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Old 07-07-2016, 11:56 AM   #1
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Lithium batteries.

We're getting ready to put a deposit down on a Sprinter SMB. We've been in talks with SMB west about AGMs vs lithium. For production reasons, they like to install AGMs since they have the system down, they're cheap, etc. But, if we choose the battery and charger, they'll install lithiums. In the future, they'll likely have a lithium option when prices have come down and they've been tested more thoroughly. I believe Roadtrek has a lithium option for their Sprinter RV's, but it's fairly new.

One of the main concerns for us is that we don't want propane. So, we'll have the D5 for hot water and heat, and we really would like an induction stove. The diesel stoves would work fine, but they take too long to boil water. The more challenging conditions for battery use we'll be in are Friday-Sun weekend trips to the resorts or TH's for skiing. If we're at a TH, the van will be parked and not driven once we're there. Snow all weekend means solar won't contribute anything. So, we'll need about 400 Ah of battery if we want to be able to use the induction stove for quick breakfasts and coffee in the morning, and to run the D5 all day (we'll have fresh water on board). To do this, we'd still have to idle at some point, and would likely need the 2nd alternator option to reduce idling times. In total, this option is about $3K. For not much more money, we could do lithium. We'll still have to idle with lithiums, but much much less.

All of the lithium batteries I've researched are the non-flammable type. They're essentially as safe as a typical deep cycle. The major trade-off I see (aside from cost) is that you can't charge them when they're really cold, and heat reduces the life expectancy. That means mounting them inside and waiting until the interior temp has come up before charging them (discharging is fine in the cold). SMB would mount the AGM's under the van, so while we're saving a ton of weight and the lithiums take up half the space, they are effectively taking up more space because the lithium is inside.

The major lithium battery makers have internal circuits in them that prevent over and under charging. They're fine to be charged with an deep-cycle charger as long as it's programmable. You could also just buy a lithium battery charger.

We want 40 gallons of water, and with our spec where it's at, SMB figures we'll be of the heavier variety of Sprinters, but should still make weight. I estimate we'll save about 200 lbs with a lithium setup over a AGMs + 2nd alternator. This is with a 300 Ah lithium battery compared to 2 200 Ah AGMs. That's a lot of weight to free up.

Lithium Pro

- can discharge 80-90%
- Big discharges (stove) are not bad for the battery
- Half the weight and space
- Will recharge with a higher wattage than AGMs up to 100% capacity (much shorter recharge time)
- 5 year warranty
- No need for 2nd alternator

Lithium Cons

- Expensive
- Must be mounted inside
- On the cusp of becoming mainstream, but not as proven yet as AGMs
- Slightly more complicated system for recharging

AGM Pros (from our perspective)

- Cheap and predictable
- Mount under Van in a space that isn't otherwise used

AGM Cons

- Big discharges are not healthy for the battery (stove)
- Deep cold severely reduces Ah (conditions we'll routinely be in)
- Effectively can only use 50% of Ah
- Last 20% of charge takes a long time.
- Heavy

The people in the RV community that are running lithiums seem to love them and have not had much issues if they're wired and protected correctly.

Does anyone else have feedback on this or are contemplating the switch?

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Old 07-07-2016, 12:13 PM   #2
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Here is a link to Roadtrek's Lithium option.

You are being redirected...

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Old 07-07-2016, 12:21 PM   #3
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Expedition Portal has a "How to Build Your Own Expedition Camper" feature in their header right now. It's a quick summary of a book by Ulrich Dolde. At the end is a link to Ulrich's Kickstarter page to fund an English translation and printing. (Fully funded now so you aren't on the hook for anything.)

Anyway, if you go to the Kickstarter page, about 3/4 of the way down are pics of his lithium setup, which is a thing of beauty and which he calls "one of the improvements of the last years." You might try contacting him to find out why.
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Old 07-07-2016, 01:20 PM   #4
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Asking my self very similar questions right now.

Looking forward to this thread.


I think I actually may have found this link from another thread on this board.
2012 E350 SMB/Quad Van
I never thought 'living in a van down by the river' would become my dream situation.
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Old 07-07-2016, 06:29 PM   #5
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Did someone say Lithium?

