We Needed New Batteries for Our Motorhome
These Really Are “New” Batteries
A Discussion of Batteries
Initial Attempts at Field Testing New Batteries
My RV—a 2007 Monaco Dynasty 42’ motorhome—is now powered by Lithium Ion batteries. We are doing this as a field test for Lithionics Battery, Clearwater, Florida. They make lithium ion batteries.
What You Will Learn Here...
This page will be like a blog—an ongoing, real, no-holds-barred, factual view of how it’s working out. I will comment on everything from my gut reaction to real data starting with me going through the process of learning about this battery to making the decision to install them in our motorhome to driving away knowing we are totally reliant on them. I don’t work for Lithionics but I do respect them.
Who Will Read This?
I've been contacted by many RVers interested in learning about these batteries. They are my primary audience.. In addition, manufacturers, engineers, dealers, service techs, and, of course, battery companies will be looking at this, too.
I will date the information so you can track it. There was a flurry of activity at the start but now that we drove away for the field test, new data will take time to produce. There will be lags in reporting due to the time needed for real field testing—certainly I’m planning for a year with intermittent postings about progress—and problems, if any.
We needed new coach batteries in our motorhome. We fulltime and depend on batteries for daily living. They are critical. We can’t live this lifestyle without them.
This will be important if/when you need to replace your batteries in your RV. I replaced both my coach (house) and chassis batteries although the chassis batteries were still good. The coach batteries, unfortunately, were only lasting about 1–2 hours (yes, one-to-two hours) before my Auto Generator Start (AGS) would kick on to recharge them. My AGS was set at 12.1V for auto-start. A person at LifeLine gave me this setting. I’ve only heard one other experienced person suggest a lower setting but that’s for another discussion.
I had two production lithium ion batteries (one coach and one chassis) installed in my motorhome on March 2, 2011. My two new batteries have serial numbers “…001” and “…002”—truly, the first ones.
I did not get this first lithium ion battery for bragging rights but as a result of a going through two full sets of LifeLine AGM batteries in 50 months (4 years, 2 months)—both sets simply gave out from use—they were well taken care of. I happened to be in the right place at the right time—pure coincidence—to learn about the lithium ion option.
My site is not a battery-sales nor a battery-marketing site. This content is about my real-time experience trying to understand, buy, and use a new type of battery—not some research project. If you want to contact the company I dealt with, contact me at the link below. They are establishing a dealer network now and will sell batteries through dealers. I will forward your information to the correct person.
[Author Note… Read on to learn what they built and installed in our motorhome. For questions, contact me directly at…
We are fulltime RVers and boondock a lot in our motorhome. Boondocking is living normally with no hookups. My tracking indicates we have averaged 12 nights-per-month for the last three years. Therefore, we depend on our batteries to allow us to live normally and be comfortable. I used standard lead-acid battery in my previous coach but only used AGM batteries in my current coach.
We don’t deprive ourselves of anything, i.e., we don’t “rough it.” Roughing it (to us) means living uncomfortably. We fully expect the furnace to keep us toasty warm when needed and the wine to be perfectly chilled. This is our home—our only home. I expect the same level of comfort from our coach as I did when we lived in our house. When you mix our “comfort” and daily living requirements with boondocking, batteries become a critical factor in our lives. We can’t live our normal lifestyle without them.
How Does it Work?
There are both chassis batteries and coach batteries in a motorhome. Chassis batteries have a single function… cranking the vehicle’s engine or generator to start it. Chassis batteries are designed to deliver a lot of current for a short time. Coach (also called “house”) batteries are not part of the starting system. They provide current (DC) directly to things like the lights, and, DC current that is converted to 110V AC (normal “household” current) through an “inverter” (device commonly found in motorhomes). This conversion allows you to plug in and run normal “household” appliances such as a TV, cell phone charger, computer, or refrigerator to name a few. Ideally, coach batteries deliver a level of current over some period of time but any usage continually drains them. It take ten DC amps to make one AC amp.
The more power (current) an appliance requires to operate normally, the faster it will drain a battery. When the batteries are drained, they must be recharged to, again, be usable. Batteries can be recharged a fixed number of times before they are worn out.
The amount of current any appliance requires to operate normally is measured in “amps” (Amperes). Some appliances are considered “high-amp-draw.” This means they need more current to operate normally. One rule of thumb is any appliance that creates heat (e.g., microwave oven, hair dryer, coffee pot) is among the highest amp-draw group. Others, like a large, digital TV, are not considered high-amp-draw but require more amps than smaller appliances. Even lights need some level of current. Touching a hot halogen light is not recommended. It has a higher amp-draw than a fluorescent light (warm) which is a higher amp-draw than an LED bulb.
The RVer’s Boondocking Challenge
While boondocking, you are not hooked up to any utilities. Unless you continuously run your generator, you function with the power stored in the coach batteries until they reach some level of discharge. It is common for a motorhome to have an Automatic Generator Start (AGS) built in to the inverter. When the coach batteries reach some preset level of discharge, the generator automatically starts and begins to recharge the batteries. The AGS is also set to shut-off automatically when the batteries reach a preset level of recharge. Your inverter (with AGS) monitors this operation and when the generator stops, automatically switches the coach back to operating from the freshly recharged batteries. In theory and with plenty of fuel, you could boondock a long time (weeks) alternating between power from the coach batteries and the generator.
To add to this mix, don’t forget solar. Lots of RVers have a few solar panels mounted on top of their motorhome. These are supplemental and their purpose is to help keep the batteries from discharging rapidly, i.e., their discharge rate is slower because they are receiving some supplemental charge from the solar panels.
So, I Was Sitting in a Seminar…
Back in that lithium ion battery seminar I mentioned, they got my attention and especially when they invited my wife up to the front and handed her the RV battery! She took it from the guy like it was a pillow. Actually, it weighed about 10 lbs.
My RV Battery History
We ordered our 2007 Dynasty with AGM batteries instead of lead-acid. The AGMs were longer-lasting and had more charge/recharge cycles—important features for us since we boondock a lot. We took delivery of our coach December 2006.
AGM batteries require no maintenance. They are sealed units. You cannot add water or even check the level. The only possible thing to do is keep them clean. I kept mine clean and regularly checked the terminals for any corrosion.
In September 2009, I was in for RV service and one of the problems was my generator seemed to be starting frequently on AGS. I thought maybe I was drawing some “extra” phantom amps from somewhere and these were running my batteries down. Phantom amps are those little “power-draws” in every coach that continuously run behind the scenes. If you have a digital appliance (like a TV) that is “instant on,” it continues using power even though you turned it off and went to bed. Another example is the clock in your microwave—it runs all the time. We don’t think about these but, collectively, they draw power (current) from the batteries.
The service center called my battery manufacturer and it happened that a battery sales rep was in the area. He came out, tested my AGM coach batteries, and declared them to be nearly worn out. This was September 2009 (33 months of use). The manufacturer gave me a prorated price and I replaced my four, 12V AGM coach batteries, with new ones. The replacement cost was $958.80. That, friends, is a prorated cost of $29.00/month or about $1.00/day to use my coach batteries.
I had been noticing the same problem again this spring (2011). I have now experienced boondocking only about 1.5–2 hours on battery before my AGS kicks on. This means my generator is running 2.5 hours (my setting) every 1.5–2 hours—more than 5 times in 24 hours—running a bit over half the time (12.5 hrs in 24). At a generator fuel usage of .25 gal/per hour, I am using a bit over three gallons of fuel to boondock 24 hours. That’s too much. I just filled with diesel at $3.89/gal, that is about $12.00/day for fuel cost to maintain these batteries.
After the Seminar
We met with the presenter—the marketing manager for Lithionics Battery. Their office is in Clearwater, Florida and they are currently waiting for their new automated manufacturing facility to open April 2011.
We talked and determined both our schedules allowed us to visit the company about a week later. It was agreed that we would bring our coach, park in their big, empty parking lot, they would take some measurements from our coach, and build a lithium ion battery specifically for our needs.
We finally arrived, parked as suggested (boondocking), and met and talked extensively with Steven Tartaglia, President. Steve has several patents pending on lithium ion batteries and also has a background in RVing. Steve explained the technical details of why these batteries are significantly better and longer lasting than lead-acid or AGMs.
