Lithium batteries are the top billing for long-lasting, fast charging, and dependable power sources. However, they don’t come without some reservations. For all their benefits, just like all batteries, lithium batteries are temperature sensitive too. So, does heat affect lithium batteries?
Yes, heat can affect lithium batteries and drastically shorten their lifespans, but there are ways to avoid damage and make lithium an integral part of your electrical system. Let’s look at the options!
What Are Lithium Batteries?
A lithium-ion battery is a rechargeable battery like those you would use in solar charging systems. A battery has two sides. There’s a cathode side or the positive side where the current leaves the battery when discharging. Then there’s an anode side, the negative side during discharge.
When releasing its power, a lithium atom separates from its electrons and becomes a lithium-ion. The electrons end up in the cathode, and the lithium ions move through an electrolyte material that splits the two sides to recombine with its electron. After that, it becomes neutral again. This movement is the passing of an electrical current.
Lithium-ion batteries usually consist of the material lithium, with other elements and compounds that act as catalysts. For instance, lithium mixes with cobalt oxide and graphite as electrolytes in cell phones and laptop batteries. Lithium can combine with manganese oxide for hybrid and electric vehicle batteries, and lithium iron phosphate is the most common mixture for batteries in solar generators and RV coaches.
Because lithium ions are so small, they travel through the electrolyte material in a battery quickly and have a very high voltage. There is a higher volume of lithium ions in a battery, which gives it a more robust current that can discharge almost to zero without hurting the battery. But despite their high energy density, lithium-ion batteries are 100 times less energy-dense than gasoline.
➔ New to RV batteries? Read our Beginner’s Guide to RV Batteries for a full rundown.
Do Lithium Batteries Get Hot When Charging?
Lithium-ion batteries charge well in temperatures ranging from 32°F to 113°F. However, they do not charge well when the temps are under freezing. The internal resistance in the battery increases, making its performance less outstanding. Charging becomes more challenging because the electrons don’t separate as quickly from their lithium atoms. There is less capacity for power storage in the battery when the temperatures are cold. You should never charge a lithium battery when the temperatures are below 32°F as it can cause the lithium ions to bind into lithium metal and short the battery internally.
Lithium-ion batteries heat up when you are charging them at very high rates. If the battery almost depletes before charging, the charger will become progressively hot during the “bulk charging” phase (one to two hours after charging begins). But if the battery still has plenty of power when charging, the charger might not run for an extended period.
Most electric cars with rapid charging capability have battery cooling built-in. In fact, you can sometimes hear the cooling system running when charging the battery as it’s usually the same cooling system as the car’s air conditioning. These cooling systems allow for the battery to be charged at much higher rates while keeping it within a safe temperature. The same goes for cold temperature charging. Electric cars use the charging power to warm the battery before charging to make sure it’s within safe specifications.
➔ Want to learn more about using lithium batteries in cold weather? Check out our deep dive: Do Lithium Batteries Fail In Cold Weather?
Does Heat Affect Lithium Batteries?
Lithium batteries are excellent power suppliers in temperatures below 130°F, but any sustained use in higher temperatures will damage battery life and performance. Most locations, except for the desert southwest in the United States, have temperatures well below that high point.
Still, if you consistently charge and discharge a battery in extremely high temperatures, you may have a problem. Many lithium batteries have a built-in battery management system (BMS) for this purpose.
To protect your investment in a lithium battery, many manufacturers create this BMS as a central ‘brain’ for the battery’s operation. If the temperatures reach 130°F, the BMS turns the battery off automatically. You will need to check with manufacturers to see which ones come with a battery management system before making your purchase.
What Temperature Is Too Hot for Lithium Batteries?
You can discharge or service lithium-ion batteries at temperatures ranging from -4°F to 140°F. Usually, the batteries can withstand some use up to 130°F, but not constant use. After that, the battery’s lifespan decreases. If it overheats, thermal runaway can occur, where it creates more heat than it can dissipate. There have even been reports of batteries combusting, which is why many shipping companies and airlines will not carry lithium batteries.
What Happens When Lithium Batteries Get Too Hot?
If lithium-ion batteries have persistent overheating problems, the chemistry in the battery creates greater voltage and improves the storage volume. Sadly, this decreases the battery’s lifespan. With consistent exposure to high heat, the battery life cycle can severely degrade, even though it produces a temporary increase in the battery’s capacity.
At What Temperature Do Lithium Batteries Get Damaged?
When temperatures reach 130°F, a lithium battery will increase its voltage and storage density for a short time. However, this increase in performance comes with long-term damage. The battery’s life will reduce drastically, which can happen at a slower pace if the batteries operate consistently at even 100°F. You may end up with a lithium battery that has lost up to 30% of its lifespan.
Are Lithium Batteries Worth It in Hot Temperatures?
Lithium-ion batteries have become the go-to for high-powered, long-life energy, especially in vehicles and solar generators. But you should consider again if you plan on using them in consistently hot environments. Most hot locations are not a problem, but if you are installing them in a very hot room, or near an engine it could degrade them. This however is true for all batteries, so keeping them temperature regulated is best.
Installing batteries with built-in battery management systems is imperative to protect their life cycles, and proper charging and discharging procedures can help you get the total value of your lithium batteries. With some planning and common sense, lithium batteries can be your powerhouse provider for years.
We personally use and recommend Battle Born’s lithium iron phosphate batteries. Find out The Real Reason We Installed Battle Born Lithium Batteries (Again) [2022 Review].
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