Charging Ahead

The impact of the lithium iron phosphate battery and a look forward to the rest of 2024.

While a 2016 article in The Economist may have been overly enthusiastic that the lithium battery would be the “Technology of Our Time,” their position has proven accurate and prescient. The article concluded that lithium battery technology had the potential of having a global impact in a very short time.

Astonishingly, that is exactly what we have all experienced within the RV industry. Projected to grow at 33% annually until 2030, lithium-based batteries have changed our world. Automotive, consumer electronics, solar and electrical storage systems have all been transformed by lithium batteries and their related chemistries. Reliance on lithium batteries forms the basis for our ability to access resources, stay mobile and obtain support and communications.


Beginning in the 1990s, lithium batteries enabled consumer electronics to run longer between charges. Around 10 years ago, RV manufacturers and RVers realized that lithium batteries – specifically those of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) chemistry – could provide the “house” power needed during camping. Developments in charging and discharging, safety, depth of discharge, weight and low-resistance fast-charging made the LiFePO4 format uniquely suited for RVing.

For RVers, there was a need for an alternative power source beyond the use of the generator if shore power was unavailable. Just 10 years ago, the idea of running an RVer’s residential fridge for the weekend on shore power was unreachable. Now, it’s a reality. Manufacturers and RVers can optimize their coaches’ battery banks to run refrigerators, air conditioners and more – all free from shore power and generators. As a testament to LiFePO4 technology, not only are RVers demanding more of their onboard battery systems, but so are legislators, RV manufacturers, equipment designers, the automotive industry and the electrochemical research community. Each of these independent and influential market shapers recognize that the lithium battery and its different variations hold the key to some of the most complex issues of our time.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead, these issues are already being addressed. The Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries (FCAB), funded through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), has allocated funds for establishing and securing a resilient domestic supply chain for lithium batteries. Establishing a commitment to meet current battery research challenges, and developing a manufacturing base that meets the needs of electric vehicle and electrical grid storage markets, the FCAB has proven impactful and a friend to the RV community. In the National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries 2021–2030, an end-to-end plan has been set that includes provisions for lithium-battery research, recycling, incentivizing STEM academics and safety programs. As of August 2023, there are 30 battery plants either planned or under construction in the U.S. that have had support via grants or tax incentives from the IRA.

Lithium technology will play a key role regarding newly enacted environmental standards. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) enacted mandates to drastically reduce air pollution. Among those are the Small Off-Road Engines (SORE) Standards set to take effect in 2024. This legislation signals confidence in technological projections for both lithium battery and alternative energy formats – it requires that generators emit 40% to 90% less emissions by 2024 and zero emissions by 2028.

Manufacturers of equipment included in this legislation will offer a new line of generators for the California market. Six other states are considering following California’s precedent. For the end consumer, the state of California is offering incentives to owners of SOREs to ease the transition, and the IRA includes incentives for solar generator installations (which are often lithium-based).

In an unexpected change, the automotive industry has also set its sights on LiFePO4. Initially invested in lithium cobalt chemistries due to its high energy density, 2023 saw 14 out of 15 major auto manufacturers decide in favor of lithium-iron phosphate batteries for automotive use. IHS Markit estimates that globally more than 98% of lithium material will be allocated to automotive applications. The remaining 2% is mostly for consumer electronics and energy storage. The significance and impact of this 2023 development cannot be overstated; electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers such as Tesla, Ford and BMW have announced the migration from cobalt-based EV batteries to LiFePO4 batteries.

Already the de facto standard battery type for RVs for years, the EV market is now switching to LiFePO4 chemistry because of its energy density characteristics. The relative safety, reliability and cost meets or exceeds the lithium cobalt chemistries’ characteristics. This development is expected to fuel an even greater concentration of research and development resources for next-generation lithium iron phosphate batteries. It is expected that LiFePO4 will make gradual improvements in energy density, safety and cost over the next two to three years. The batteries available now up until 2025 are considered first-generation batteries.

Though we are still amid the first generation of lithium iron phosphate batteries, early adopters in the RV community have started to go beyond the 12-volt format for lithium batteries and are now installing 24-volt and 48-volt systems. We expect cases and applications to increase over time and become customized, as power requirements on the battery systems reduce the necessity of shore power hookups and on-board generators and safety features become more efficiently responsive.

Into the Future

Photo credit: ZETHA_WORK – stock.adobe.com

Upcoming developments in LiFePO4 batteries will focus on 1) improved specific energy and energy density, 2) longer lifetime, 3) improved safety/less flammability, 4) faster recharge rates and 5) reduced LCOE (levelized cost of electricity).

These five key LiFePO4 batteries performance characteristics were the initial differentiators between lead acid-based batteries and lithium-based batteries, and are based on the complex chemistries of materials and their interactions in the batteries.

Areas of research that are showing great promise for the future are the development of anode and cathode materials, electrolytes, separators and current collectors. (Anode materials, typically graphite, are where lithium ions are stored when the batteries are charged.)

The choice of cathode significantly impacts specific energy. Research into more efficient cathode materials can increase energy density. Lithium nickel manganese cobalt (Li-NMC) batteries have a higher density than LiFePO4 batteries; however, they are also more volatile.

Research into electrolyte chemistry is critical for lightening of the battery weight and is crucial for battery-cell safety, cycle life, power capability and reversibly accessing stored battery charge. As lithium metal batteries begin a new generation of on-board power, researchers are focusing on new electrolytes, which will allow more efficient metal cycling.

Research and development of battery management systems and battery informatics play pivotal roles in assessing the state-of-health of the batteries and are an important part of its safety system. To aid in the development of battery data sets and create a repository of research globally, the Global Battery Alliance is charged to help create a sustainable battery value chain and data repository.

LiFePO4 batteries have been used in RVs for years. With increasing demands on this evolving technology, 2024 and beyond will see unmatched levels of government funding. The size of the automotive market will have major impacts on lithium batteries, as related research will have cross benefits to RVs. Governmental agencies and communities will require cleaner energy sources. Also, RV manufacturers and RVers will be leading the way shaping lithium batteries in 2024.

Avanti Lalwani 

Avanti Lalwani is CEO of Briter Products, a South Bend, Indiana, manufacturer and installer of custom RV solar systems and lithium batteries, and the 2023 winner of the “World’s Greatest Battery” award.

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