With the popularity of small electronics, and new battery technology, we often hear that “lithium is the way of the future.” In many ways, lithium has proven to be beneficial for hand-held electronics and high dollar electric vehicles. But for many other industrial applications, like in the golf car industry, lithium doesn’t always add up.

When it’s time for a new set of batteries in your golf car, lithium sounds like a good alternative for many of the popular reasons, including no maintenance and a seemingly environmentally friendly footprint. Taking a closer look, however, we can see that switching to lithium in golf cars, is not limited to simply swapping out a set of batteries.

The facts are that lithium batteries require a new charger and a Battery Monitoring System, an on-board computer known as a BMS. The BMS monitors each cell individually and regulates charge and discharge for cell balancing and safety. The BMS must communicate with a charger that is capable of reading the BMS communication protocol. This is not required for lead-acid batteries.

With operational costs being a major concern for anyone with a golf car fleet, it’s important to point out that there is the initial cost of a lithium iron phosphate pack (LiFePO4), plus the required additional equipment necessary to operate it. A single LiFePO4 cell has a nominal voltage of 3.2 volts, thus requiring 15 cells in series for a 48-volt pack. The average retail price of one 100 Ahr (amp-hour) cell is $155, putting the pack cost at $2325. A compatible BMS and charger costs $290 and $1075 respectively. Altogether, a conversion would cost $3690 and will provide a reported 2000 cycles at a lower energy content of 4800 watt-hours vs 7200 watt-hours for a comparable flooded lead-acid battery pack.

When comparing the costs, you can see that for a 48-volt pack, you can buy four 12-volt lead-acid batteries for about $640 retail. That will get you around 150 Ahr and 750 or more cycles with no additional equipment needed. Overall, the flooded lead-acid battery pack will deliver more energy per cycle at a lower cost per kilowatt-hour on each cycle by a factor of over 3:1.

Lithium batteries are also touted as the “green” alternative to lead-acid, because they do not contain lead or corrosive materials. The facts are however, that lead-acid golf car batteries are recycled at a rate of 97-99 percent, with the recycled lead going back into new golf car batteries, not the environment. The recycling infrastructure of lead-acid
batteries is a closed loop process that more than pays for itself, while recycled lithium rarely goes back into new batteries due to the high cost of recycling.

For golf courses and golf car fleets intent on lowering operating costs, it’s clear that lead-acid batteries remain the best choice because of their lower operating cost, proven track record, and a great recycling system that produces a small environmental footprint.

The chart demonstrates the direct cost comparison between lithium and FLA batteries as they pertain to the golf car industry and the voltage vs amp-hour requirements. For additional information on deep-cycle flooded lead-acid batteries for golf car and other industrial uses, visit U.S. Battery Manufacturing, www.usbattery.com.