Why use Li-Ion batteries for industrial cleaning machines?

Industrial cleaning machines, regardless of whether they're manual or autonomous, usually use batteries as their source of power.

Previously, they used batteries like those used by forklifts and other mobile industrial machines, based on lead-acid chemistry. Examples of batteries of this type include AGM and gel type. Generally, these batteries had similar energy density and performance, although the life cycle would vary. Still, this life cycle was considered low when compared to lithium-based batteries, especially when used in deep discharge cycles.

Recently, industrial batteries have started to use li-ion chemistry more and more, because they have several advantages over lead-acid. These include up to 5x more energy density (50-100 Wh/kg in lead-acid vs up to 260 Wh/kg in NCA/NMC cells) and quadruple the life cycle (typically <500 for lead-acid vs 2,000+ for LFP li-ion).

Li-ion Abbreviations Explained

Before going any further, let's look at what the abbreviations for li-ion batteries mean. There is no single type of li-ion battery. Instead, there are several types, using various types of chemistry. Three of the most popular are:

  • Lithium iron phosphate (LFP, LiFePO4): Has a high cycle life (2000 or more), good thermal stability (which translates to extra safety), and can have a low impact on the environment, as it doesn't use rare elements like nickel, cobalt, and manganese. Suitable for applications requiring moderate power and long lifespan, such as floor scrubbers, sweepers, and vacuums.
  • Lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC): Has a high energy density, good power output, and moderate cycle life (around 1000 cycles usually). Suitable for applications that require high energy and high power, such as autonomous cleaning robots, carpet extractors, and burnishers.
  • Lithium nickel cobalt aluminium oxide (NCA): Has the highest energy density and high power output, but a lower cycle life (closer to 500, but when optimally used, it can be higher depending on the exact model). Suitable for applications that require very high energy and high power, such as aerial work platforms, high power mobile vacuums, and handheld portable devices.

Li-Ion vs Lead-Acid Batteries

Regardless of chemistry type, lead-acid batteries have much lower energy density than li-ion batteries. This means that lead-acid batteries are often big and heavy, which makes them unsuitable for certain applications, such as mobile cleaning robots.

Li-ion batteries can last much longer than lead-acid batteries, plus they are generally lighter. This means machines can run longer and that batteries don't need swapping or charging as often. What's more, the replacement process is simpler, plus the longer cycle life means longer service-free time and slower capacity degradation, ensuring acceptable output for many years. Overall, this translates to higher performance and lower running costs.

But, as we've seen, there are several types of li-ion batteries, and you should choose carefully to ensure you get the battery best-suited to your application. We have the experience needed to help with this. We test all cells internally and in external laboratories to confirm their performance and can then recommend the best cell for you. This results in the perfect combination of battery life, safety, and power level for your device.

Benefits of Li-Ion Batteries for Cleaning Machines

There are many benefits to using li-ion batteries for cleaning machines. We've listed several of them below.

  • Zero maintenance. Unlike lead-acid batteries, li-ion batteries do not require water re-filling, equalization charging, or SoC/DoD (State of Charge, Depth of Discharge) levels monitoring. This saves time and money, plus reduces the risk of accidents or spills.
  • Safer charging. During charging, lead-acid batteries can generate hydrogen which can create a combustible mix with oxygen. Li-ion batteries do not produce any harmful gasses during charging.
  • Longer battery life. Li-ion batteries offer more than 2,000 charge cycles, meaning they can last longer than lead-acid batteries, which typically offer less than 500 cycles. They also have less capacity degradation over time and can produce consistent output for many years.
  • Increased productivity. Li-ion batteries allow for fast charging, longer runtime, and opportunity charging. This means machines can operate continuously without downtime or frequent battery changes. They also simplify operations by eliminating the need for dedicated charging areas for long charging processes.
  • Great value. Li-ion batteries offer a great return on investment by reducing running costs and downtime, plus they enhance performance.

But there are also some downsides to li-ion batteries, including the points listed below.

  • Safety concerns. Li-ion batteries can pose a fire risk if they are overheated, overcharged, or mechanically damaged. This can result in thermal runaway, which is a rapid increase in temperature and pressure that can cause explosions or fires. Therefore, it is essential to use high quality batteries with robust mechanical design and proper protection by a battery management system (BMS). The BMS monitors all crucial parameters such as voltage, current, temperature, and state of charge of each cell and module in a battery pack. It also controls the charging and discharging processes to prevent overcharging or deep discharging that can damage cells or reduce their lifespan. The BMS also communicates with the machine controller to provide information about the battery status and performance. Some types of chemistry are also safer than others when abused, like LFP.
  • Higher initial cost. Li-ion batteries have a higher upfront cost than lead-acid batteries, due to their complex manufacturing process and advanced materials. But this cost can be offset by their lower operating costs and longer lifespan. Additionally, thanks to longer run time, fewer batteries might be needed and up-time of the machines can be increased (faster charging also helps with that). All of these translate to a lower total cost of ownership and added value.
  • Regulatory compliance. Li-ion batteries are subject to strict regulations and standards regarding their transportation, storage, and disposal, due to their potential environmental impact and safety risks. They require thorough validation, testing, and certification, plus they must have proper documentation, labelling, and packaging. They also have specific guidelines and procedures for safe handling.

Li-Ion Batteries: The Superior Choice for Industrial Cleaning Machines

While they do have downsides, li-ion batteries are the best choice for industrial cleaning machines. They offer higher energy density, performance, and efficiency than lead-acid batteries, plus they have a longer service life. This ensures appliances work to their maximum ability, plus reduces running costs and maintenance.

But it is vital to remember that there's no single li-ion battery. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the specific requirements of the cleaning machine.

Therefore, it is important you choose the correct type of li-ion battery for your appliance. For example, a floor scrubber would benefit from an LFP battery, thanks to its high power and long cycle life. On the other hand, an autonomous cleaning robot needing to navigate complex environments and perform multiple tasks would benefit from an NMC or NCA battery, both of which can provide high energy and good power output.

By selecting the appropriate type of li-ion battery, the cleaning machine can achieve optimal performance and efficiency.  This makes it incredibly important to consult with an experienced battery designer and manufacturer. By doing so, you'll get the best possible results, combined with guarantee safety and regulatory compliance.

Only experienced battery manufacturers like Johnson Matthey Battery Systems can guarantee the highest quality of batteries while maintaining consistent performance and safety of mass-produced batteries.

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