Comparing Lithium Ion and Lead Acid Batteries

An electric bike or scooter typically uses two main battery types: Lithium-ion and Lead-acid. As we journey ahead, I'll lead you through the advantages and disadvantages of each.

1. Lead Acid Batteries: Outdated or Sufficiently Capable

Lead acid batteries, originally created in the mid 1800s, are not the most effective option. When using only 30% of the battery, the primary charge is drained, leading to a decrease in output during long-distance trips. This phenomenon is known as Depth of Discharge (DoD). Consequently, less power is available, and the bike’s instruments may fail if you deplete 50% and do not fully charge the battery before the next ride. Additionally, lead acid batteries take a long time to charge, usually 5-8 hours for all types at 2 amps.
To extend a lead acid battery’s life, you should maintain a maximum DoD of 55% per ride and always recharge it fully after use. If you dip deeper into the battery’s charge, you’ll drain it faster and may have to replace it soon. To put it simply, avoid cranking the throttle and take it easy on the bike, just like we can jog longer distances than we can sprint. Excessive use of the battery can cause it to age prematurely and leave you stranded in an intersection.
While traditional lead acid batteries are widely available, affordable, and a good option to start with, they do not compare to more advanced and reliable Lithium-ion batteries, which we will discuss next!

2. Efficient and High-Performing: The Advantages of Lithium-Ion Batteries

In the 1980s, the original lithium-cobalt-oxide (LiCoO2) battery was introduced, but it was unstable and prone to catching fire if overcharged. However, about a decade later, a new type of lithium-iron-phosphate (LiFePO4) battery was developed which proved to be both safer and more efficient than its predecessor. Now that you have a basic understanding of how electric bike batteries work, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of lithium ion batteries:
Superior chemistry provides a longer battery life expectancy.
Capable of delivering 2000-5000 charge cycles, even with a DoD of up to 80% (although this may vary depending on the maximum speed setting).
Does not age prematurely if not charged immediately after use (although it is still recommended to extend battery life).
Highly efficient charging – up to 100% charged in just 30 minutes using a higher amp charger.
50% lighter and smaller than lead acid batteries.
Equipped with a Battery Maintenance System (BMS).
Lithium ion batteries are ideal for powering scooters or motorcycles that carry two people up steep hills and rough terrain. Compared to lead acid batteries, lithium ion batteries still perform better even when the charge is as low as 20%. However, to ensure optimal performance and experience, the following three variables should be considered, just like with lead acid batteries:
Range and performance will vary based on individual factors such as weight, height, and throttle control.
Battery life expectancy will be shortened if the battery is excessively drained or not charged properly.
Regular maintenance and cleaning will make repair work easier.
If you want to upgrade from a lead acid to a lithium ion battery, it’s important to have a specialist inspect your bike’s controls to make sure they can handle higher currents. When it comes to your bike’s well-being, it’s always better to err on the side of caution to ensure your own safety.

3. Comparing Prices

3.1 Lead Acid Battery Price

Inexpensive and widely available at local stores, the regular type of battery typically costs up to $90 per six cells, totaling around $700 with taxes. Prices may vary slightly depending on the brand. On the other hand, SLA lead acid cells offer higher current output, albeit with a higher price per pound. These cells usually cost between $100 and $150 and can require fewer cells than regular lead acid batteries due to their higher output. I personally ride my bike up to three times per week with the regular type of battery. However, I had to replace them after four months due to an overpowered or factory defective governor. Thankfully, I was still covered by the warranty and avoided a $750 bill, including labor costs. If your bike is properly assembled and has no faulty parts, your batteries should last at least six months longer than mine did, provided you take good care of them.

3.2 Lithium Ion Battery Price

The cost of high density lithium cells is three times more than that of lead acid batteries, ranging from $350 to $500 each. As a result, a set of four such batteries can cost around $1500 to $2000. Although they are not as easily accessible as lead acid batteries, their availability is increasing due to rising demand and popularity. Lithium batteries require minimal maintenance to achieve their maximum lifespan. They are also easier to install or replace on most electric bikes, but it’s essential to check whether your bike needs modifications.

3.3 Battery Charger Price

Your electric bike should always be accompanied by its own charging device. Charging lead acid batteries may take an extended period of time (5-8 hours), while a regular charger for lithium batteries will significantly reduce charging time (up to 2 hours). However, when utilizing a high-speed charger, your bike can charge in as little as 30 minutes. It is hazardous to rapidly charge a lead acid battery and the same applies to lithium if the battery is not engineered to handle increased amperage. In a future post, I will further analyze the calculations regarding power and time in relation to charging and traveling abroad.

4. Conclusion

After taking into account all the factors, the final decision lies with you. If your intention is to go for short rides only once a week, then a lead acid battery will suffice as it is long-lasting and also less expensive to replace. On the other hand, if you are looking for a battery that offers superior performance, high quality, lightweight convenience, maximized range, and reliable overall operation, then a lithium ion battery would be the ideal choice.

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