What are the advantages of using lithium-ion batteries compared to other battery cell types and how do they stack up against the disadvantages?
Lithium-ion batteries are known for being lightweight. But their use comes with certain limitations that can weigh heavily on your shoulders, if they’re not used responsibly.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to utilising lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries within your operations. Key to safely adopting them (or not) is getting your head around what those advantages and disadvantages are and whether your operations can shoulder them.
Read on to find out the benefits of using Li-ion batteries, as well as the risks involved, so you can make a confident choice, an informed choice, and the right decision for your operations.
The advantages of lithium-ion batteries
Li-ion batteries offer numerous advantages over traditional types of batteries.
Lightweight and compact
Firstly, Li-ion batteries are incredibly lightweight and compact, making them ideal for use in portable devices such as smartphones and laptops.
If you make use of small, hand-held devices across your operations, it’s likely they will be powered by Li-ion batteries. If they’re not, switching to makes or models that are could extend their lifespan and improve the efficiency of your operations overnight.
High energy density
Li-ion batteries also have a high energy density, meaning they can store a lot of energy in a small space. This translates to longer battery life and faster charging times compared to many more traditional battery types, with obvious benefits for your operations.
- Staff need to spend less time switching devices or battery packs.
- You get more value back from your equipment.
- You actually need less equipment on site, as the devices you do have “go” further.
- You can charge devices faster, reducing downtime.
Some environmental benefits
Li-ion batteries are often promoted as an eco-friendly solution to power our devices and vehicles.
In some ways, at least, this is true. They don’t contain harmful heavy metals like lead or cadmium, and your ability to recharge the battery, coupled with their relatively long lifecycle, means less wastage and less of an impact on the environment.
However, there is a flipside to this. While they do offer significant advantages over traditional batteries, the production process involved and the minerals used mean they’re not entirely environmentally friendly (see ‘Environmental concerns’, below).
A little reliability goes a long way — especially when the clock is ticking or you’ve a big production target to hit. In this area, Li-ion batteries excel. In particular, modern makes have a low self-discharge rate, which means they can hold their charge for longer periods of time, and a long lifespan supporting five years plus of use before they should need to be replaced.
Overall, the advantages of using Li-ion batteries make them an excellent choice for a wide range of applications — but there are downsides to Li-ion technology you should consider.
The disadvantages of lithium-ion batteries
Despite their many benefits, lithium-ion batteries also have some downsides that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Front of mind for many is cost and compared to other battery types, Li-ion batteries are on the more expensive side. For many businesses, this can be a significant barrier to adoption. One of the main reasons for their expense is itself the high cost of the materials used in their construction. The complexity of the manufacturing process is also a factor.
As demand for Li-ion batteries continues to grow, manufacturers are working to make them more affordable by improving efficiency, reducing waste, and developing new materials that can be produced at a lower cost. So if Li-ion batteries aren’t a possibility with your existing budget, you could build them into your future strategies when they’re more affordable.
Increased fire risk
If cost is often the first barrier, perhaps the most widely known (even infamous) is the fire risks associated with Li-ion batteries (and lithium batteries in general).
Thermal runaway can happen when the cell becomes unstable, triggering a chain of chemical reactions that rapidly heat up the battery and can start a fire. Due to the nature of the materials involved, these fires can become very hot, very quickly, and are incredibly difficult to extinguish with traditional methods.
All this means that as well as the increased risk of fire, there are usually additional costs incurred in the form of suppression systems, specialist storage, and health and safety training.
Specialist storage is critical for protecting your people, your premises, and the environment. Find out which storage types your Li-ion batteries need.
Finite charging cycles
Li-ion batteries are rechargeable, but they won’t go on forever. While it’s true you should get many years of good use out of your batteries, there will come a point where they become worn out, so to speak. The longer you continue to use them, the more their performance will deteriorate and the greater the risks of a battery’s integrity becoming compromised.
As we said above, a well-cared for Li-ion battery should give you at least five years of solid, reliable use these days, but this does depend on your team handling and maintaining it properly. If it’s not become clear by now, Li-ion batteries can be temperamental when it comes to temperature sensitivity and how long they are left charging.
If you take nothing else away, remember not to overcharge your Li-ion batteries. Follow the advice set out in the manufacturer’s guidelines to the letter.
Finally, the extraction of lithium and other rare earth metals used in their manufacture can have negative environmental impacts.
Specifically, the production process for Li-ion batteries involves mining and processing materials like lithium and cobalt, which can have negative impacts on the environment and the health of communities near these mines.
Additionally, when Li-ion batteries reach their end of life, they can release toxic chemicals into the environment if not properly disposed of. While Li-ion technology is a step in the right direction, it’s important to consider the full lifecycle impact of these batteries.
Weighing up the pros and cons of lithium-ion batteries
So there you have it — the pros and the cons of using Li-ion batteries to power your operations. How are the scales tipping? Some businesses will be able to shoulder the risks, challenges, and costs of Li-ion technology in favour of the many operational benefits it brings. For others, those benefits won’t outweigh the potential disadvantages they would need to consider and in some cases account for to keep their operations running.
Ultimately, the answer comes down to your site and what kind of setup you operate. In either case, we hope this article takes some of the weight off, so whether you choose to invest in Li-ion batteries or not, you’re lighter in your shoulders and more confident in your decision.