[Author Note... Be sure and read the next section to learn about the actual build and installation in our coach. For questions, contact me directly at…
We parked in the Lithionics parking lot, set up the coach for boondocking several days, and Steven Tartaglia, President, met with us to start explaining about what the grand plan was. Simply stated, he said that they had built a few custom lithium ion batteries for RVers but those were somewhat experimental, i.e., prototypes. They gathered data from those experiences and were ready to build production-type batteries—not another prototype.
What Steve was proposing for our coach was to build two production-type batteries, one chassis and one coach (house), that would be the first of the production run. He went on to say that what he built and installed in our coach would be mass produced, unchanged, for the next several months. We would, however, be the “guinea pig” in a sense as we would be the first real user. We are fulltime RVers, boondock (park with no hookups) a lot, and depend on batteries to live our normal lifestyle.
You’ve heard of “early adopters,” however, we would be the “first adopter.” This was a bit scary but a bit exciting, too.
[Author Note… I’m really not an early adopter of any technology. I look forward to new, helpful, cost-effective, tested “technology” that is proven to do what it says it will do and be beneficial and helpful to me. Then, I will get it and use it.]
Our coach has a Magnum Pure Sine Wave Inverter (MS2812) that has functioned flawlessly. The new batteries must function with this inverter.
The chassis battery was produced and installed first. The physical size of this battery was such that it would not fit in the battery drawer where the previous chassis batteries were located. While the overall dimension was larger than my AGMs, its weight was significantly less.
I have two compartments (with locking doors) on my 2007 Monaco Dynasty for batteries. Batteries set in a “drawer” so you can slide them in and out of the compartment. One compartment contained a single drawer and the other compartment contained two drawers. Monaco had installed two of my four coach batteries (the big ones) in the single-drawer compartment, put the other two coach batteries in the bottom drawer of the larger compartment, and all four (of the smaller) chassis batteries in the top drawer of the larger compartment.
We needed to install just two individual lithium ion batteries to replace the existing eight AGM batteries. Each of these new lithium ion batteries was the typical battery shape (elongated cube) but with different dimensions than the existing AGM batteries. It was determined that the lithium ion chassis battery would best fit in the single-drawer compartment while the lithium ion coach battery would best fit in the larger compartment by removing the top drawer to open up some space. This installation required a bit of rerouting of existing wiring/cabling but no actual rewiring. Finally, with the appropriate cables running to the appropriate compartments, the lithium ion chassis battery was installed first.
Battery #1—The Chassis
Steve laid out the plan for the chassis battery. This would be a powerful battery with 3,200 cranking amps! This means it would likely start (turn over) any diesel engine on the planet. My AGM chassis batteries (Lifeline 12V GPL-1400) stated 850 cranking amps on their website.
My coach has a 400 hp Cummins ISL engine. This is “big” when compared with diesel engines in pickup trucks and smaller coaches. Steve wanted to ensure we would have enough “oomph” to start our engine anywhere and at any temperature.
My existing chassis-battery configuration was four batteries weighing 32 lbs each (128 lbs total). Our single lithium ion chassis battery would replace my four chassis batteries. My lithium ion chassis battery ultimately weighed 44 lbs thus the weight savings was 84 lbs.
With our plan in place, they built the chassis battery, by hand, using their off-the-shelf components. However, these are the same components and process that will be used in subsequent battery production.
[Author Note… Steve explained that their automated facility was planned to open in less than 30 days and they were simply awaiting arrival of various pick-and-place robots.]
Testing the Lithium Ion Chassis Battery
Testing would be simple. Would it start the coach?
The chassis battery was fully bench-charged before installation. We cranked the engine normally (e.g., key on, wait for glow plugs—“Wait to Start” message, then start). It started perfectly. We started it several times that day.
Prior to the first starting test, the lithium ion battery current measured 12.8V. The voltage “sag” during engine cranking took it down to 10.89V.
To compare, they had completed the same test to measure voltage sag with the existing Lifeline chassis batteries before their removal. That voltage sag dropped to 10.1V.
Over the several days since the installation of that chassis battery, we have started the engine a few times. I have always had a habit of listening carefully when starting the engine and I can’t detect anything unusual. I believe it is cranking faster than before but I can’t verify that.
Battery #2—The Coach
My original coach battery configuration was made up of four (4) Lifeline GPL-8DL Deep Cycle RV Batteries with a Rated Capacity Amp Hours of 220. This, multiplied by four batteries, would theoretically equal 880 amp hours but the closest internal setting on my inverter was 880 amp hours. (I don’t remember if this setting was given to us by Lifeline or Magnum.)
My four 12V AGM batteries weighed 162 lbs each—a total coach-battery weight of 648 lbs. That weight was replaced by a single lithium ion battery weighing 121 lbs thus the weight savings was 527 lbs—an instant and obvious saving.
[Author Note… Replacing eight batteries with just two meant the total weight savings was 611 lbs! Interestingly, I had recently weighed my coach and the passenger side was about 1,000 lbs heavier than the driver’s side. This weight loss was an unusual, but distinctive and important, benefit for me.]
Testing the Lithium Ion Coach Battery
Testing this battery would be much more complex and involve lots of time. Initially, we were testing several different things somewhat simultaneously and as part of the overall process. That is, we needed
- to let the new coach battery run down (through our normal daily lifestyle usage) to a preset voltage
- to test the Automatic Generator Start (AGS—the setting that automatically starts our generator when the coach batteries discharge to a certain level—our preset voltage
- to determine when the coach battery was fully charged to 14.4V and
- to determine the amount of time the generator needed to run to fully recharge the battery—but no excess run time as this is simply a waste of fuel.
Since this new coach battery had been only partially charged prior to installation, we started by letting the battery run down normally (through our typical daily lifestyle usage). We did not want to “force” or overly influence the battery discharge—normal usage is important here. Therefore, we did not run any high-amp-draw appliances on battery only—no coffee pot, hair dryers, or air conditioners—but we never do that anyway.
After several hours, the AGS started the generator. The battery voltage had fallen to our preset AGS-start-voltage of 12.1V. The amount of time to discharge to this level for this first test is really not important since we did not start at a full charge initially. That is, we started with a partially charged battery.
Jumping ahead a couple of days, we have gone through a few tests of discharge and recharge. Steve had been in contact with Gary Baxter, VP of Sales and Marketing, Magnum Energy, to discuss the inverter and charger settings. Ultimately everything is where it is supposed to be and we are simply living here like we do when we normally boondock. We are going through discharge/recharge cycles and everything seems to be functioning the way it is supposed to.
We will leave this parking lot in a couple of days and resume our “normal” lifestyle—a mixture of campgrounds with boondocking. We have not been plugged into any “shore power” (no AC current) while staying here. Our first night away from here, we will be in a campground for the first time since the battery changeover. I have to assume that nothing (battery-wise) will be affected by plugging in our coach but it is a new factor to be considered.
I have to also assume that nothing will be affected via normal battery charging while driving. We will drive about 200 miles and this is ample time to charge batteries. This, too, has not been tested.
[Author Note… Be sure to read the next article to learn about the uniqueness of lithium ion batteries and the advantages to using them. For questions, contact me directly at…
Trying to compare batteries with other RVers is truly impossible. The reason is that everyone uses their RVs a bit differently and therefore, the “work” the batteries have to do is different. Boondocking puts the greatest strain on batteries since you function solely from the battery’s current until such time as it runs down.
However, it is impossible to compare the battery usage for two RVs boondocking side-by-side. The reason… The two are not being used in the same way. One may turn on halogen lights while the other primarily uses fluorescent lighting. There will be various appliances that at first, all seem similar (they both have a front TV and both have a refrigerator) but these appliances will have different power requirements to operate efficiently.
Then, RVers tell us that they get lots of “life” out of this or that battery. However, that is a function of how they use them and the quality of the battery itself.
Typical RV Batteries
There are two common types of coach batteries used in RVs…
Flooded Lead Acid (FLA)… is the standard deep-cycle “golf-cart” or “marine” battery that has been used in RVs for years. They work great in golf carts—but are the least efficient in RVs. The acronym you may see is “FLA” but they are usually called simply “lead acid.” These are filled with a liquid and must be maintained. The advantage to the lead-acid battery is that they are cheap to purchase.
Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM)… was developed to replace the lead-acid battery and has had some success. AGM batteries are simply more efficient. They have a greater number of charge/discharge cycles (the number of times a battery can be charged and discharged before it dies). The liquid is “absorbed” internally and there is no ongoing maintenance. The advantage to the AGM is that you simply get more power for your money and they last longer that lead acid.