I say do it and be a pioneer. Just remember that being the pioneer there will be a steep learning curve, possible set backs, might not work the first turn of the key, could cost a lot of money, but the adventure will be awesome
If your not into that sort of thing the AGM route might be better.

Please keep us posted on what you decide and congrats on being in the planning stage of a new van.

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but it's not what rockets are built for.
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Old 07-08-2016, 08:05 AM   #6
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I say, go for it. I am not sure that I would want SMB doing the install, you could also have a enclosed box(insulated) made up to still hang them underneath the van. Possibly use a fish tank heater to get the battery warm enough to recharge.

I do wonder why you put not needing a second alternator as pro for lithium. This is one of the areas I believe a second alternator would be perfect, using a regulator that is set up for lithium batteries.

I was almost ready to go down this path, but my recent early retirement prompted me to stay with AGM for at least one more cycle. If you haven't already you may want to talk to AM solar, as they are selling lithium setups and should have some feedback on their systems.

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Old 07-08-2016, 08:49 AM   #7
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Enough lithium batteries and enough solar (and clear blue sky of course) you can run almost anything including AC.

All it really requires is a large roof and very deep pockets.

Len & Joanne

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Old 07-09-2016, 10:56 AM   #8
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From what I've gathered, there are a few category of options.

Drop-in AGM style batteries like Smart Batteries. They have the built-in circuitry for over/under voltage protection, but if any of those bits fail, the whole battery has to be replaced. They all come with a 5 year warranty, but the terms seem tricky. All you need is an adjustable charger. They seem like a better option for replacing AGMs with lithium, but we have the option of doing this all from the start.

12V RV Batteries | Deep Cycle Lithium Ion Batteries | Smart Battery

There are the complete kits like AM Solar and Starlite. Comes with the chargers, controllers. etc.

Lithium Batteries ‚ÄĒ AM Solar
RV Lithium Battery

And then there is This Balqon home energy storage solution. Looks fairly robust and self contained.
Balqon Electric Vehicle Manufacturer

And of course, a complete DIY setup. I think between the options above, that's what I would prefer to go with since, at this stage, I know very little about how this stuff works.

The AM Solar units use mostly victor energy components, which seem to have a really good reputation. You can also get their controllers with temperature control, which it seems some of the others may not have. Given that we have winter here in Denver, I think that would be prudent to have that. But, their battery cells are quite a bit bigger than the others, for some reason.

If we mount them under the car, then they would need to be in a custom box that is insulated and heated. We'll have the D5 hydronic, so I'm not sure if there is an option to utilize that to heat the box, as well. The other option is just mount them inside and maybe have a small CPU fan to keep air circulating. Given that we'll see temps below zero, the box would have to be fairly robustly insulated, and that may make space an issue.

Scalf - I guess I put the non-alternator as a pro for cost. Between most of the these battery setups and the 2nd alternator, that would put you around $8K. We'll be ordering the sprinter with the 2nd Alternator bracket, so I guess that could be an option at a later time. I'm not too savvy on this stuff, so aside from the extra charge capability, what would the benefit being of the 2nd alternator with a regulator made for lithium? Does that simplify the wiring for the camper or remove a component?

After having read through that blog linked above and knowing there are some established options, I really don't see why we would go with AGMs at this point. It's technically more difficult to go with lithium, but nothing a little thought and ingenuity can't fix. It would be great if we can get some technical details on Roadtrek's setup, but I suspect they're going to keep that proprietary.
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Old 07-09-2016, 11:18 AM   #9
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Lithionics is another company I've found. These can be purchased with a built-in controller that will monitor temp, which I think is crucial. They also have a custom digital display that can be purchased as an option.

12/16 Volt Batteries | Product Categories | Lithionics

Their Never Die battery management system seems fairly complex and well thought out. Plus, their reputation seems substantially better than Smart Lithium. They have a ton of information on their product, which I always value over a company that expects you to trust them.

Edit: Just realized Lithionics is what the couple in the video above are using.
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Old 07-10-2016, 12:41 PM   #10
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I'm looking forward to hearing how this all works out. Hopefully, the added complexity and cost will end up being a great trade off. I'll be most interested in seeing how you devise a charge system that properly charges different battery types. Keep us posted............

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