Conventional vs. Lithium Ion Batteries in Motorcycles

Conventional vs. Lithium Ion Batteries

The future of motorcycling is always hazy. New inventions and tweaks on older technologies come along at a rapid pace. It is impossible to know which ones will take hold and which will be swept into the dustbin. The recent influx of battery types to the market is a perfect case in point. New battery technologies are inundating the market, but which ones will take root, and can any threaten the supremacy of the classic, conventional motorcycle battery?

 

Conventional Lead-Acid Batteries

Motorcycle batteries tap the energy potential of chemical reactions. Conventional batteries (AKA: wet cell or flooded batteries) use sulfuric acid diluted with water. When an electric device places a load on the battery, the sulfur reacts with a coating applied to a series of vertically stacked lead-alloy plates. This is why they are called lead-acid batteries.

Valve-regulated Lead-Acid (VRLA) batteries employ updated technologies to eliminate our need to service them. They remain sealed for life and can tip without spilling, which is also why they may be shipped while full of electrolyte. These batteries are always sealed. Unlike conventional batteries, you need not add water to the cells.

Gel-type batteries are VRLAs that utilize a jellified electrolyte. The electrolyte does not flow like water does, so gel batteries may be used in horizontal configurations. Importantly for motorcycles there is no fear of spillage when leaning to corner or during a tip-over, even if the case is punctured.

Absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries have fiberglass mats that are permanently soaked in electrolyte. The mats are sometimes laid flat, like the lead plates in a lead-acid battery. Spiral AGMs simply have their mats rolled and placed into cells.

Lithium Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries utilize a different chemical reaction than lead-acid batteries. Lithium is the lightest and most reactive of all the metals, so it is perfect for battery applications. The electrolyte is typically lithium salt in a solution (not water). Lithium-ion technology promises more power and reliability for motorcyclists, and many are already taking advantage of the benefits. However, the tech is still new, and there are tradeoffs to consider before ditching lead-acid in favor of lithium.  

Lithium-ion batteries can weigh a quarter of equivalent lead-acid batteries and can be half the size. Those several pounds of weight savings (at least 4 pounds but as much as 15 pounds) are hard to achieve otherwise, and the advantage for sport bikes is obvious. Lithium batteries are also more energy-dense than lead-acid batteries, typically offering much higher cold cranking amps, lower self-discharge, quicker charging and longer cell life.

Most lithium-ion batteries require a charger specifically intended for lithium batteries. These chargers can cost as much as the battery itself, which tends to be much more expensive than lead-acid competitors. Lithium battery cells also tend to overheat. In motorcycle applications, this can be a danger, which is why many top battery manufacturers do not make lithium-ion batteries for motorcycles.  

Charging Saves Batteries

The usual methods of murdering a battery involve choosing the wrong battery for a given application. However, overcharging and over-discharging a battery have profound effects on the amount of times it may be recharged before it dies permanently.

To prevent overcharging, only use a battery charger meant for motorcycle batteries. Motorcycle batteries require two-stage charging. The first part – the bulk charge – provides more current until the battery is about 80-percent charged. At this point the chemical reaction occurs faster, producing more heat, and soon the battery is damaged. To combat this effect, motorcycle battery chargers have a second stage, called the flow stage.

Depth of discharge also has a direct effect on how long that battery remains serviceable. A
battery can only be charged and discharged so many times before the cells begin to die. If fully
discharged, a battery may last 500 to 1000 charging cycles. But when recharged while still
retaining some of the last charge, the number of potential charge cycles increases dramatically.
Under ideal conditions and with minimal depth of discharge (less than 70 percent), cycle life
starts to rise exponentially – into several thousand cycles.
Whether you are using your bike for only occasional rides or you intend to park it in the garage
for the winter, trickle charging can extend its life. Regular charging prevents the battery from
self-discharging too much (called a deep discharge), which will shorten its life.
1Moto offers a DAGA 1.5 Amp Battery Charger/Tender/Maintainer that is perfect for keeping
your VRLA or conventional lead-acid battery charged and ready to run your gear and still start
your bike when called upon. It is fully automatic, with a dual-mode float charge that prevents
overcharging. With 6-amp and 12-amp settings, the DAGA battery tender will also work on
many other devices, including your car or truck.
Check out this SportRider.com article about motorcycle batteries for more technical
information. And check out Electropaedia to go as far as you’d like down the electrical energy
storage rabbit hole.

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