Both lead-acid and AGM batteries constantly lose power during use (as they are being discharged). You may be able to see this if you have a monitor in your motorhome. My inverter panel (inside the coach) shows the existing voltage of the batteries and you can see this number actually changing (going down) as appliances are being used because the batteries are growing weaker.
One analogy is a traditional flashlight with “C” or “D” cell batteries in it. From the moment you first turn it on, you are using up your batteries. The more you use the flashlight, the more you will actually see the light growing dimmer.
This same concept applies to both lead-acid and AGM batteries. As they are being used, they are putting out less and less current.
Lithium Ion Batteries
While not well known among RVers, the lithium ion battery has been around for years. It is used extensively in small applications such as hearing aids and even in your cell phone. Car manufacturers plan to continue using the NiCad battery in the various hybrid cars but also have announced that “electric” cars (e.g., Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Honda Civic for 2012) will be powered by lithium ion batteries. Lithium ion batteries use the element lithium to store the power as opposed to, for example, lead (in lead-acid batteries).
Advantages… Lithium ion batteries have several unusual features that are advantageous to RVers, and especially when boondocking…
A. You may be aware that when using lithium ion devices (such as your LED flashlight), the device operates just fine and always seems at “full power” until the battery quits. Yes, it just quits. No, it doesn’t run down. Two examples of this are…
...If you are using an LED flashlight with lithium ion batteries, you will have full, bright light until it suddenly shuts off—just like it was switched off.
...If you didn’t charge your cell phone and are in the middle of a call when the battery goes down, it just stops the call.
Therefore, since the lithium ion battery does not “run down” like other batteries, it does not “taper off” or get weaker.
This is advantageous to RVers because the nominal voltage of the lithium ion battery is 12.8V—that is, 90% of the power is at or above 12.8V. This means that your appliances are receiving a constant, high voltage with no tapering off.
You are aware that any appliance runs better (more efficiently) with “full” power. While the lead-acid and AGM batteries can be charged to their full power, that power (the actual voltage) is always being drained down when under use. You can see this voltage dropping on your monitor.
My RV example is that if your lead-acid and AGM batteries are close to discharge and you are ready to put in your slides on your coach, they may not work. You may have heard your electric motor trying hard without much success.
B. Lithium ion batteries have a built-in “switch” to prevent them from being totally discharged. If they accidently are totally discharged, they are destroyed and cannot be revived and reused. The switch is an integral part of the battery and shuts off the battery at a preset percentage.
For an RV application, there is a “reserve” voltage that is retained to start the engine or generator. The switch is activated by a button on the battery or a remote “clicker” (like you use to unlock your car). Activating the switch causes the battery to revive for a limited time thus giving you time to start the engine or generator. Should the first attempt not work, there is a second, limited-time, option.
The primary goal here is to get the engine or generator started to begin recharging the battery. The secondary goal is to not ruin the battery by preventing it from totally discharging.
C. Lithium ion batteries recharge approximately four times as fast as lead-acid or AGM batteries. This means generator-run time is roughly a quarter of what you are using for lead-acid and AGM batteries. The higher the current fuel price at the pumps, the more important this is.
D. The recharge cycles on my lithium ion coach battery has been tested and certified for 2,000 cycles. This was the basis for their 5-year guarantee, i.e., recharging once per day (2,000/365 = 5.4 years).
The company has conservatively estimated my battery at 3,000+ cycles—but they simply don’t know how many cycles it will withstand. This means the battery can be recharged approximately 3,000 times before it starts to deteriorate to a noticeable degraded efficiency.
[Author Note… The recharging is, we believe, was what wore out our AGM batteries. We boondock an average of 12 nights per month. If the generator ran (recharged the batteries) an average of 3 times in 24 hours, for us that would be 684 recharge cycles during the 19 months our second set of AGMs lasted. I was told by Lifeline that the AGM GPL-8D batteries (like I had) have a recharge cycle of 1,000 times. Mine certainly did not last that long.]
E. Solar panel usage becomes significantly more efficient since a lithium ion battery is 98% charge-efficient whereas a lead-acid battery is only 36% charge-efficient and AGM is somewhere in the 60% range. “Charge-efficient” is defined as being able to take in and use some percentage of the maximum potential voltage generated by the solar panels.
F. Weight is dramatically reduced. For a real example, in my 2007 Dynasty, I had four, 12V AGM coach batteries. They weighed 162 lbs each for a total coach-battery weight of 648 lbs. That weight was replaced by one lithium ion battery weighing 121 lbs. I also had four AGM batteries for my chassis (physically smaller). These weighed 32 lbs each for a total chassis-battery weight of 128 lbs. That weight was replaced by one lithium ion battery weighing 44 lbs. Thus, the overall weight reduction in my coach was 611 lbs. The higher the current fuel price at the pumps, the more important this is.
G. The operation of EVERY electric device/appliance/gizmo in your coach instantly becomes more efficient due to no drop-off or voltage loss. (Remember, 90% of the power is at or above 12.8V using the lithium ion battery.) This simply means that the gazillion solenoids used in your coach always operate at peak efficiency—this also means they will last longer so repair/replacement and cost of operation is decreased!
H. How long will these batteries last? The conservative estimate was eight (8) years. This figure was used because they have had no failures to date and the earlier models have been around eight years.
I. What happens if a battery dies and I’m not close to a dealer? The company said they would get a replacement to me any way possible (air ship it if necessary). The important thing to note is Lithionics Battery has “UN DOT” approval to ship their batteries all over the world by air.
[Author Note… This was a critical issue to us. We are planning a trip to Newfoundland this summer and will spend a month there with lots of boondocking.]
J. Price? I don’t know. We will agree on a discounted price for my batteries based on my tracking and supplying field-test data to the company over time—probably over the next year. I do know that I contacted Lifeline for the current price of their GPL-8D coach batteries and in March 2011, I was quoted $1,033.00 per battery.
K. Where do we purchase the lithium ion batteries? A dealer network is being established. They are available online now.
In the meantime, ask me, just click here… email@example.com
The batteries can be shipped direct to you, your RV dealer, or service center. You will find a Discount Code for RVers. Entering this code when you order will result in free shipping and installation costs.
Wrap-up… When compared to lead-acid or AGM batteries, it becomes clear that lithium ion batteries are very different and possess numerous qualities that give them a major advantage for both short-term and long-term use. If you needed batteries but plan to get rid of your RV soon, I would probably go with lead-acid—a price-driven decision. If you plan to keep your coach longer, I would recommend the lithium ion batteries at this point.
[Author Note… For questions, contact me directly at…
[Author Note… If you haven’t read the previous information, you should. It will help. This document starts with us leaving and continuing our normal lifestyle. We will live as normally as possible with our usual combination of boondocking and campgrounds. As such, the next step is a major field test under “real” conditions.]
April 15, 2011
We've had these lithium ion batteries in here for over a month but during that time, I'm sorry there's nothing exciting to report but that's totally because of our lifestyle. We spent the first couple of weeks plugged in at the Monaco Pre-Rally rally and at the FMCA in Perry, GA where we were vendors and presented our seminars as we normally do. During this time, we didn't really use the batteries at all.
After that two weeks, we had a week to get to New Orleans and had planned to boondock most of that trip (our first real test). It just didn't work out. We ended up boondocking a couple of nights, in a campground a couple of nights, and boondocked again for a couple of nights. Certainly, not much testing was going on. Following that, we joined an RV Caravan for two weeks and traveled the Natchez Trace from New Orleans to Nashville. There was three nights of boondocking over a two-week period but that didn't amount to anything.
One note of good news is that the chassis battery is operating perfectly so far with good, clean, almost instant "starts" in a variety of temperatures (but nothing extreme—38°–80° F (3°–27° C). My coach was always an easy start and this is continuing. Also, the manual starts of my generator has been good. Note that my generator cranks from my chassis battery.
[Author Note... Our "testing" must be real—that is, a reflection of our true RV lifestyle—or I wouldn't be messing with it. My goal is to find a battery that works well for us since we boondock a lot.]
I can report that I wasn't getting much life out of the new coach battery and we were trying to determine why. It was finally decided that we needed to ensure that my Magnum Inverter (mine is an MS2812, pure-sine wave model) was doing what it was supposed to do with these batteries.
Earlier, I said we had contacted the Magnum people for settings information when the battery was first installed and they were very helpful. Ultimately we pulled into White House, Tennessee to a company called Inverter Service Center.
