read before you commit to a purchase.
Lithium is a rare earth
metal that is only found in a few countries in the world. The largest concentration is in Bolivia. However, years ago the President of Bolivia
made an agreement with the President of Iran, not a friendly country to most of
the free non-Muslim world, to sell all of Bolivia’s lithium to Iran. The next biggest commercial deposits come
from China. Thus, if you want to
purchase anything with lithium in it you will probably have to deal with the
Chinese. That is not necessarily a bad
thing. I have discovered that there are
many good Chinese capitalistic companies that are anxious to sell their
products in the free world. However,
there are some lithium companies in China that are owned by the Chinese
Government and have been formed for two purposes: To make money and to give
people work. People who work for these
Government entities are like civil servants.
They know that it is difficult to fire them so, in my opinion; it is
human nature that they will not pay as close attention to things as a company
whose existence depends on keeping the customers happy.
My Experience with Shoddy Battery Factories
About 10 years ago I
read an article written by a man from the USA who was in China on a business
trip that was unrelated to batteries. He had been contemplating buying a
lithium battery pack and had been corresponding to several candidates that
proposed to sell him the batteries that he needed. Since he had some spare time
he decided to visit some of these factories who had sent him glossy
descriptions of their abilities to supply him their batteries. What he
discovered on these visits was shocking. He said that some companies were
manufacturing batteries in small facilities no bigger than garages while
squatting on the floor with only basic tools.
There was no quality control testing. Fortunately most of the industry has made
great progress since those early days.
When I went into the
lithium battery business in 2008, and in spite of this advance warning, I felt
that I could determine who was a legitimate supplier and who were fraudulent or
made poor quality cells. It turned out
that even with my best efforts to evaluate the Chinese lithium battery
suppliers I still had some experiences that cost our company a loss in
reputation and a large amount of money.
Finally I decided that the only way I could really evaluate some of the
companies that made us some good offers was to go to China and do plant
surveys. It was an eye opening
experience. As a result I now routinely
go to China to try to stay abreast of the latest technology and most advanced
manufacturing techniques. I try to visit
up to 5 factories on each trip. These
China trips have paid off because we now know about many companies that might
have caused us pain. There are literally
hundreds of companies who make lithium batteries. Eventually the market cannot support them all
and there will be a winnowing out of their ranks and only the efficient will
succeed. As they struggle and in their
desperate effort to survive they are tempted to lower the purity of the
chemicals in their cells and take other shortcuts in an effort to lower prices
and stay competitive.
Lithium Battery Chemistries – Why We Prefer LiFePO4
There are a number of
different chemistries available in a lithium battery. These chemistries were created to address
specific needs for a particular application.
There is lithium cobalt, which happens to have a high energy density but
can be unstable and might spontaneously combust into flames under certain
conditions. The lithium manganese
chemistry is more stable but not completely out of the woods as far as
spontaneous combustion. In most
countries including the United States both of these chemistries are considered
to be hazardous materials and by International Law have to be shipped and
disposed of in a proscribed fashion.
Lithium Iron Phosphate is considered to be non-hazardous and is very
stable. Because of its stability the
LiFePO4, (lithium Iron Phosphate) chemistry is the one most people including
The 7 Pitfalls of Buying Lithium Batteries:
1. Poor Quality
3. Unforeseen Costs
4. Delayed Delivery
5. Shipping Issues
6. Labeling and
1. Poor Quality:
Lithium is a precious
and rare metal which is difficult to refine.
There are many different grades of refined lithium available to the
battery manufacturer. Often, in order to
become more competitive and lower costs, the manufacturer will buy a lesser
purity lithium in order to be more competitive.
Raw Low grade lithium can be as much as 220% lower in cost than high
grade refined lithium. Naturally the
finished battery quality will be reflected in the purity of the lithium that is
the most active component. A lower
quality lithium battery will not perform as well and will heat up more than the
higher purity cell resulting in a shorter battery life.
The internals of a
Prismatic lithium battery contain a large number of plates which are stacked
one on top of another. Larger prismatic
battery sizes often encounter a problem that is often overlooked by the buyer
because of the convenience of interconnecting the cells and the fact that they
normally cost less than packs made up of pouch cells or a large quantity of
cylindrical cells stacked together. The
difficulty lies in the fact that the innermost plates in a prismatic battery
have a difficult time dissipating the heat that is generated when the cell is operating
under a heavy load. Very often this
problem can be averted by using a large quantity of smaller thin pouch cells
that have no insulating case around each cell.
