July 26, 2022
By Dr. Todd A. Kuhn
Anyone who has ever settled into a bass boat, kayak or any type of watercraft with an onboard 12-volt battery-based system, knows the utter heartache those batteries can inflict. Traditional flooded lead-acid batteries have been the bane of boaters seemingly since their inception, some 160 years ago.
Absorbed glass mat, or AGM batteries, burst onto the scenes years ago promising to revolutionize the way we power our watercraft. While a dramatic improvement over lead-acid, AGM do have their drawbacks. Slow recharging rates, undependable discharging and awkward weights are all hinderances.
Today, the new marine-battery buzzword is "lithium." Now, while "new" to the marine industry, lithium batteries have been mainstreamed for years now. Lithium-based batteries have been used, most notably, in cellphones, handheld power tools and, of course, electric vehicles.
LEAD NO LONGER LEADS
Lead acid and gel (AGM) batteries are the oldest types of rechargeable batteries. Despite their age, they are still the most common type of battery used in cars and trucks. Lead acid batteries have a number of advantages over newer types of batteries, including their lower cost and higher electrical current output. AGM batteries have internal glass mats, which absorb the electrolyte. They are designed to take a beating without failing from excessive vibration and shock as lead acid batteries are prone to doing.
However, both of these battery types have disadvantages. Lead acid batteries, for instance, are much heavier than other types of batteries, making them more difficult to install and remove. They also require regular maintenance, such as adding water to the cells and checking the electrolyte level.
In addition, lead acid batteries have a shorter life span than other types of batteries and are more likely to leak acid if damaged. Overall, lead acid batteries are not as efficient or long-lasting as other types of batteries, but their lower cost makes them a good choice for those who are strapped by tight budgets.
AGMs, like their lead acid counterparts, are very heavy and penalize boaters with slower speeds and compromised gas mileage. They are also slow to charge, a disadvantage for tournament anglers who need to recharge quickly when limited shore power/time is available.
I channeled Nathan Staron and Shawn Budiac, both recognized experts in the field of lithium battery systems, for insight into lithium marine applications.
- So, what is it about lithium batteries that sets them apart from other choices, such as flooded cell or AGM?
I posed that question to Staron, Senior Innovator and CEO of The Lithium Battery Company and Budiac, VP of Category Management at Batteries Plus.
Staron had this to say. "Over the past two years, lithium-ion batteries have become even more powerful and energy-dense compared to other outdated battery technology. As a result, lithium-ion batteries are now the preferred choice for a wide range of applications, from powering electric vehicles to providing backup power for businesses and homes. And now, lithium is providing the ultimate power source for marine applications."
Staron continued, "On the water anglers are always concerned about weight. Most bass boat carry multiple batteries, each adding to the boat's overall weight. As the weight goes up, performance and gas mileage naturally goes down. Lithium batteries shine from a significant weight savings, at a minimum."
X2's Budiac had this to offer, "There is a dramatic difference in weight; using the best seller Group 31 as an example, 28 pounds of weight is replacing a nearly 60-pound traditional deep cycle battery. For instance, if your bass boat has four batteries onboard, you can save over 120 pounds—which is considerable. For kayakers the weight savings are even more dramatic when faced with paddling their gear and a battery around all day."
Budiac continued, "An additional improvement of lithium over lead acid is constant performance. From the first moment you utilize a lithium deep-cycle battery to the moment just before you have completely drained it, the performance output to your devices will not change. With other batteries that slowly deteriorates as the battery discharges. What does that mean for the angler? Your graphs on a lithium battery will not dim and your trolling motor speed will be constant at the same level throughout the day."
Additional advantages of lithium over other power systems include their ability to take a charge quicker. Lithium batteries charge up to four times faster than other battery types.
The trick is matching the right charging system to the lithium battery in use to achieve peak charging performance.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
Staron sees exciting advances in lithium technology just over the horizon. "We are on the cusp of a new era in battery technology. Lithium-ion batteries have been around for decades, but they are about to become much more powerful."
He continued, "The next generation of lithium-ion batteries will be 10 times more powerful than the current crop, opening up a world of possibilities. With this increase in power, we will be able to do things that were previously impossible, such as powering trolling motors for weeks, instead of hours, on a single charge. This is an exciting time for battery technology, and we are poised to make some incredible breakthroughs in the years to come."
Here are three manufacturers who design, manufacture and distribute quality marine lithium batteries.
The Lithium Battery Company offers premium lithium batteries for marine applications. Their manufacturing process features robotic welds on all internal battery connections. Their individual lithium cells are premium quality, as are all their components. This commitment to quality ensures users have fuss-free battery power.
Their 12V 100Ah Lithium Ion Battery (LBC100) is perfectly suited for replacing traditional group 31 AGM or lead acid batteries. The built in USA battery offers fast recharge times and a 99% efficient recharge. It has a peak discharge rate of 1000A for 5 seconds and a 1280-watt capacity. The nominal voltage is 12.8v and has a charging voltage of 14.4- to 14.6v. It weighs 31-pounds and measures 12.75” (L) x 6.75” (w) x 8.7” (H). ($1,289.99; lithiumbatterycompany.com)
X2 (available from Batteries Plus) offers a complete line of lithium batteries for power hungry marine applications. The two most popular lithium batteries are their 12-volt, Group 27 80Ah ($749) deep cycle and Group 31 100Ah ($899) deep cycle batteries designed to deliver a full day’s power.
Both these premium lithium deep cycle batteries deliver consistent power throughout the day with no performance drop and feature a ten-year design life and five-year full replacement warranty.
The X2 lithium line extends into two kayak focused models, the 12-volt 20Ah ($229) for light duty deep cycle and the 12-volt 50Ah ($499) for those running trolling motors and/or several graphs. These kayak batteries have the same features as the boat line with the 50Ah being the core item for kayak anglers given the small footprint yet significant amount of power delivery.
Expion 360 designs and engineers their e360 lithium batteries in the USA and meet the UL1642 UL1973 standard. Expion lithium marine batteries are available in 60, 80, 95, 100, 120 and 360Ah configurations ($878- to $4,728).
Expion 360's outer case is uniquely designed and manufactured, offering unparalleled protection for the internal lithium components with rounded corners for added integrity. Rubber feet keep the battery from sliding and up off the mounting surface too. Inside, heavy duty collector plates are welded for added ruggedness. Oversized brass connection pads ensure rock-solid battery-to-lead connections.
The all-welded internal design features a cold weather auto shut off which protects against to accidental discharge during freezing weather. Oversized internal heat sinks promise the battery remains cool during operation, all but eliminating overheating issues commonly found with lithium marine power systems.
Industrial wires and ring connectors are used internally with all terminal connections sealed from the elements (and humidity) with a marine epoxy helping eliminate shorts while keeping salt corrosion out.
Additionally, Expion offers one of the cleanest and best thought-out mounting systems in the industry. A uniquely designed Dual Mounting Kit ($166.96/dual 12-volt battery bracket system) cinches multiple batteries together, ensuring they remain solidly mounted no matter the conditions. Massive buss bars are also available for syncing multiple batteries. All Expion360 lithium marine batteries come with a bulletproof 12-year warranty and live customer support is available Monday through Friday (expion360.com).