Communication between the battery manufacturer, us, and the inverter company was excellent. We parked next to their building and could plug into their 50 amp if needed. While there, three things were determined and fixed including...
- they found certain battery cables were a bit too small and these were replaced.
- it was determined that the controller needed heavier internal wiring (as mentioned before, this control box was mounted externally, as a "just in case'). That was a good decision. So, Lithionics built a totally new controller and shipped it to us. The new box was literally a "heavy-duty" version of the one we had.
- a Battery Monitoring Kit (BMK) was added to our Magnum inverter. This add-on feature displays exact State of Charge (SOC) in percentages. This is a great feature to help you know exactly what your battery is doing.
We were parked beside of the Inverter Service Center but were functioning on generator only for battery charging. We were not using their shore power at all (not plugged in).
A Definite Gain
With these changes, we immediately got extended life out of the coach battery.
[Author Note... For those of you on the edge of your seat, sorry, I'm not going to mention battery times here. They wouldn't mean anything—yet. It would be like discussing your vehicle's lifetime fuel mileage based on what you got for the last fill-up.]
My real testing will be done over the next few months as we are finished with commitments and are meandering now.
Check back every couple of weeks. I will put a note on the "Welcome" page when I post something new.
[Author Note… Contact me anytime.
For questions, contact me directly at…
Living on battery power is going to be different for everyone and there is no consistency across coaches or even among coaches of similar brands and models. Even if we had the exact same brand and model of coach, our power requirements are going to be different. After all, you may not turn on the light when you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or may leave the TV on whether you are watching it or not. What happens is that the same appliances and electrical devices will have the same power requirements but two people, living in a motorhome, do not have the same power requirements as the two people next door.
While these lithium ion batteries have worked for us just fine (it's still very early in the testing), they may not work for you in the same manner. This is something you need to figure out.
Due to how much we have boondocked over the years—at this time we are into our ninth year of fulltiming—I have a really good "feel" for my power requirements. There are two ways you can go about figuring out what you need and they are...
- Track it exactly... Every appliance, device, lightbulb, and anything electrical on your coach has an identifiable amp draw. Build a simple spreadsheet and note this. With complete information, you can know your exact power requirements at any given time. The sum of whatever electrical devices you are operating plus "phantom" draw can be calculated. The downside to this method is that you cannot compensate for momentary usage of some devices. For example, when putting out a slide you will require some battery power but that requirement is only for a few seconds—it is not an ongoing draw. However, if you turn on ceiling lights, those individual lights are drawing power (while on) but you also need to factor in the multiple (number of lights that are on).
- Know Your Lifestyle... This is knowing what power requirements you have for certain "normal" behaviors in lifestyle. For example, I know (from several years in this coach) that when we stop in the afternoon with no other plans, the TV is usually not on, no lights are on, the computer and satellite controllers are always on, Sandy is typically reading, I am reading or working on the computer, and our fridge is opened maybe once per hour for something to drink or munch on. When we are living like this (and we do nearly every day), our power requirements range from 24–28 amps.
You will have virtually no control over what is called "phantom amps." This is the amount of current needed to maintain various electrical "things" even though the appliance may be physically turned off. Many/most electronic devices continue to draw a bit of current all the time. For example, look at the clock on your microwave—it's powered by something. This "phantom" current draw gives you the convenience of "instant on" and is different from the old "warm up" time needed for appliances years ago. Now, when you hit that "On" button, you expect immediate results. Monitoring devices in your coach will always draw current, too (otherwise they would stop monitoring). All this requires a bit of power (current) all the time. Therefore, the number of devices you have in your coach has a cumulative effect on the battery power and is always using current. That "effect" is called phantom amps.
I found it easiest to learn the amount of phantom-amp draw on my coach by turning off everything we normally use and getting ready to go to bed. I simply looked at my Aladdin to see what that draw was without us actually using anything. Whatever your phantom amp reading is, this will be an integral part of the total current you are using at any given time.
[Author Note... As I write this, we are parked in an Interstate Rest Area (obviously not hooked up to any utilities), planning to spend the night, it is 5:00 PM on a pleasant sunny afternoon, not ready to start preparing dinner just yet, and we are drawing about 23 amps. I have been watching this carefully. We have been using this amount since we parked and as I said earlier, this amp draw is very normal for us under these conditions.]
More Normal Lifestyle
About 6:30 PM, we started preparing dinner. At this time several things happen. The daylight will be fading and the front TV will be turned on (plus those related appliances—DVD, DVR, satellite controller). I will turn on several ceiling and under-cabinet lights in the kitchen (never chop veggies in the dark with a sharp knife), if we need to thaw something from the freezer, we will run the generator for about 15 minutes, and continue to cook. We will then sit down to eat, the kitchen and under-cabinet lights will be turned off but table and dining ceiling lights will be turned on. During the dinner preparation and eating time, our power draw is about 60A.
By 8:30 PM, we are finished with the clean-up from dinner and settle in for some serious TV time. Only one light is on (over the stove) plus the front TV and related goodies are on. We do this until about 10:00 PM when Sandy goes to bed. During our TV time, our power draw is about 53A.
Around 10:00 PM, Sandy goes in back (to the bedroom) and turns on that TV (plus its DVR). There will be no additional lights on. I stay up until about 1:00 AM every night and will watch TV or read. Usually if I read, I turn off the front TV. During this time, our power draw is about 56A.
So What Does This Mean
It works like this... since I have a 400 amp-hour coach battery, I should be able to get the equivalent of 400 amps of current out of it (assuming it is fully charged). For example, if I was using 100 amps per hour, then I should be able to live off that battery for four hours. If I were using 50 amps per hour, then I should be able to live off that battery for 8 hours (400 / 50 = 8). But none of us uses or needs battery power (current) at a steady rate so we cannot guess at how long our battery will last. This is why you need a really good "feel" for your usage and the only way to determine (guess/estimate) how long you should be able to live off your battery power on each charge cycle.
While I have described our "normal" lifestyle above, yours will be different. Plus, we never—repeat: NEVER—operate a single high-amp-draw appliance solely from the battery. No microwave, no coffeepot, no hair dryer, no toaster, no nothing. These will suck a battery down in a heartbeat.
For example, when Sandy gets up, she will start the generator, make the coffee, shut off the coffee-maker and the generator, and put the coffee-maker carafe on the stove (using a heat diffusion plate). The burner is on low but this keeps the coffee hotter than the coffeepot.
You need to have a "feel" for your battery usage, too, but there is no need to have this calculated down to the last 1/10th amp. Knowing your needs, understanding how you live and use the available current, and meeting your needs in terms of "staying longer" when boondocking will help you decide what size lithium ion battery you can use in your coach.
[Author Note… Contact me any time and check back here for the updates. Please, tell your friends, dealer, post to your RV forums and e-mail groups that they can get the unbiased info here at… aboutrving.com
For questions, contact me directly at…
It's been some time since I've updated this but nothing significant was happening so there was nothing to report. Now there is.
What's Been and Is Happening
We were planning to live our usual lifestyle with our normal combination of campgrounds and boondocking but several things got in the way. We had signed on for a caravan from New Orleans to Nashville via the Natchez Trace. That started near the end of March and was two weeks with campgrounds about every night. Then, we got into the awful, rainy, midwestern April/May weather throughout Kentucky and Indiana and ultimately spent nearly a month sort of holed up in campgrounds—just trying to survive the rain. We were in Louisville, KY for ten days just before the Ohio River crested. I've never seen that much rain nor rivers that high.
Then we got out of the rain and headed to northern Indiana where I was scheduled to go into service for a week. This was followed by a campground for another week-and-a-half (again, weather, but this time heat-related, forcing us to use our air conditioners 24/7). This is definitely not our normal lifestyle.
With all that, my ability to test the lithium ion batteries was sort of put "on hold" until we could get clear of the weird and wet weather. We were just plugged into shore power nearly all the time.
However, the batteries hung in there when needed, never failed us, gave us long periods of battery usage, and I feel that the batteries were doing what they were supposed to do. While I did not track this accurately because this was so sporadic (again, due to circumstances), I did determine that on a few boondocking occasions over a 24-hour period, I would need one recharge. My generator is set to run 4.5 hours and this (verified several times) takes the battery State of Charge (SOC) to 100% with the monitor indicating 14.6V and 0.0 Amps.
