New technologies accelerate evolution of batteries, power systems

Publish Date: 
Sep 29, 2012
By Bruce Steever
Shorai lithium batteries (above) are reportedly 75 percent lighter than equivalent lead-acid batteries, says the company’s Kevin Riley. Press images courtesy Shorai

BATTERIES HAVE traditionally been a small part of the market but are rapidly becoming one of the largest disruptive forces. This is being driven by new technologies available for existing vehicles as well as blossoming electric motorcycle options. With high-tech devices and electric vehicles driving battery development, advances are coming quickly. And depending on to whom you talk, the industry may have only scratched the surface of the capabilities of rechargeable power storage.   

This might not be great news for some dealers, judging by the warranty reports from major OEMs.

Battery-related issues are the No. 1 electrical failure for most brands and are often the most common failure of any type. Customers are not educated on battery maintenance, dealers don’t always service batteries correctly, and sometimes batteries just fail.

The humble lead-acid battery is found in nearly every powersports vehicle sold. While these batteries have improved, going from wet open cells to sealed maintenance-free and gel construction, the basic operation is the same. A reversible chemical reaction directly creates electrical energy; by applying electrical energy to the discharged battery, the chemical reaction is “reset” and the battery can be used again.

Lead-acid batteries are inexpensive to make and rugged in service, but have low energy density, being very heavy for the amount of energy they can store. They also require frequent maintenance to prevent sulfation. Modern lead-acid batteries are an ideal match for powersports vehicles.

The technology is moving forward. The discussion has evolved from improving the existing lead-acid battery to all-new chemistries centered on lithium anodes paired with various exotic materials. Lithium batteries power a vast array of modern devices because they combine energy density with endurance. Compared to lead-acid, lithium batteries offer 300 to 600 percent greater specific energy density and 5 to 10 times the number of charging cycles.

The downside is a significantly higher unit cost. Circuit protection is also required to protect the battery from thermal runaway. This uncontrolled heat and pressure buildup becomes extremely dangerous, which is why all lithium batteries include protection.

Because of the high energy density and high current output, lithium batteries may be a perfect fit for powersports vehicles, some say.

Shorai brought lithium technology to consumers in the form of its LFX batteries. Using a lithium iron phosphate chemistry (LiFePO4), the LFX delivers on the promised advantages of lithium batteries. It is reportedly 75 percent lighter than the equivalent lead-acid battery, has a significantly lower rate of self-discharge, does not sulfate and delivers more power for starting a motor. According to Kevin Riley, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Shorai, these are the four key features that sell the battery to consumers. (Continued)