These thin un-insulated pouch cells and cylindrical cells in a pack
exhibit a characteristic of being able to dissipate the heat much faster. Thus the cylindrical cells and the pouch
cells usually have a higher C rating than prismatic batteries. Pouch and cylindrical packs have a great deal
of flexibility to meet physical dimensions and are usually a little lighter in
weight than the equivalent prismatic cell.
The factories will generally assemble these packs to their customer’s
electrical and physical parameters for no extra charge.
2. Financial Exposure:
Whenever a person sends
money into a foreign country to purchase a product made in that country they
become exposed to all sorts of difficulties that have nothing to do with the
end product itself. Things like language
barriers, foreign standards, dealing with foreign freight companies, and a
myriad of other things can make the transaction have a less than satisfactory
outcome. This especially applies to
purchasing expensive lithium batteries or battery packs. Resolving some of these often unexpected issues
can be financially painful and can delay the transaction.
3. Unforeseen Costs:
The cost of a lithium
ion battery is usually the primary consideration for many buyers. This factor is often a trap that the unwary
fall into because they do not know that the first cost is often not the total
cost. Shipping transportation costs are
often left off the bid price and left to the buyer to figure out. The simple fact is this. You will probably get what you pay for. Since lithium costs are so high the battery
longevity must be taken into consideration.
This is not easy to determine without an experienced track record for
4. Delayed Delivery:
From experience I have
concluded that lying is a perfected art form and a way of survival in
China. Except for pricing most
Chinese will tell you what you want to hear …. Which is often far from the
facts. Over the years our company has
developed contacts with individuals in China who have high ethical standards
and will not lie to us.
5. Shipping Issues:
Getting the rechargeable
lithium batteries from the factory
to your doorstep can be a vexing problem.
Air Freight is the fastest and easiest but also the most expensive. Traditionally we figure the air shipping
costs will be about $3.50 to $4.00 a pound for batteries shipped into a North
American International airport on most small shipments of up to 500 pounds. Air
shipments by FedEx, UPS or DHL usually occur with a minimum of difficulty. Air transit time is generally less than five
days. On all shipments into North
America our company typically will bid our battery cells delivered to your
doorstep so that the customer does not have to deal with any shipping costs or
shipping is much cheaper but many times more complicated. Shipping in 20’ or 40’ containers may be
simple by comparison. Smaller shipments almost
become a nuisance to shipping companies that will transfer over 500 container
loads in one boat load. Getting the
shipments from the factory dock to the shipping dock and then safely stowed
onboard the ship can be froth with problems.
Dock workers openly accept bribes.
Ocean transit time is generally ten to twelve days. Getting the cargo off the ship and through
United States Customs is problematic.
Every document has to be letter perfect and exactly match the label on
the boxes. This is often difficult to do
with a Chinese shipping clerk who does not read, understand or write
English. There are seven hurdles that
need to be cleared in the process of getting the products to the customer’s
doorstep when shipping by boat. Ocean
shipping traditionally will take about 4 to 6 weeks from the time the products
leave the factory’s dock.
6. Labeling and Paperwork Mistakes:
All too often a well-meaning
Chinese person who does not understand English will label the box, packing slip
or commercial invoice incorrectly leaving the shipment languishing in a
warehouse and gathering storage charges while the miscommunication paperwork is
worked out. At times the person who
sorts the different shipments that came in on the same boat will misdirect a
package to the wrong customer causing confusion, delays and additional shipping
7. Warranty Replacements:
Again, The Chinese
companies will tell you what you want to hear.
Usually the warranty period is two years on LiFePO4 batteries. Some
of these warrantees are similar to a lead acid battery which is prorated. If the battery fails the factory will only
give you back a portion of your money. My
experience is that most Chinese companies do not send money back easily. They will not just accept the customer’s word
that his battery failed or is weak. Before
they pay off they insist that electrical measurements be taken of the battery
and/or pictures to prove that the battery failed. Even then getting a refund is like pulling
teeth. Many manufacturers will insist
that an accepted BMS system be installed on the battery and proof must be shown
that you have not overcharged and over-discharged the batteries. Our company only deals with Chinese manufacturers
who give a full replacement on any battery that fails within the two
year period. I have heard some real
horror stories about some Chinese factories, which we do not sell, giving their
customers a terrible run around until the customer eventually gives up and finally
drops the whole matter and never collects the refund amount that they
The Electric Car Parts Company does its level best to help our customers avoid all of these pitfalls!