Comparing that to when I was using AGMs (early on, when they were in good shape), we needed to run our generator 2.5 hours to bring them to Float charge. I recall we would have to do this about two times in a 24 hour period. Again, comparing run times, the Lithium ion batteries would charge for 4.5 hours in 24 and the AGM would charge for a total of 5 hours in 24. This is very close to the same cost of diesel for recharging.
However, the long-term advantage to Lithium ion batteries in this comparison is the recharge cycles. There were TWO recharge cycles per day for the AGMs. There was ONE recharge cycle per day for the Lithium ion batteries. The estimated number of recharge cycles (according to Lifeline for the AGM 8Ds) is 1,000. The bench tested number of recharge cycles this Lithium ion battery is 2,000 and the estimated number is 3,000 to 4,000!
[A Reminder… Don't try to compare my "times" with what you are using now as this is simply impossible—a true "apples and oranges" comparison. All these "times"—generator run time, time on inverter, etc.—depends on your usage. That is, how much current do you need to live normally? Even if we had the same, exact coach, our lifestyle would be different and therefore, use different amounts of current for different times daily.
You should compare the differences in my stated times with the Lithium Ion battery and my AGM batteries. You can extrapolate that to lead acid batteries if you are using those.]
One Major Change
The primary change in our coach that took place was the resetting of our Solar Controller and the installation of a Solar Monitor. This Monitor was supplied by AM Solar and installed by All 4 One RV Service in Elkhart. The Monitor allows me to easily see various data related to the capabilities of the Solar Array on top of my coach.
A bit of background...
I have six, 100-watt panels on top of my coach. These were installed by AMSolar when the coach was new. At that time, they asked me if I wanted a Solar Monitor and I did not think I needed one. So, I did not get one. Now, nearly five years later, we do need one as it will help us know what the batteries are doing with the solar energy coming in.
I stated earlier in the write-up that... Solar panel usage becomes significantly more efficient since a lithium ion battery is 98% charge-efficient, a lead-acid battery is only 36% charge-efficient, and AGM is somewhere in the 60% range. “Charge-efficient” is defined as being able to take in and use some percentage of the maximum potential voltage generated by the solar panels.
The Solar Controller
The controller (also called a heliotrope) contains dip switches and potentiometers that can be adjusted to limit what maximum current is allowed to any entity.
The Solar Monitor
This monitor provides some data and control we could not access before. First, it contains an on/off switch allowing us to totally turn off the solar. This is useful when we need to see charging data from specific selected sources. It reads the battery voltage (as does the Magnum Remote and Aladdin). The three are reading within 0.1v of each other so that should verify a level of accuracy/consistency. This monitor also allows me to read Engine (chassis) battery voltage. Finally, it also reads the Solar Array Amps (what is on top before it gets to the battery).
We have returned from Canada and are back in the USA. The lithium ion batteries worked just fine for our lengthy trip outside the USA. Since we planned for and ultimately spent 35 days in Newfoundland (our farthest point north), we had some initial concerns as to what would or could take place if something happened to either battery (chassis or coach).
While it is now early September, last March, when I was initially discussing with the manufacturer (Lithionics Battery) the potential for testing the lithium ion batteries over, roughly, at least the next year, my planned time in Newfoundland was one of the primary concerns. The company assured me they had “UN DOT” approval to ship their batteries all over the world by air and could get a battery to me if needed. This was a major point in my discussion with them last Spring. Our plan at the time was to go to Newfoundland and I was adamant about there being no obstacles or excuses with a potential battery replacement if one should be needed. After all, my assumption was that I could not go to the local "battery store" very easily in Newfoundland! The good news is that we didn't have any problems so everything was moot. But... their having approval and the ability to ship these batteries by air was comforting.
Ultimately, we were in Canada for a total of 66 days. Our planned trip took us from Sault Ste Marie, Michigan to Montreal, then along the South Shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway, out around to the Gaspe Peninsula, down through New Brunswick, through Nova Scotia to North Sydney. We boarded a ferry there for the 15-hour ride to Argentia, Newfoundland, drove over much of the island, returned on a much shorter (5 hour) ferry ride, made our way back through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to cross the border back into the USA in Maine. My point in explaining this is that we were often in sparsely populated areas with a totally new production battery. So, it was a concern.
Two things happened on the trip that merit mentioning. First, the batteries worked perfectly. Second, I didn't have very much opportunity to use the coach battery.
During our trip, both the chassis battery and coach battery performed just fine. My AutoGenstart is set to come on when the coach battery reads 12.1V and this is a State of Charge of 9%. When the SOC meter drops below 10%, the generator starts. I have it set to run for 4.5 hours and this takes the battery back to 100% SOC.
Here's where the data gets iffy... I seem to be getting about a maximum of 18 hours of "battery" time after each charge. I have no way of accurately tracking this as it would mean never being away from the coach so we could accurately note the start and stop times of the generator. However, my "18 hours" has absolutely nothing to do with what you could do in your coach. It all depends on what is running and the power needed to run it.
Interestingly, my original plan was to boondock throughout Canada at least our "normal" amount (12 nights per month is our "normal"). I had read about a process in Newfoundland called "Gravel Pit Camping." This is a slang, not a derogatory, term for staying overnight on "Crown" lands—those owned by the government and not privately or commercially owned. I confirmed that it is legal to spend two consecutive nights on the Crown lands in Newfoundland.
What is also interesting is that most of the land in Newfoundland is Crown land. Therefore, you can potentially pull off the highway next to woods, sea shore, ponds, rivers, and numerous really nice places. My problem was the size of my motorhome. I simply didn't trust driving off-highway to get to some of these places. Yes, we saw various RVs parked in various places but all of those units were considerably smaller than us. There were lots of pick-up campers, small travel trailers, small Class C, and Class B camper vans in these places—but no large RVs.
A second, equally interesting, fact was there were very few "pull offs" along the highways in Newfoundland. I'm talking about the normal pull-off where you can simply get off the highway and park. These seem to be common everywhere but not up there. We would watch carefully (wanting to be able to pull off and park for the night) but often, there was NO place for us and NO place for any size vehicle—even the smallest car. Pull-offs were very rare and I thought this was somewhat odd since they had ample room for them.
Looking back at my battery usage since installation shows that we have not boondocked as much as we normally do. From March 4th (when we left the Lithionics parking lot) to September 1st (very close to 6 months), we boondocked a total of 38 nights. If we had just equaled our normal number of nights, we would have boondocked 72 nights. So, our usage has been about half of what we originally thought it would be.
This reduced number of boondocking nights was not based on some plan. However, because we were involved in a couple of new (to us) rallies, toured with a caravan, and were sitting in one area waiting for friends, we were mostly in campgrounds—again, far more nights than normal. Plus, the lack of potential places to boondock in Newfoundland forced us into campgrounds, too.
However, currently, we are once again back to our "normal." For the first half of September (1-15th), we have boondocked 6 nights. This number is equal to our previous average. With this increase, our testing will continue.
Some of you have e-mailed me and I sense a level of frustration in that most everyone wants to know how good these batteries really are—and they want to know now. Sorry, but our test just needs to continue. We did not have problems with other types of batteries when they were relatively new. Our problems with other types of batteries was that they were not lasting long enough.
As I have said consistently, so far, these batteries have worked as they were supposed to.
After our return to the USA from our 2 1/2 months in Canada, last Fall was spent in our normal fashion with one exception, we did not boondock as much as during previous years. Looking back, I'm not sure why not, we didn't plan anything different or unusual (with one exception), and continued our normal lifestyle. So, my daily usage/dependency of the coach battery decreased a bit during the last four months of 2011.
We left our family in Texas and headed east, to Florida, on the day after Christmas. This year (2012), we are scheduled to present seminars at the Tampa SuperShow so we had to be there by Jan. 8th. That's plenty of time to get there from Texas but we visit friends along the way. We boondocked most of this trip. This was the first serious use of the lithium coach battery since early Fall and I was curious about it's performance after a period of non-use. No problems at all. That's good.
Recording Real Usage
What would be handy is if I had a recording gauge to monitor and record battery usage. Think about it... if I could record from the moment I started "living" off the coach battery, it would monitor and track constant usage, I would know exactly how much "life" I would be getting from the battery, over what time span, what amps I was using at any given time, and total amps used before recharging. Sounds nice but something like that has to be expensive and likely custom-built.
