Of course all electric car converters would love to ditch lead batteries and use lithium ones. You can draw more power out of them, they’re lighter, they last longer, they don’t require “topping-up” every month or two; the list goes on.
The reasons for wanting to use lithium batteries are many, and the reasons we’re not all using them now are few, yet the reasons against hit us where it hurts the most: our wallets.
But why is this? Why are lithium batteries so much more expensive? Is it the economies of scale (or lack of them), or are they just very expensive to make? Well, the answer is actually both.
The manufacturing scale high-output, high-capacity cells is relatively small. There aren’t the same demands for lithium technology from shops, industries and the auto industry, as opposed to lead acid batteries or NiMH batteries. This means higher costs.
Then the fact that you have to buy an often-expensive Battery Management System to look after your lithium batteries puts the overall purchase price even higher.
While a shortage of available lithium plays a part, it’s not a big part. The amount of lithium inside each lithium battery is surprisingly small. Couple that with lithium being in great abundance – despite what you may have heard – the only thing hampering it’s supply is the limitations of the existing lithium mining industry.
The next main reason why the batteries are so expensive is because they are very complicated. Each large lithium cell takes a considerable effort to produce. Both chemistries and manufacturing conditions must be absolutely precise. Special manufacturing facilities are required, which come at a price.
So in order for the costs to come down, people have to buy more and create more demand, which will create more manufacturing, lowering prices. It’s an annoying catch-22 situation.
All in all, a lithium battery pack in your electric vehicle will cost less than a lead pack over time. This is because a lead pack needs replacing approximately every 3 years, whereas a lithium pack should last around 9 years.
Every year I’ve seen lithium prices falling, thanks to increased demand and output, but at this stage it’s still on average a third of the price of any electric car conversion total budget. For many of us a $5000 lithium battery pack is well out of reach – until you consider how much more 9 years worth of gasoline might cost.