were doing. A completely safe, maintenance free system that will probably last longer than the camper will.
Our third story revolves around a Mercedes Sprinter camper conversion van. The Sprinter van conversions are becoming very popular. They are a fuel efficient, roomy and capable camper able to go almost anywhere. This particular van had two 160 pound sealed lead acid solar batteries from a well known brand name. The owner had repeated problems with the batteries maintaining a sufficient charge, and asked us to test his system and batteries to see if we could find the problem. The system checked out perfectly from an electrical perspective. We then load tested the batteries with a carbon pile load tester, and they passed that. But we still suspected the batteries, so we connected a 1500W inverter and a space heater to give us a long term load. Sure enough, the fully charged 400AH battery bank only provided about 50AH! We replaced the 400AH batteries with 200AH of Battle Born’s. Because LiFePO4 batteries can be pulled flat when needed, the 200AH replacement was actually just as much usable power as the 400AH of lead acid batteries. We reduced the weight from 320 pounds to about 60 pounds! The size was so much smaller that we were able to completely insulate the batteries, and have additional storage room to spare. While the Battle Born batteries are technically compatible with most lead acid battery chargers and alternators, they charge much more efficiently with lithium charge profiles. We reprogrammed his Victron solar charge controller and Sterling engine alternator charger for the correct Lithium profiles and the system works beautifully.
Probably the most important thing for each of these campers was the maintenance free, worry free camping experience that the LiFePO4 batteries provided them. The reduced weight, better power and no toxic fumes or acids are important also. These batteries last so long and work so well, that I tell all of my customers that if they ever decide to sell their camper, take the batteries out and put them in your next RV.