So, let's use my math and estimates. First, I know from experience that my phantom amp draw is 23 amps. (This is the amps required to maintain my coach when nothing "extra" is turned on. It is what is "on" or using some power automatically. (The fridge is one example of this.) I also know our lifestyle and we typically pull off the road about 3:00 PM. We both are readers so no TVs are turned on—we will both grab a book or I may work on the computer. We will be like this until dinner. We either fix dinner in the coach which usually means some running of microwave or the real oven but we always turn on the generator for this. Often we go out for dinner which means that we are at minimum phantom amp draw while we are out. At most, we will leave one fluorescent light on when we go out but only if needed. Dinner out will consume a couple of hours away from the coach. What this means is that we are running phantom amps from about 3:00 – 8:00 PM if we go out to dinner and from about 12:00 PM – 6:00 AM (sleep time)—a total of about 11 hours drawing 23 amps-per-hour average—for a total of 253 amps.
After dark and dinner, we will run the TV, a few lights, and whatever is needed. Our typical amp draw for living in our coach at night, watching TV, is 44 amps. We do this roughly from 8:00-12:00 PM each night and Sandy is up early and will watch TV from 6:00-9:00 AM. This totals about 7 hours at 44 amps-per-hour or 308 amps.
The 308 + 253 = 561 amps—too much for my 400-amp-hour lithium battery! However, I have 600 watts of solar panels on my coach that automatically function to charge the batteries whenever there is enough light. This solar compensates for some of this usage vs. capacity. The remainder is handled by running the generator.
I have discussed my generator settings earlier in this blog and won't repeat that here. However, what does happen is that my generator has consistently been autostarting and running one time (for 4.5 hrs) during a 24+ hour period. Given this run time, my cost for boondocking today is $4.50 per 24 hours using an average diesel fuel cost of $4.00 per gallon (at this writing, the nationwide average was $3.892).
Now, after ten months, we know the batteries work just fine.
Will They Last
I returned to Lithionics Battery (the battery company) on Jan. 16th and departed Jan. 21st. The purpose was for them to check the batteries to determine any problems internally. They tore down the batteries, removed the cells, and checked the lithium cell packs for "balance." On my coach battery, each cell outputs 3.2v, are "bundled" in banks of four cells (=12.8v), and each bank has a 200 AmpHr capacity. So my coach battery is a 400 AmpHr battery.
Anyway, what can happen to lithium ion batteries is that one cell can weaken and this affects the bank. The readings for my batteries were as follows...
Cell 1… 3.325 Cell 1… 3.21 Cell 2… 3.323 Cell 2… 3.283 Cell 3… 3.324 Cell 3… 3.294 Cell 4… 3.322 Cell 4… 3.293 Cell 5… 3.326 Cell 5… 3.267 Cell 6… 3.319 Cell 6… 3.239 Cell 7… 3.316 Cell 7… 3.286 Cell 8… 3.323 Cell 8… 3.287 Lowest 3.316 Volts Lowest 3.21 Volts Highest 3.326 Volts Highest 3.294 Volts DELTA 0.01 Volts
DELTA 0.084 Volts
The "big" test was for cell balancing. Mine were considered "perfect" and held up as they were supposed to under my test conditions (how we used our coach with no restrictions). The chassis battery also checked out just fine. Cells must be in "balance. " A Delta of .5 volts would be the start of a bad situation leading to early failure from "cell imbalance."
Several events will induce cell imbalance...
- The cells are not 'matched' from the beginning by the assembly source.
- The cells have inconsistent internal impedance characteristics and therefore discharge and recharge out of sequence.
- The charging algorithm is too aggressive and causes overheating of the top-end cell balance boards.
The failure mode (manifestation of imbalance) is that the top-end board shunt resistor is over-taxed, burns up, shorts out the board, thus shorting out the cell itself and takes out the cell. The pack turns from a 12.8V cell into 9.6V cell. The result is a complete failure of the entire assembly.
The "lithium ion battery world" has learned there is an inherent 1-2 percent failure rate for lithium ion batteries. For Lithionics Battery, a 1% failure was simply not acceptable. Therefore, Lithionics Battery invented a process called "cell burn in"—a quality control system to burn-in the cells and prevent that 1% from happening.
Since all my cells were excellent and well within range, ultimately, they "repackaged" both my coach and chassis batteries (the old cases were destroyed when they removed the cells) and rebuilt both batteries using the same cell banks. In effect, I did not get a new battery but got a new case. They also beefed up the battery internally with heavier cables (cables inside the case used to connect the cell banks), and a new type of insulated, heavier external terminals were also installed.
The factory states that the cells are designed to a 20-year life for the average user, and each year we plan to go back to have our batteries checked for how well the cells are “aging.” Since we got an early prototype, the factory will keep our batteries current with any improvements they make over time. In addition to the improved terminals and cables, we also got a “fuel gauge” installed…a remote, in-coach lithium ion battery monitoring system that shows amps in, amps out, amps used, state of charge and more. It even measures the charging effectiveness of my solar system.
Money!!! If a new customer installs solar along with lithium batteries, there is up to a 30 percent Federal Tax credit available on both the solar panel and the lithium ion battery. Use IRS Form 3468 (Investment Credit) to secure your tax credit.
Apparent Advantages with Lithium Ion Batteries
First and foremost, I did not have any problems or issues with the batteries over the last ten months. They performed perfectly. I traveled and stayed in hot weather (above 100° F) and cold (17° F). I was in mountains and on flat land. I was close to the Mississippi River in Louisville, KY just before it crested and lived in 10 days and 11 inches of hard rain—moisture wasn't a problem. I spent about two months very close to or on the Atlantic Ocean—salt air wasn't a problem. I was parked for over 30 days at one period plugged into 50 amp shore power. We didn't run the coach or generator at all. No problem.
With lithium ion batteries, your small electric motors (solenoids, etc.) in the coach should last longer because you get "All the volts, All the Amps, All the Time." I had two slideout motors replaced just a few days before I got these batteries last year. During the ten months I have tested the lithium ion batteries, I have NOT replaced any electric motors on my 2007 Monaco Dynasty and we live in it fulltime, therefore, we really do "use" it.
Since lithium ion batteries weigh so much less than the normal ones, it would seem logical that I'm getting a bit better fuel economy but I can't confirm that.
As previously stated, I took 611 pounds of excess battery weight out of my coach.
To date, ten months later, I am happy with these batteries. They have performed equal to or better than any other batteries I have had in any coach. From what I have learned about the potential long-term advantages of lithium ion batteries, if I had to make a purchasing decision today, I would purchase the lithium ion. There's certainly nothing wrong with having "all the power, all the time."
I had my first "Battery seminar" Saturday, Feb. 4th, at the SEA Brooksville RV Rally. About 110 people showed up. My approach was not a "formal presentation" with "Powerpoint" as I usually do but just casually told them my "story" of my experience with the batteries. This included why/how I got involved and what happened through the year including my most recent visit to Clearwater.
Then I opened it up for questions and there were LOTS of questions - nearly 40 minutes of consistent questions. There were a few from people who had no information whatsoever ("What is lithium ion?") but the majority were from a fairly knowledgeable crowd. They had done some reading/research/looking somewhere and were asking good questions. Many wanted to know how to contact Lithionics Battery.
One person said he had lithium ion batteries in his coach and loved them. I don't know where he got them or anything about him.
I thought this was a very positive session. It seems as though the crowd knows that a change (upgrade) in battery technology is needed and they are not completely happy with the existing situation (lead acid and AGMs), but first and foremost, they are hesitant because of the price, then the fact that the batteries are rarely used (not many are in use out there yet), and are somewhat hesitant concerning the normal "unknowns" about a new product or technology.
I also presented a seminar at "The Rally" in Phoenix late March. This is the national "Good Sam" gathering. I was surprised to find about 150 people in the room. My approach was the same as described above and we had the same outcome. Lots of information was heard.
When we left Phoenix, we were once more "normal" fulltimers and headed further west to visit family and be a tourist. We boondocked where possible and will continue that when we have the option. To date, everything is good. I'm still experiencing about one 4.5 hr generator run in roughly 24-26 hours. Even with paying $4.49 per gallon for fuel (yes, we did one time), that converts to a cost estimate of $5.05 per day (24 hours) to boondock. That is pretty cheap living.
It's almost October 2012. We crossed the US/Canadian border southbound on the 1st of September after spending 96 days north of the border in Canada and Alaska.
