In the two previous installments of this series (here’s part one and part two) I have been accused of either not answering the question, or leaving it to the end. So let me just answer the question right off the bat: Yes, the higher-priced lithium batteries are worth the money. But only if you plan to dry camp for extended amounts of time and you plan to keep your rig for more than three years.
The superior cells used in the top-tier manufacturers are encased in stainless steel, provide a solid connection vs. cheap solder, and have a Battery Management System (BMS). That is why they are guaranteed for 10+ years. And if you replace traditional FLA or AGM batteries every three years, like most RVers are doing, the higher price lithiums pay for themselves. Plus you have a superior run time along the way.
I received quite a few comments in the last two installments. While most were good, a few were a little on what I like to call the “Ford” side of the discussion. Here are some of the comments. Due to the length, some of them have been shortened. You can read all the comments on part one and part two here.
Steve J.: “I would have preferred to go with the U.S. company that assembles and tests their batteries here in the U.S. There is one company, but no one actually manufacturers the cells here that I can tell…”
Friz: “The UL 1642 is good to know. What was with the picture of 3 batteries and a checkmark by cylindrical? 12 vdc LFP batteries use prismatic cells or the good ones do. Not Dave’s best article.”
Larry: “The illustration claims ‘UL1642 RECOGNIZED FILE #MH64383.’ Is this a clue to not American-made or a new way of making a file?”
Cordo: “A warning about lithium-ion batteries that the politicians pushing them ignore. My son is a fireman. A week or so ago, they were called out on a fire caused by an exploding L-I battery in a garage. He said those batteries can cause something called a ‘thermal runaway.’ Batteries can combust spontaneously, and once they do, the fire can’t be put out. Similar to thermite. The property owner had purchased a large and cheap Chinese battery for his RC car. That battery exploded and eventually set off the other L-I batteries in his garage which set the garage on fire. …”
Addressing comments, part one, about lithium batteries in RVs
Let’s address Cordo’s concern about the fire issue. But first I would like to say “thank you” to Cordo’s son and what he does to protect people. I do respect that. The Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries (LiFePO4) are different than the ones used in cell phones, laptops, and cars that had an issue with catching on fire. Plus the Battery Management System (BMS) prevents overcharging, heated situations and other issues that might not cause a fire, but other issues.
Larry caught the ‘”typo” which stated “recognized,” which has been changed! And currently, I do not believe there is anyone making the cells in the U.S. However, there are several companies now that are making all the other components and doing the assembly in the U.S. such as Expion360, Dragonfly (which also has the Battleborn brand), and others. It is a good question to ask, as this typically means a superior customer service and technical department based in the U.S. Plus, these companies have a huge Ambassador Program with actual RVers and off-roaders testing every day in extreme conditions.
Reader comments, part two
Bill: Good article. One item I don’t think is correct is the part about the BMS shutting down the charging means a dead battery. My Renogy batteries can still be drawn from down to 0% SOC or if -4°f is reached. FYI: Not all BMSs offer CHARGING freeze protection”
Tommy M.: “Great informative article, Dave. Especially since I chose the Expion360 series of batteries for our trailer two years ago. I also had the Expion monitor installed so for the first time ever I am able to not only see how much we’re charging but how much we are discharging. The batteries were installed in our pass-through storage in the front of our travel trailer. Expion has excellent customer service and I’ve had numerous contacts with them, both with emails and phone calls. Battle Born is excellent too.”
Robert G.: “I find it disingenuous to highlight Expion360, without mentioning they are owned by Dometic and that Dragonfly Energy, thru Battleborn, is more established, independent, and superior, offers more alternative sizes and such. I also find that Dometic has acquired Zamp Solar who ONLY offers Expion. History suggests that Dometic will continue to leverage Expion360 in an effort to exploit these shadow relationships until they corner the market and increase prices. I certainly hope y’all are not leveraged in there while touting your independence.”
Randall B.: “Dave, your article doesn’t answer your question, ‘Are expensive lithium batteries really worth it?’ I am a big fan, but I think the article should answer the title question.”
Addressing comments, part two, about lithium batteries in RVs
Let me first address Robert’s comment. My initial reply was I thought he was an AI “bot” that got to spew a word count gleaned from internet articles that did not have to be fact-checked. Expion360 is not owned by Dometic and you can find them traded publicly on the NYSE – XPON. Here is a little history: John Yozamp started Zamp Solar several years ago as he is an avid off-road enthusiast and was tired of the cheap panels.
Zamp was sold to Dometic a couple of years ago along with Go Power!, and John Yozamp started Expion360 because he was tired of having the best solar charging system in the industry only to have subpar batteries.
The reason I featured the Expion360 pictures in my article is because they have done exhaustive testing on their product as well as others and have it documented for everyone to see. I felt it was important for everyone to actually see the cells and connection.
But I realize there are other good manufacturers such as Dragonfly that are branded only for RV manufacturers and the Battle Born line for retail. I have to say that Dragonfly/Battleborn has an excellent site with great information on applications, sizing, DC to DC converters and everything else. However, they have limited info on the construction of their battery other than a video stating they use cylindrical cells, but nothing as technical as the photos and documentation of Expion.
BMS and below-freezing situations
Let’s address the BMS and below-freezing situations. Almost all Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries will allow you to drain the battery down to 0% even in below-zero temperatures. However, it is not good for the cells to try and charge them if they are below freezing, so most BMS will allow a charge, but not all.
An overseas company listed on their website that they changed the BMS as customers were complaining about being stuck with 0% batteries and not being able to charge them. Most of these situations came from customers just swapping batteries with little or no education and preparation. Charging them below freezing will not immediately ruin the cells; however, companies that offer a 10+ year full replacement warranty want to safeguard against an issue like this.
Read more from Dave here.
Thanks for the finished part 3 info Dave
I installed 3 Dragonfly batteries at 270 AHr each for a total of 810 AHr. I went to that level because we have a Whirlpool household fridge that uses on average 120 AHr per 24 hours. I am very glad I made the upgrade since we can go 3 days easily before recharging. The flat discharge curve is an added bonus. 10 year warranty? Yes please.
Next step is solar panels to keep them charged even when including all the other energy users such as TV, lights, water pump etc.
We have been fulltimers in a 40′ DP for over 2 years and sold our sticks and bricks.
We’ve had our lithium batteries for several years and we use them every year when we go “rustic”. I don’t know enough about them to say I love them. My husband does and he loves them! I found them (used) on Facebook marketplace, told my husband and he started investigating! Long story short, we bought 4, had them shipped to the Midwest from California, bought an inverter (I think that’s the right term), got everything set and charged (this was not an overnight process) and did the 2 week state forest campground trial run, even bought a little generator to charge the bank of batteries. Some cool nights the furnace would kick on. Used the generator only to make sure everything was working. It was and is AWESOME!
Good article, but I don’t understand this late sentence: “it is not good for the cells to try and charge them if they are below freezing, so most BMS will allow a charge, but not all.” It is my understanding–and would certainly make sense–that most BMSs *prevent* a charge below freezing.