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Nickel Iron vs. Lead Acid - Off Grid battery debate

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  • #16
    One thing to keep in mind when surfing is that probably 95% of the information available on the net is questionable.

    Most manufacturers sites are pure salesmanship - BS & blather mixed with no more facts than necessary. Small wind turbines are an excellent example of this. I was reading yesterday where Dyocore is apparently claiming to beat Betzs Law by a few hundred percent - and trying to defend their position.

    Membership to forums is open to all - no way to check qualifications. Some of the stuff you read on engineering sites is scary - written by 3rd graders maybe.

    Many sites love to use controversy to get clicks. So a stupid post or claim means more income.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

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    • #17
      Nickel Iron Batteries

      Originally posted by Iron Bran View Post
      Hi everyone,

      I am interested in learning if you have any experience with non-traditional battery systems?

      Is anyone using ni-cad or nickel iron? I am looking into Nickel Iron (ni-fe), anyone currently using these?

      Thanks!
      I have a small solar system that powers my garage. The solar panels add up to 90 watts. This has been in use now for ~ 5 years to power the lights, televison, radio and small power tools. The batteries I have been using are whatever is lying around, primarily glassmat alarm batteries and Nicads. I was about to buy a set of golf cart deep cycle lead acid batteries then remembered I had a bunch of Edison Nickel Iron cells on a shelf hidden by years of accumulation. I bought these in the late 70's from different sources and never used them. The electrolyte had long dried out to the point is was not visible through the fill caps. The newest set was manufactured in 1961, the oldest before 1928. After much research, I figured out the formula for the electrolyte and replaced it. This was followed by cycle testing with a motor/generator set and load resistors. In the end, the set made before 1928 is still at 65% of new rated capacity. The set made in 1961 is at 70-75% of new capacity. I have been using the newer set for a year now and am thrilled with the performance. I know they are expensive but seem to be a good fit for solar systems. Unlike other batteries, they really are nearly indestructible. I don't even have a charge controller hooked to them. I will get one at some point but just add water ever 3-4 months for now. The only difference to be considered with these is the need for a different charge controller. The fully charged voltage of a nickel iron set produces 14-15 volts and will trip off inverters designed for lead acid. There are inverters available with adjustable set points. For now, when working in the garage, I momentarily remove a couple of cells from the circuit to get the inverter started, then apply a load. Works for now !
      Last edited by AzSun; 05-08-2011, 05:48 AM. Reason: add info

      Comment


      • #18
        Way Cool, what a find you made.

        The problem with NiFe batteries, is their re-charge efficiency. They consume 200Watts, to replace 100W. Lead acid, form 0-80% full, are about 95% efficient, and from 80-100, about 80% efficient. Nife, is 50% from 0-100%, which is a lot more PV needed for a larger installation.

        Cost, is also about 3x lead acid, as nickel is a semi-precious metal.
        Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
        || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
        || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

        solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
        gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister

        Comment


        • #19
          Originally posted by Mike90250 View Post
          Cost, is also about 3x lead acid, as nickel is a semi-precious metal.
          Mike where are you coming up with those numbers? Current price for FLA is around $0.14/wh, and NiFe around $4 to $6/wh.

          Personally if i had the money to burn, I would looking at LFP from A123 Systems for around $1/wh and they run circles around LiFe
          MSEE, PE

          Comment


          • #20
            Nickel Iron Efficiency

            The recommended charging time for Edison cells is 7 hours @ rated discharge rate. The cell discharge rate is based on a 5 hour time period. The efficiency is a little more than 70%.

            Comment


            • #21
              I am usin Nickel Iron Cells for off grid lighting and for remote African Schools

              I have been living with nickel iron cells for a year now supplying our lighting and computer power in our home on Vancouver Island. Very happy with them since for a week or so I was using the lower 10% of the cell voltage. The weather was so dark at Christmas that little charging was happening close to Dec 21 and for a week afterwards.

              After a number (8) of complete discharges the sun finally came out and the battery system started holding an extra 20% when full ... I guess the batteries were never broken in. The Edison literature and correspondence with the USA navy in the 1920s suggested a few years may pass before they achieve the best storage. Mine took 1 year to reach full performance.

              The big advantage is their non toxic chemistry and long life which I am getting a lot of interest for in Africa for schools and hospitals.

              I am working with several NGO parties who have built schools and hospitals using lead acid ... but ultimately it become a lead pollution source in a country that lacks recycling! A number of service clubs are purchasing NiFe for these solar systems and lead acid is being phased out to avoid past problems in Africa for off grid.