I haven't had much to write about this summer except that I gave the batteries what I consider to be their toughest test so far. I crossed the US/Canadian border late May and crossed back again the last day of August. My goal was to boondock as much as possible and as it turned out, we boondocked 48 nights out of 96 nights north of the border. This is, of course, 33% ADDITIONAL boondocking nights (and battery-time used) from our normal lifestyle.
The good news is that everything worked as it should. I'm getting about 10-14 hours of battery time when we stop, of course, with a full charge. That is fine and normal for our electrical usage. Keep in mind that this amount of usage does not apply or relate to anyone else as their usage and electrical requirements is guaranteed to be different.
As summer progressed, I was concerned about the dirt accumulating on the batteries from driving through construction. I had a full 1/4" thick layer of fine dirt literally coating everything in both battery compartments (they are not sealed). I did use a high-pressure spray to clean the batteries and compartments at one point. My concern was that the dirt may be detrimental to the battery efficiency. However, I could not detect any difference or change in usage whatsoever before and after cleaning them. But they certainly look better!
To date, we have had our lithium ion batteries installed for 19 months and since we are fulltime RVers, they were used continuously for that 19 months. During that time, we have put VERY close to 30,000 miles on this coach since the lithium batteries were installed.
What is important about this period of time (19 months) is this is equal to the amount of time our second set of AGM (8-D) batteries lasted. In my online discussion entitled, "A Discussion of Batteries," I wrote the following (repeated here, verbatim)...
BUT (this is a big "but"), if those AGM batteries had provoided more power to my coach and DID NOT need a recharge three times in 24 hours, then the total recharge cycles would be even less. For example, since that was 228 boondocking nights in 19 months. Recharging twice per day (instead of three times) would mean that the batteries failed with approximately 456 recharge cycles—less than half of what Lifeline promotes.
[Author Note… The recharging is, we believe, was what wore out our AGM batteries. We boondock an average of 12 nights per month. If the generator ran (recharged the batteries) an average of 3 times in 24 hours, for us that would be 684 recharge cycles during the 19 months our second set of AGMs lasted. I was told by Lifeline that the AGM GPL-8D batteries (like I had) have a recharge cycle of 1,000 times. Mine certainly did not last that long.]
We have boondocked a total of 156 days since the lithium ion batteries were originally installed in March 2011. Our overnight stays (boondocking) range from single overnight stays to nine (9) continuous nights.
I have no idea how to estimate total hours solely on battery since we have three unknowns...
(A) we sometimes arrive in the afternoon, spend the night, and depart mid-morning (and this translates into about 12 hours on battery), or
(B) we boondock several days in a row and may get one generator run in about 24 hrs (and this translates into about 19/20 hours on battery), and
(C) every time we stop such as lunch (and that's every day we drive), we are living on battery for a short period (I estimate about 1 hour on battery).
I've often thought that some type of "hour meter" showing actual cumulative time on battery would be valuable data. I'm not sure they exist.
I am still very happy with the solar input to the batteries. With "normal" sun, I am always showing "Solar Charging Amps" in the mid-20-amp range on the Solar Monitor we have installed.
I have not had a single glitch with the chassis or coach battery. While this is great news, because of this (no glitches), I really have nothing to write about. It is difficult to report on nothing when nothing out of the ordinary happens! This must be similar to being a weatherman in Hawaii!
I recently returned to the battery company (Lithionics Battery) for which I am testing the lithium ion batteries. A quick review of the information above will bring you up to date. This most recent visit was at the conclusion of two years of my using one lithium ion chassis battery and one lithium ion coach battery in my 2007 Monaco Dynasty. We fulltime and are into our eleventh year of this lifestyle.
We boondock regularly (about 12 nights per month on average) and have maintained this average for several years including the last two while I was testing these lithium ion batteries. During summer 2012 (our second year of testing these batteries), we made our second major trip to Alaska (the first was in 2008) and spent 96 days north of the USA/Canadian border. During that time, we averaged boondocking 50% of the time (48 days). Therefore, we regularly use and absolutely rely on our batteries for living normally when boondocking.
While I cannot prove this, I firmly believe that we boondock much more than the average RVer. My guess is more than twice as much. So when I say that we "absolutely rely on our batteries for living normally," we really do and it is through ongoing and regular usage.
Upon my return to Lithionics Battery, in February 2013, they removed my coach battery, took the original cells out of the case, and ran those cells through a series of bench tests. It must be noted that during 2012, Lithionics Battery also developed and built various specialized test equipment for these batteries.
Regarding the recent news stories about the lithium battery fires on the Boeing 787, Lithionics Battery explained that their batteries use a "lithium iron phosphate" compound that simply will not burn. Therefore, fires in the types of batteries in my coach are simply impossible. However, Boeing did not use this same compound and one result was a battery fire.
Lithionics Battery had previously obtained international UN DOT certifications in November of 2009… two months before they opened their new factory. It must be noted that after the Boeing fire, Lithionics Battery was re-certified and retained their "UN DOT" certification that allows them to ship lithium ion batteries all over the world via air freight. Boeing was “grandfathered out” of the same testing.
Lithionics Battery focuses on safety first. This was critically important to me when we first tried the batteries two years ago. After all, we put those lithium ion batteries into the only home we have!
What "Size" is My Battery?
While my coach battery has been considered a "400 AmpHr" battery from the first day, utilizing the new test equipment plus the ability to test other batches of lithium cells (the same as mine), it was determined that my original battery was actually rated at 385 “net” AmpHrs. (The originally stated "400 AmpHr" was the figure provided by the cell manufacturer, however, we now know that we actually started this ongoing test with a 385 AmpHr battery. We also know that with the NeverDie Power-Reserve, the battery will always retain some of that capacity for engine starting.
How Long Will This Battery Last?
After two years of use, testing indicated that my coach battery has lost only 5.5% of its capacity and is now rated at 364 AmpHrs—this is a drop of 21 AmpHrs. To extrapolate, this means that after 8 years of use at the same loss rate, I would still have a battery with approximately 80% (calculated at 79.7%) capacity.
The management at Lithionics Battery mentioned that other OEM RV companies using the 8D AGM batteries would experience about a 2 year life when deep cycling these batteries. That’s about the usage my wife and I experienced… so, here we are after 2 years, with batteries operating just over 95% efficiency with about 6 more good years left. With that, throughout that six-year period, we are definitely ahead of the game with lithium over lead-acid batteries. We also have the benefit of not hauling an extra 600+ pounds around the country—forever.
Concerning battery life, it has been determined by Lithionics Battery during the past year that the type of lithium ion batteries in my coach can actually be rebuilt. Therefore, I could be looking at a "20-year" battery life! One can only hope that I will be around to write about that!
What Did They Do?
After a thorough testing of my lithium cells, Lithionics Battery did a number of improvements to the battery including upgrading the "Never Die" control to a more rugged one (I had had no problems with the previous one but they installed a "standard" production model) and they increased the size of the terminals from 7/16" to 1/2" inch on my coach battery. Finally, my original lithium cells were put into a new battery case as the old case was destroyed when they removed the cells for testing. Therefore, I continue to test the original battery cells even though the case looks new.
They also tested the chassis battery using the same process. They also replaced the "Never Die" controller in this battery due to an upgrade. The battery tested perfectly and also got a new case. However, you should note that I have never had a single problem with this chassis battery. My engine and generator have started perfectly.
On the coach battery, the "Never Die" control is a separate, small box and is not inside the battery case. On the chassis battery, the "Never Die" control is built inside the battery case.
When is a Battery a Brick?
There is a process in the battery industry called "bricking" a battery. This means that a battery has been discharged to a point that it cannot be salvaged—that is, it is totally ruined. In the totally ruined state, it becomes simply a useless lump and thus, called a "brick" in the industry. Therefore, "bricking" a battery means that you have destroyed it by totally discharging it. This can happen to any battery—until now.
Lithionics Battery has developed a process whereby their batteries cannot be totally discharged. It is simply impossible to do that. Their battery will discharge 98% leaving only a 2% charge. Up to now, that would be "bricking." Lithionics has also developed and recently patented a new battery charger designed to recover that 98%-discharged battery! Again, up to now, that would have been impossible.
This means you (or maybe a questionable employee) cannot ruin one of the Lithionics batteries through normal usage from mistakes, misuse, or even sabotage.
Inverters—A Related Issue
The other change that took place was that I upgraded my inverter remote. I have a Magnum MS2812 inverter and was using the MS–RC Remote. I upgraded that remote to the MS–ARC Remote. Doing so gave me more control, some new readings, and a higher level of accuracy.
