A Guide to Lithium Batteries for Vanlife
You may have heard one of the latest buzz words amongst vanlifers: lithium. Lithium batteries have fast become one of the must have components to any off grid electrical system. But, you might be wondering why and are they really worth the hype?
Battery selection for your van can get technical and overwhelming quite quickly, especially if you don’t have any electrical knowledge. However, it can be one of the most important choices you make, as you will likely want to be able to power your home on wheels without any issues.
In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into lithium batteries to give you a better idea of what they’re all about and why everyone in the vanlife community seems to be talking about them. We will also compare lithium and AGM batteries, as these are the two main battery options you’ll likely be choosing between.
What is a Lithium Battery?
Lithium ion and lithium iron phosphate are two types of batteries used in today’s electronics. You’ll most likely know lithium ion batteries as those that are used in smartphones, tablets or laptops. However, when it comes to your van, you’ll be looking at 12v lithium iron phosphate batteries, which can be also written as LiFePO4 batteries.
A LiFePO4 battery is more stable, safer, longer lasting and faster charging than lithium ion batteries. This is why they are perfect for camping and off grid systems, especially when linked into a solar panel system.
Other Types of Batteries
There are, of course, other types of batteries that you might want to know about for vanlife. Before lithium burst onto the scene, you may have heard of AGM batteries or absorbed gas mat (AGM) batteries.
Lead acid batteries have been the more traditional type of battery used in vans and vehicles in the past. AGM batteries are a type of sealed lead acid battery and are considered the more superior for vans of the lead acid varieties.
However, with the arrival of lithium batteries, there has been a great debate about whether lithium has now surpassed AGM as the better overall battery for your off-grid power system.
Benefits of 12v Lithium Batteries for Vans
There are numerous benefits of lithium batteries for vans. Let’s look at the main highlights here:
Lithium batteries or LiFePO4 batteries are incredibly lightweight. In fact, they’re the lightest battery you can get for your power system. This is a huge benefit for campervans, as it means less weight overall in your vehicle.
2. Long lasting
Lithium batteries are long lasting and are built to run for between 3000-5000 cycles. This means you can have your battery for years and it will reliably run your home on wheels.
3. Great usable energy
One of the impressive aspects of lithium batteries is that they can be almost discharged completely without causing any damage. This means that you get greater usable energy out of lithium than other battery types.
4. Fast charging
Lithium batteries are incredibly efficient and charge quicker than other battery types. This means that you can ensure you have power no matter how you decide to charge it: solar, 240v or by the vehicle’s alternator.
Pros and Cons: AGM versus Lithium
While lithium has various benefits, AGM batteries have been the main type used in dual battery systems for vans for many years. AGMs are a solid choice, but lithium tends to edge them out on several factors, namely, weight, discharge level and capacity, life span and charging rate.
However, AGMs still present the closest competition to lithium and they still offer some benefits themselves. They are generally the much cheaper option too, so if you’re a budget van builder then you might be interested in an AGM vs lithium comparison.
If you’re tossing up between an AGM and lithium battery, let’s break down the pros and cons of both these popular battery types for vanlife.
Pros and Cons of Lithium battery
|✔️Can use almost 100% of capacity before recharging without damage||❌Doesn’t handle cold temperatures very well and may not charge in freezing temperatures|
|✔️Weighs on average 50% less than AGM batteries||❌Very expensive to purchase and can be more than double AGM for similar capacity|
|✔️Can last between 3000-5000 cycles, which can be up to 10 years depending on usage||❌Requires specific charger controllers|
|✔️Will charge relatively quickly and generally charges much quicker than AGM batteries||❌Compatible with lithium, such as most MPPT controllers|
|✔️Safe to have in your van without the need for extra ventilation|
Pros and Cons of AGM Batteries
|✔️Handles cold temperatures much better than lithium batteries and can still charge in extreme temperatures||❌Recommended to use just 50% of capacity to prevent damage before recharging, which means you will need bigger or multiple batteries to reach the same Ah of the lithium equivalent|
|✔️More affordable than lithium batteries, can be less than half the price for the same capacity||❌Are very heavy and weighs on average 50% more than lithium|
|✔️Generally holds charge well, although not as good as lithium||❌Charges at a slower rate than lithium batteries, sometimes x5 slower than lithium|
|✔️Their popularity means accessories and controllers are more compatible|
|✔️Safe battery to have in your van without the need for ventilation|
Choosing and Installing Lithium Batteries For Your Van
If you’ve been convinced that lithium batteries are worth the money, then you may be wondering what exactly you need and how to best install them in your power system.
Selecting the best lithium battery for your van
Lithium batteries are generally the safest and best batteries to use in your van. However, not all lithium batteries are built the same. You want to make sure that you buy Grade A+ 100aH cell lithium batteries, which are fire safe and the most chemically stable choice. While they are generally more expensive than other lithium batteries, the added safety is worth the money.
