It is safe to say that lithium-ion batteries have taken a strong foothold in the consumer electronics industry. These batteries are extremely powerful for their size and weight, and smartphones would not exist without them.
Lithium batteries are also used for laptop and tablet computers, iPods, watches and even power tools. Despite the many advantages of these batteries, the transportation industry has been slow to accept them. However, a number of people have been trading out their used golf cart batteries for lithium batteries, and they are enjoying the results as well as leading a revolution in the performance of electric golf carts.
What Is a Lithium-Ion Battery?
Until recently, electric golf carts have been powered by banks of four to eight lead-acid batteries. Lead-acid batteries have been around since 1859, and even though they perform much better now than they did 100 years, the technology is inefficient and outdated. In fact, when discussing only rechargeable batteries, the lead-acid variety has the lowest energy density of them all, and they are lacking in several other respects, including performance versus temperature, cycling and discharge rate.
In contrast, the first lithium-ion battery became commercially available in the 1970s, and the rechargeable version was developed by Sony only in 1991. In the decades that followed, the electrolyte chemistry and stability of these batteries has improved tremendously, and they can do with a single cell what other batteries can with four or more cells.
Lead-acid batteries work by discharging hydrogen ions from a negatively charged lead electrode to a second lead electrode that is positively charged. What makes the transfer possible is a solution of sulphuric acid and water, in which both electrodes are submerged. Lithium-ion batteries substitute the lead electrodes for a lithium compound and the sulphuric acid for one of several organic solvents.
Low Long-Term Cost
It is estimated that 90 percent of all electric golf carts, low-speed vehicles (LSVs) and neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) are powered by traditional lead-acid batteries despite the advantages of rechargeable lithium batteries. The primary reason for this stems from the one major disadvantage of lithium-ion batteries: They have a high upfront cost. However, when you factor in performance and lifespan, lithium-ion batteries are a much more cost-effective choice.
Although lithium-ion batteries are more expensive than standard batteries, they are rated to survive up to 5,000 charge cycles with a full discharge each time while lead-acid batteries can only go through about 500 cycles at an 80 percent discharge. This means that lithium batteries will last up to ten times longer. With traditional batteries, or used golf cart batteries, you will need to replace them every two to three years, but with lithium-ion batteries, you may never need to change them out again. The lifespan of many of these batteries actually exceeds the operational lifespan of many LSVs.
While a lower lifetime cost is enough to drive most people to replace their lead-acid batteries with lithium-ion batteries, the latter also delivers improves performance. Because lead-acid batteries discharge at a slower rate as the charge depletes, they stop producing enough voltage for operating a golf cart when they are still 20 percent to 30 percent full. This is wildly inefficient and it drastically reduces the range of the vehicle on a single charge.
In addition to increasing a vehicle’s range, lithium-ion batteries increase its speed and carrying capacity because they are so much smaller and lighter than lead-acid batteries are. Lithium-ion batteries are about one-half the size and one-third the weight of standard batteries. In a golf cart, this weight difference is the equivalent of two average adults.
The reduced weight increases the vehicle’s range even more, especially when driving uphill or on rough terrain, and the golf cart won’t track through the grass or tear it up when it is wet. Furthermore, a lighter vehicle puts less stress on the brakes, improving braking distance and increasing the time before they need to be replaced.
Because the performance gains are so extraordinary, many golf course managers have found they must outfit vehicles that have lithium batteries installed with electronic governors to control speed and acceleration. Golf carts that were once straining to reach speeds of 24 mph were suddenly zipping around at 31 mph.
Finally, lithium-ion batteries charge much more quickly than lead-acid batteries do. The average time it takes to recharge a golf cart after 18 holes is eight hours, but lithium batteries can reach 80 percent capacity in only one hour and obtain a full charge in only 2.5 to three hours.
Other Benefits of Lithium-Ion Batteries
When you replace the standard batteries in your golf cart with lithium-ion batteries, you can expect to experience the following additional benefits:
- No maintenance – Lithium-ion batteries have no water levels to check, have no build-up on the connectors and do not corrode.
- Environmentally friendly – Because they last so long and do not degrade, lithium batteries do not need to be frequently destroyed or recycled.
- Safe – Although early types of lithium batteries were prone to overheating, new versions are as safe as or even safer than standard batteries.