Note that this upgrade was NOT mandatory for the batteries.
We have left Florida and will live our regular lifestyle as we meander this year—we are in our eleventh year of fulltiming. Our crude plans indicate we will head toward New England this summer to visit lots of friends and family plus get our fill of good seafood. I have been asked to present seminars at the Hershey RV show in Pennsylvania this September so that will keep us east.
I mention this because boondocking is simply harder to do in the east and especially New England. Therefore, I don't know what level of usage to expect on these batteries this year.
Finally, while no news is (usually) good news, so long as the batteries work as they are supposed to, there is nothing for me to report. I'm not going to forget to post but to continue to post that "everything is fine" seems a bit ridiculous. So if you don't see anything new posted here, just wait a while and check again.
Thanks for reading.
I realize that it's been several months since I posted anything—but there hasn't been anything to post. We spent most of the Spring, all Summer, and some of the Fall in the New England area and as far west as Pennsylvania. There were friends to visit, places to see (althought we have been up here many times and even lived in Amherst, Massachusetts for two years), we presented seminars at a few RV rallies, and tried to live our normal fulltiming lifestyle. However, the "problem" was that it is somewhat difficult to boondock in New England.
Many towns/areas don't allow you to park an RV overnight. We were mostly driving on non-Interstate roads so pull-offs and rest areas were really rare, Walmarts in many states up here are not the Supercenter (not open 24 hours), there are a few casinos but they are spread out. All of this to say that most of our nights were in a campground, plugged in, and not living on battery.
However, those times we boondocked, everything was fine. I have not noticed any problems this summer and nothing has changed. So, since nothing has changed, there's nothing to report.
How come I feel like I should apologize for everything going well???
We Did One Upgrade
In the previous section, I mentioned we had upgraded our inverter remote. Something just didn't seem right but with not a lot of use over the summer, I couldn't narrow it down. On our way back to Texas in mid-November, we stopped in White House, Tennessee and went to the Inverter Service Company. They are (I think) the best in the nation. They found that my new remote was not compatible with the current version of inverter software. They installed a new control board and everything was good—except my Auto Generator Start was no longer working! Finally, we decided that that AGS module also needed to be updated to match the other two components. With a new AGS module, the total system was as up-to-date as possible.
Note that this upgrade was NOT mandatory for the batteries.
It finally hit me that when boondocking, I wasn't getting the "run time" I thought I should get from battery only. This was my "gut reaction" only.
We were getting about 4–5–6 hours of "battery time" after each charge. Obviously, this depends on what amperage (power) we were consuming. However, I know from observing this over a few years that, for example, in the evening, the TV is on, DVR, DVD (surround sound), usually my satellite (Internet) controller and modem is on, only one or two lights (but these are LEDS), the fridge, plus all those phantom amps that are ongoing power suckers. Bottom line is that when we are in here for a normal evening it will take about 40 amps/hr.
I'm a night owl and virtually NEVER go to bed before 0100 hrs. Sandy goes in between 2100 and 2200 hrs. So that front TV and stuff stays on when I'm up. When I go to bed and turn off all the obvious stuff, that power consumption drops to about 21 amps/hr. Sandy is an early riser and then will have that front TV and Internet stuff back on by 0500 hrs thus causing a higher amp draw—i.e., back in the 40 amp/hr range. Finally, all this "normal" living is evening, nighttime, and pre-daylight so solar is not a factor.
So, my usage OUGHT to be roughly...
Evening... 3 hours @ 40 amps/ hr = 120 amps
Nighttime... 4 hours @ 20 amps/hr = 80 amps
Pre-daylight... 2 hours @ 40 amps/hr = 80 amps
Best-Guess Total usage = 280 amps.
I was charging with 4.5 hours of generator run time and this was happening about two times per day. Our agreed-upon charging "target" was to reach a reading (on the inverter remote screen) of some voltage and zero amps. For example... 14.1 VDC + 0 amps. However, after the 4.5 hours charging this summer, I was getting readings such as... 14.1 VDC + 32 amps. I tried an experiment (4–5 times) to see how much more generator run time would be needed to reduce the amp reading to near or at zero. So, when the generator stopped automatically after 4.5 hours, I would immediately manually turn it on for another 0.5 or full hour. I was finding that an additional one hour of generator run time would lower the amp reading about 2 amps—sometimes just 1 amp. Therefore, longer runs were not efficient at all. What to do?
So I came to the conclusion that either (A) the battery wasn't "taking" the charge that it should or (B) that the inverter wasn't charging they way it was supposed to or (C) that the readings were incorrect or (D) that the settings suggested by Magnum were not working or (E) that the settings suggested by Lithionics were not working or (F) all of the above or (G) part of the above.
As I mentioned above, we were close to White House, Tennessee, called Inverter Sales, and they said to come on in. We did. The two longtimers there (PJ and Randy) put their heads together and came up with a solution. First (as mentioned above), they upgraded the inverter (changed a control board) to match the new remote. Second, they upgraded (changed the module) of the AGS to match the inverter and remote. Third, they confirmed that the BMK was up to date with everything. Fourth, they then applied their own logic to the settings—theirs were slightly different from those suggested by Magnum and Lithionics. We had a couple of days to sit there so we unplugged and tested everything.
The first test was a generator run time of 3 hours. For additional tests, they increased the run time by 0.5 hour. The final test there was with a four-hour generator run time. Then we had to leave.
On a sidenote, these tests take LOTS of time. There is the initial generator run time but then you have to run down (drain) the batteries as rapidly as possible but not "plunging" them into total discharge. We did not run any high amp-draw appliances to deplete the batteries because that just sucks them down and they actually build back up to some level on their own. We turned on every light, both TVs, all controllers, satellite stuff, and fans. It would take a few hours but the battery would eventually drain to the auto generator start level.
Note that the sole purpose of these tests were to determine how long to run the generator to achieve an acceptable charge. It has to be charged correctly before you can test the actual "usage" time on battery.
Okay, remember we had to leave that location and start heading to Texas (medical appointments) so my plan was to continue to increase the generator run time as needed whenever we boondocked.
Interestingly, the first night out, my 4.5 hour generator run time seemed perfect. Good readings and where we wanted to be. So, the "mystery" at that moment was... how long will we be able to live off "battery time?"
And now the good news...
That first evening/night/morning, living normally (our normally), we got 11 hours out of that battery. Great!
The next night we had to get a campground so no testing.
The third night out (and a few subsequent nights on our way to Texas) I continued to use the 4.5-hour run time and, watching the monitor closely, found that at 4.2 hours, the system would go into generator shut-down. Each time we watched our "living time" (battery time) and the 11 hours was pretty consistent.
Eleven hours of use is totally acceptable for what I want. That equates to 2 hours of generator run time in 24.
Unfortunately, I won't be able to continue testing this now. We are here in Texas to visit family through the holidays so we won't be boondocking at all. We will start testing again when we leave here just after Christmas.
I'll post more when I know more!
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The chassis battery is red. The coach battery is blue. There is only one of each battery. These two will replace four chassis batteries and four coach batteries.
Sandy is holding our chassis battery. The huge weight difference is impressive and especially so with today's fuel costs. Anywhere you can save will help. Hauling around any excess weight is simply costing you money.
The coach battery was physically larger than my AGMs and it should be. Even so, it only weighed 121 lbs. This was 40 lbs less than just ONE of my four AGM coach batteries. We saved a lot of weight!
The existing eight AGM batteries in my coach.
This is the eight batteries they took out of my coach.
Installing the chassis battery.
My battery compartment with the new Lithium Ion battery installed. This compartment originally held just two of the four large AGM coach batteries.
Installing the coach battery.
The lithium ion coach battery. Sure it's big. It should be! This single battery replaced four of the large (162 lbs each) AGM batteries. Yes, it's big but it's not heavy. For my installation, they stood it on its end and strapped it in.
Both batteries installed.
The meter is reading 14.43V of current coming directly from my lithium ion coach battery.
A close-up showing the actual reading.
My inverter screen showing the current charging status of the battteries.
A shot of my Aladdin screen (where I can monitor all my systems) shows the impact of the solar panels. I have six, 100-watt panels on top of my coach. Lithium ion batteries have the best "charge efficiency" at 98%.
We switched out that original controller for this "heavy duty" one. It was simply constructed with heavier cabling and was installed by the tech at Inverter Service Center.