“Industry is definitely experiencing a move from VRLA (valve regulated lead–acid) batteries, which have been used in data centres for decades, to lithium-ion battery technology.  And why not, the benefits are clear: smaller, lighter and a longer lifespan,” says George Senzere, Solutions Architect: Secure Power at Schneider Electric.

What’s not so well known is lithium-ion batteries’ impact on sustainability when compared with its older VRLA counterparts.

That being said, it’s important to take one step back.  It’s essential to note that despite the myriad of benefits that come with lithium-ion batteries, not all users will move to this newest iteration in battery technology.

As a storage technology, lithium-ion is far superior to traditional VRLA acid batteries. Lithium-ion batteries have undoubtedly matured in the last decade and coupled with a far more attractive price point; its adoption will make significant inroads in the near future.  It is now at a point where various industries and subsequent applications can adopt lithium-ion as the storage option of choice.

As mentioned, it is particularly the data centre industry and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) applications that are set to benefit the most from lithium-ion batteries.

African continent

“Looking closer to home, the African continent is set to benefit immensely from the technology. Stable utility power is a major issue in various parts of the continent and erratic supply means UPS’s don’t have enough to time recharge their batteries,” George adds. 

This is where the lithium-ion battery comes into its own as it not only loses very little charge, when not in use, but also takes a fraction of the time to charge again.

In a nutshell, lithium-ion batteries offer the following important benefits:

And the environment? 

Considering the above, it’s clear that lithium-ion batteries offer considerable TCO benefits however  sustainability gains are also significant.  For starters, its lifespan alone makes it “greener”.

Lithium-ion batteries do not contain hazardous materials while lead-acid batteries do; both options are recyclable. In Africa, the recycling of lithium-ion batteries needs to be urgently looked at and prioritised. 

Looking at longevity, we have to consider the entire lifecycle from acquisition of the raw materials; energy usage in manufacturing and transportation; use and maintenance of batteries which include operating temperature and charging.

George points out, “If you consider the first two points, raw materials and energy usage in transportation, these are similar between the two battery technologies, although lithium-ion edges out VRLA due to its lighter weight.

“The last two points; lithium-ion can tolerate higher operating temperatures, and certainly requires less energy to cool.  However, this benefit is somewhat negated as lithium-ion batteries require battery management systems to ensure safe operations. This means energy usage is neck and neck, depending on the circumstances.”

The only guy on the block?

Lithium-ion batteries will not completely phase-out VRLA batteries. Widespread adoption will depend on a number of factors, primarily companies’ buy-in and confidence to moving to the storage technology.

Lithium-ion as a compound is not brand new and has been a part of our lives in many different forms such as power tools, toys, mobile phones and other gadgets. Now the UPS industry is also embracing this technology.

“Overall, its’ an exciting time for the UPS industry being one of the most significant technology changes in years. Lithium-ion batteries bring something totally new to the industry,” George concludes. 


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