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Lithium Ion Batteries In Off Grid Use And What They Dont Tell You

Lithium Ion Batteries In Off Grid Use And What They Dont Tell You

How Safe Are Lithium Batteries Really?

 

 

We had a rare and sunny, warm winter day so I was finally able to get out my solar powered Lithium Ion battery charging station to charge up some batteries. It is not often during winter that I can bring out my solar Lithium battery charger because of the weather. And this brings me to the main point of this article. What they do not tell you about Lithium Ion batteries in off grid environments up North.

 

The fact is quite simple. You cannot charge a Lithium Ion battery below 32 degrees F or you will damage it. There are some chemistries out there which can overcome this obstacle. But I am talking about the majority of Lithium Ion batteries on the market today. And most DIYers are using standard technology or recycled batteries. I hear about so many Do It Yourselfers (DIYers) who are making their own off grid solar powered battery banks using recycled Lithium Ion batteries. But most do not tell you that these must be kept warm - usually indoors - to prevent damage to them in winter. Or some just do not care and run them anyway, reducing their life.

 

Most off grid homesteaders though want to get as many years of use from their batteries as possible. I wonder how many of them just have no idea about this issue.

Are Lithium Ion Batteries Safe Indoors?

 

Because I make videos for a living, I hear this all the time. People are warning me to not have Lithium Ion batteries inside the house. They are a fire hazzard. They can explode. They can burn your house down. Well, yes, if used improperly they can.

 

There are so many videos online showing Lithium Ion batteries bursting into flames or exploding powerfully. Some even take off into the air like spinning rockets. But in most cases these batteries were intentionally destroyed in order to cause these issues. Most of the other cases are simply caused by operator error.

 

If you over charge, over discharge or use too much current to charge or discharge a Lithium Ion battery, it can burn or explode. That is why most commercially sold Lithium Ion batteries have protection circuits built in to prevent this from happening. These circuits monitor the battery and disconnect it from the outside World if one of the above issues occurs. The protection circuits watch for temperature, voltage and current levels. If anything gets out of safe operating range, the circuit shuts down the battery, rendering it useless, but safe.

 

 

 

 

Most of the accidents I have seen during my research are from operator error. Most of these are caused by improper or nonexisting protection circuits. Abuse from high current fast charging and discharging can cause thermal runaway and lead to fire or bursting of the battery But again, with the proper protection circuits in place, even this abuse would likely not lead to fire.

 

In many of the videos showing batteries burning up, the person is actually hitting the battery with a hammer or driving a nail into it. Most often it takes more than one blow to cause the battery to react violently. Now I dont know about you, but I do not plan to hammer a nail into my off grid battery bank. But I do have some bad batteries and I plan to make some of these exciting videos once the weather turns nicer outside.

Speaking of bad batteries. I will not charge or use any battery that shows any sign of physical defect, damage or puffing. I will not risk it. Those will go to a proper recycling center. When I am charging batteries, I never leave them alone while charging. I am talking about second hand batteries that I have never used myself before. When charging up a battery for the first time, I use a laser thermometer and my hand to check that the battery is never heating up. If a battery is even getting above room temperature I remove it and dispose of it. I use reduced charging currents on my batteries so they should not heat up at all. I will not take the risk.

If a battery starts to puff up during charge, which is quite rare really, I remove it and dispose of it properly. I will not take risks with these batteries.

Once I have charged, discharged, and recharged a battery I generally consider it safe for use in my off grid solar power system because I will be using them gently with below manufacture rated voltages and currents to prolong their life.

 

What most people do not realize is that Lithium Ion battery technology is quite safe. I am not saying accidents do not happen because the news has shown some big ones in the past. Most were due to manufacture defects though and were recalled. But I am talking about second hand batteries that have been in circulation. They have proven themselves and have not failed under normal use in their previous life.

 

I bet if you look around your house, you will find a lot of Lithium Ion batteries in devices that you trust and use every day. Our cell phones for example us Lithium Ion batteries. We put them in our purse or pockets without thinking about it. We take them to bed with us and leave them on the night stand. We use the Kindle book reader without a thought to the battery inside. We have fans, power banks, vape devices, phones, cameras and so many more devices that all use Lithium Ion batteries - all around our house. Inside our house!

 

One big item many people do not think much about is a laptop. Laptops have 18650 style Lithium Ion batteries inside them. We trust our laptops. We leave them running when we are away. We take them to bed with us. Take them on trips and vacations. We do not really think about the batteries inside on a daily basis though.

The batteries I am using to build DIY solar power battery banks are second hand Lithium Ion batteries from the exact same devices I mentioned above. Most of them have protection circuits in place already. I will be adding even more external circuitry to be even more sure of my safety.

As long as a Lithium Ion battery is not physically damaged, under charge or discharge and it is just sitting on a shelf, it should sit there forever without any danger. If the leads are not shorted and there is nothing connected to the battery, it will not burn or explode. It will slowly biodegrade and decompose over a long time but nothing violent will happen if it just sits there untouched.

Once I have my battery banks built for my power wall, I will have them enclosed in a metal case to protect them from shock or physical damage. I will be using a reduced charging current and peak voltage to prolong their life. And I will use reduced charging current as well as reduced discharge level. This will also prolong their life. And it will reduce the possibility for accidents. But I will also have thermal sensors to let me know when a battery is aging so I can pull it out before anything fails internally.

You can greatly extend the life of your batteries, if you are careful, bit this is a whole different topic in itself for another day.

 

 

Watch Today's Video Here

NOTE: I am not advising you or telling you how to use Lithium Ion batteries. This article is for information only and is based on MY OWN experience. Experiment at your own risk. Take all precautions for your safety when working with Lithium Ion batteries.


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Troy Reid

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