We parked in the Lithionics parking lot, set up the coach for boondocking several days, and Steven Tartaglia, President, met with us to start explaining about what the grand plan was. Simply stated, he said that they had built a few custom lithium ion batteries for RVers but those were somewhat experimental, i.e., prototypes. They gathered data from those experiences and were ready to build production-type batteries—not another prototype.
What Steve was proposing for our coach was to build two production-type batteries, one chassis and one coach (house), that would be the first of the production run. He went on to say that what he built and installed in our coach would be mass produced, unchanged, for the next several months. We would, however, be the “guinea pig” in a sense as we would be the first real user. We are fulltime RVers, boondock (park with no hookups) a lot, and depend on batteries to live our normal lifestyle.
You’ve heard of “early adopters,” however, we would be the “first adopter.” This was a bit scary but a bit exciting, too.
[Author Note… I’m really not an early adopter of any technology. I look forward to new, helpful, cost-effective, tested “technology” that is proven to do what it says it will do and be beneficial and helpful to me. Then, I will get it and use it.]
Our coach has a Magnum Pure Sine Wave Inverter (MS2812) that has functioned flawlessly. The new batteries must function with this inverter.
The chassis battery was produced and installed first. The physical size of this battery was such that it would not fit in the battery drawer where the previous chassis batteries were located. While the overall dimension was larger than my AGMs, its weighed significantly less.
I have two compartments (with locking doors) on my 2007 Monaco Dynasty for batteries. Batteries set in a “drawer” so you can slide them in and out of the compartment. One compartment contained a single drawer and the other compartment contained two drawers. Monaco had installed two of my four coach batteries (the big ones) in the single-drawer compartment, put the other two coach batteries in the bottom drawer of the larger compartment, and all four (of the smaller) chassis batteries in the top drawer of the larger compartment.
We needed to install just two individual lithium ion batteries to replace the existing eight AGM batteries. Each of these new lithium ion batteries was the typical battery shape (elongated cube) but with different dimensions than the existing AGM batteries. It was determined that the lithium ion chassis battery would best fit in the single-drawer compartment while the lithium ion coach battery would best fit in the larger compartment by removing the top drawer to open up some space. This installation required a bit of rerouting of existing wiring/cabling but no actual rewiring. Finally, with the appropriate cables running to the appropriate compartments, the lithium ion chassis battery was installed first.
Battery #1 – The Chassis
Steve laid out the plan for the chassis battery. This would be a powerful battery with 3,200 cranking amps! This means it would likely start (turn over) any diesel engine on the planet. My AGM chassis batteries (Lifeline 12V GPL-1400) stated 850 cranking amps on their website.
My coach has a 400 hp Cummins ISL engine. This is “big” when compared with diesel engines in pickup trucks and smaller coaches. Steve wanted to ensure we would have enough “oomph” to start our engine anywhere and at any temperature.
My existing chassis-battery configuration was four batteries weighing 32 lbs each (128 lbs total). Our single lithium ion chassis battery would replace my four chassis batteries. My lithium ion chassis battery ultimately weighed 44 lbs thus the weight savings was 84 lbs.
With our plan in place, they built the chassis battery, by hand, using their off-the-shelf components. However, these are the same components and process that will be used in subsequent battery production.
Testing the Lithium Ion Chassis Battery
Testing would be simple. Would it start the coach?
The chassis battery was fully bench-charged before installation. We cranked the engine normally (e.g., key on, wait for “Wait to Start” message, then start). It started perfectly. We started it several times that day.
Prior to the first starting test, the lithium ion battery current measured 12.8V. The voltage “sag” during engine cranking took it down to 10.89V.
To compare, they had completed the same test to measure voltage sag with the existing Lifeline chassis batteries before their removal. That voltage sag dropped to 10.1V.
Over the several days since the installation of that chassis battery, we have started the engine a few times. I have always had a habit of listening carefully when starting the engine and I can’t detect anything unusual. I believe it is cranking faster than before but I can’t verify that.
Battery #2 – The Coach
My original coach battery configuration was made up of four (4) Lifeline GPL-8DL Deep Cycle RV Batteries with a Rated Capacity Amp Hours of 220. This, multiplied by four batteries, would theoretically equal 880 amp hours but the closest internal setting on my inverter was 800 amp hours. (I don’t remember if this setting was given to us by Lifeline or Magnum.)
My four 12V AGM batteries weighed 162 lbs each—a total coach-battery weight of 648 lbs. That weight was replaced by a single lithium ion battery weighing 121 lbs thus the weight savings was 527 lbs—an instant and obvious saving.
[Author Note… Replacing eight batteries with just two meant the total weight savings was 611 lbs! Interestingly, I had recently weighed my coach and the passenger side was about 1,000 lbs heavier than the driver’s side. This weight loss was an unusual, but distinctive and important, benefit for me.]
Testing the Lithium Ion Coach Battery
Testing this battery would be much more complex and involve lots of time. Initially, we were testing several different things somewhat simultaneously and as part of the overall process. That is, we needed…
- to let the new coach battery run down (through our normal daily lifestyle usage) to a preset voltage
- to test the Automatic Generator Start (AGS—the setting that automatically starts our generator when the coach batteries discharge to a certain level—our preset voltage
- to determine when the coach battery was fully charged to 14.4V and
- to determine the amount of time the generator needed to run to fully recharge the battery—but no excess run time as this is simply a waste of fuel.
Since this new coach battery had been only partially charged prior to installation, we started by letting the battery run down normally (through our typical daily lifestyle usage). We did not want to “force” or overly influence the battery discharge—normal usage is important here. Therefore, we did not run any high-amp-draw appliances on battery only—no coffee pot, hair dryers, or air conditioners—but we never do that anyway.
After several hours, the AGS started the generator. The battery voltage had fallen to our preset AGS-start-voltage of 12.1V. The amount of time to discharge to this level for this first test is really not important since we did not start at a full charge initially. That is, we started with a partially charged battery.
Jumping ahead a couple of days, we have gone through a few tests of discharge and recharge. Steve had been in contact with Gary Baxter, VP of Sales and Marketing, Magnum Energy, to discuss the inverter and charger settings. Ultimately everything is where it is supposed to be and we are simply living here like we do when we normally boondock. We are going through discharge/recharge cycles and everything seems to be functioning the way it is supposed to.
We will leave this parking lot in a couple of days and resume our “normal” lifestyle—a mixture of campgrounds with boondocking. We have not been plugged into any “shore power” (no AC current) while staying here. Our first night away from here, we will be in a campground for the first time since the battery changeover. I have to assume that nothing (battery-wise) will be affected by plugging in our coach but it is a new factor to be considered.
I have to also assume that nothing will be affected via normal battery charging while driving. We will drive about 200 miles and this is ample time to charge batteries. This, too, has not been tested.
[Author Note… Be sure to read the next article to learn about the uniqueness of lithium ion batteries and the advantages to using them. For questions, contact me directly at…