Our Grade A LiFePO4 batteries will ensure you’re getting the best out of your electrical system. Some other brands with cheaper prices may have Grade B cells, so it’s worth doing some extra research to understand what you’re buying.
How many lithium batteries do you need for your van?
If you are looking to set up your dual battery system or off grid power system, you’ll most likely want to know how many batteries do you need or how many amp hours should your leisure battery have.
You’ll notice that battery capacity or size is measured in amp hours or often shortened to Ah. The more amp hours your battery holds, the longer it will last per charge cycle. However, this can differ depending on your battery type.
As mentioned above, rechargeable lithium batteries can generally use almost 100% of their Ah capacity, as compared to an AGM which should only be used to around 50%. This means that a 100Ah lithium battery will give you 100 amp hours of usable capacity, while you’d need x2 100Ah AGM batteries to achieve the same capacity.
Calculating your power usage
How many amp hours you’ll need for your van electrical system will depend heavily on what your van set up is like and the electrical demands it has. For example, are you just looking to run a fridge and some LED lights or do you also have a water pump and inverter for charging electronic devices?
You can find out the maximum and continuous draw of most devices or products by looking at the fine print or searching specifications for each item on the web. If you find out roughly how much power your main components like your fridge, lights, water pump and charging devices use or draw, then you can understand how big your battery needs to be.
Everyone’s vans will have different power demands, so it will be completely unique for each set up!
It can be especially helpful to seek advice from an electrician, auto electrician or van build expert, as they will be able to recommend the best battery capacity for your devices. You can always ask us for advice or any questions you might have, just simply jump onto our website chat or send a Whatsapp message at 0427 495 449.
How to charge your lithium battery
You’ll also need to take into account how you will charge your battery system. You can charge your 12v lithium battery a few different ways:
- Solar panels
- Vehicle alternator
- Shore power or 240 volt power
Depending on how your van is set up you can have all three charging options or even just one. Most vans will have a solar system and also be able to charge via the alternator. However, it can be possible with more advanced electrical systems to have 240 volt charging capability.
However, lithium batteries are perfect for off-grid power systems, because of their charging efficiency and long lasting value. This means they work well with solar panels for when you’re set up at camp for multiple days. Depending on how big your lithium battery is will determine how many solar panels or how many watts you’ll need to produce. Again, a qualified electrician will be able to provide more advice on exactly how many watts you’ll need to recharge your battery system.
On days that it’s cloudy, using the alternator of your vehicle is a helpful back up. This means you’ll be able to top up your battery capacity by driving.
Charger for lithium batteries
Lithium batteries have been on the market for much less time than AGM or lead acid batteries. This means that not all accessories are compatible with lithium.
If you plan on having a solar panel as part of your van electrical system, then you’ll need a solar charge controller. This regulates the flow of electricity between the solar panel/s and your battery. There are many different controllers on the market, but you’ll need to make sure that the one you purchase is compatible with lithium.
A high quality MPPT solar charge controller will generally be able to be programmed to different battery types, which means you can use the same controller for either AGM or lithium depending on what you end up going with. It’s important that you stick to lithium compatible accessories to ensure your power system will function properly.
Buying Lithium Batteries for Your Van
While lithium batteries certainly don’t come cheap, the benefits often outweigh the cost for many vanlifers. There are a variety of brands out there on the market, including some Australian made lithium batteries. It’s worth working out how big of a battery you need and how much you’re willing to spend.
Take a look at some of our lithium batteries here:
Atlas 12v 135Ah Australian Made Lithium Battery
If you’re looking to support an Australian Made product, then the Atlas 135Ah lithium battery is a great option. The high quality company makes lightweight, portable energy products that are rechargeable and energy-efficient. It’s also at an affordable price point giving you more battery power for your adventures without breaking the bank.
They’re proudly made in Australia and come with a 3 year warranty.
Giant 12v 340Ah Australian Made Premium Lithium Battery
Giant batteries are built using quality A-grade prismatic cells with an in-built Daly 100 AMP Battery Management System. They are proudly made right here in Australia and come with a 5 year warranty.
Renogy 12v 100Ah Smart Lithium Battery
Perfect for smaller vans or when you’re only planning to be off grid on occasion, the Renogy 12v 100Ah lithium battery is a high quality choice. It’s equipped with a reliable battery management system (BMS), which balances the cells within the battery and protects it from overcharging.
It’s also built perfectly for connecting with parallel batteries, if you want to increase your energy storage and join multiple 100Ah batteries together. It works even better when paired with other Renogy products, like the 30A MPPT Battery Charger and Bluetooth Module for monitoring your battery level wherever you go.
Check out our full range of Lithium Batteries and if you need some help deciding the AMP for your van, book a call with our Solar Specialist.
Lithium batteries have become one of the most talked about additions to vanlife. The efficient, long lasting and reliable batteries are capable of powering any van set up and all your electronics on board. However, it can be difficult to understand the pros and cons of lithium, especially when compared to the more affordable AGM batteries.
While lithium is certainly far superior across most aspects, it all comes down to your particular van design, lifestyle and budget.