              The cost is about $2500 these days for twenty two - 200 amp hours of cells. They have an estimated lifespan under normal solar use of about 20 to 30 years. In KwH this is approximately 200 amp hours by 26.4 volts or 5.2 kwh. The higher price is easy to explain ... nickel costs 10 times the price of lead. Iron is amost worthless ... so all things being equal the price for NiFe should be about 500% greater. In fact it is between 300% to 400% compared to batteries made in Canada. In the price comparison we are comparing only to proper industrial single cell lead acid cells as are used in industrial backup applications. But these lead type batteries are inappropriate for the jobs in Africa that I am working on.

              My requirements were precise for the African applications ...

              1/ Must last for 20 - 30 years without battery replacement.
              2/ Batteries cannot be based on heavy metals such as lead or cadmium.
              3/ Cannot be lithium because they are fragile, costly and have safety issues.

              Cost is not an issue but these three points must be met. The newest solar model NiFe batteries have large electrolyte storage areas so that the water level needs to be checked only once a year.

              MPPT chargers are being used which have settable voltages (rather than being designed just for one battery chemistry such as lead). The MX60 from Outback is one example used in our house on Vancouver Island.
              [B]Alternate Green Batteries[/B]
              Another contender for smaller buildings is the Nickel Metal Hydride battery ... for situations like lighting in a small cabin or hut where spilling of the electrolyte may happen. The Sealed NiMh chemistry is ideal for this and has a lifespan that is quite tolerant of mistakes.

              So both battery designs will be in use NiFe and Nickel Metal Hydride. NiFe is used for whole town power.

              The other important half of the house power system are the high efficiency high powered triple emitter Enstar LED lamps. They are built into lighting fixtures with heavy diffusing glass to achieve a very bright and very efficient DC lighting system. It uses constant current regulators on each light so that voltages can vary from 18 volts to 40 volts and the lights behave identically. In fact my voltages are near 28-29 volts for most of the year.

              If you go to the Nickel Iron Battery Assocation website you will find pictures of Chinese village power systems using these batteries underway. Changhong Batteries in China has built over 300 village power systems in the last 10 years. They were using NiCad a few years ago but are phasing out the cadmium batteries because they are being phased out in the EU as well. NiFe is the substitute battery with very similar characteristics to NiCad flooded cells.

              [B]Nickel Iron Battery Assocation[/B]

              http://www.nickel-iron-battery.com

              Our house system is shown on that site. In my situation I prefer a non-consumable type battery ... I pay my money and am worry free for the rest of my life. Eventually they will need replacing ... but only after I have already "kicked the bucket."

              Works for me!

              Ian Soutar
              Vancouver Island BC Canada.





              Originally posted by Iron Bran View Post
              Hi everyone,

              I am interested in learning if you have any experience with non-traditional battery systems?

              Is anyone using ni-cad or nickel iron? I am looking into Nickel Iron (ni-fe), anyone currently using these?

              Thanks!
              Last edited by isoutar; 05-08-2011, 03:49 PM. Reason: spelling and web site errors

              Comment


              • #22
                Cost comparison NiFe to Lead Acid

                This cost comparison is completely out of line. For good quality industrial batteries of the lead acid type the price comparison to NiFe is about 3x to 4 times the price ... never seen them as high prices as you are suggesting. When I saw the price difference was so minor for something that actually lasted in spite of abused I knew it was the only solution for me.

                As an example, my battery system which consisted of 22 200 amp hour cells has a rating of 200 times 26.4 (nominal voltage of battery) or 5280 watt hours. Divided by the price $2500 that makes it about 2 dollars / watt hour.

                The price listed for lead acid is way too low compared to the price for real industrial batteries with a (supposed) 20 year lifespan. Their lifespan is usually much shorter in solar applicaitons.

                I am trying to avoid all consumerism that involves regular replacements. That is why I also used leading edge DC light modules. I should get about 15 years or more out of the lights.

                For others interested in the lights, I found some at http://ledsupply.com and have used their services many times. My lights always came through and worked perfectly. This is one source and http://www.digikey.ca was another great source for lighting module parts.

                As far as the choice of batteries goes, the cost of simply replacing batteries over and over again to beat the price of NiFe is kind of deceiving since there will be 5 times when the system is down for maintenance. There will be 5 deliveries disassemblies and reconstructions of the battery system and 4-5 disposals that probably involve moving a ton of batteries many times.

                All these things cost money above and beyond the cost of the cells. I prefer to buy only one set and forget about battery replacements for the remainder of my life. I am 62 and in 10 years might not even be able to manage the battery replacement. So I went with the permanent choice to be kind to myself as I get older.

                Ian Soutar
                Vancouver Island
                BC Canada.

                Originally posted by Sunking View Post
                Like I have said 100 times the cost prevents them from being used. The cost is 2-fold.

                NiFe $/wh cost are around $4/wh to $5/wh. There is no way around this because Nickel Silver is an expensive semi-precious metal and a commodity. Compare that to a cost of a good 10 year Lead Acid battery of $0.15/wh. It does not matter if the NiFe last 50 years, buying 5 sets of FLA batteries over 50 years is still 1/6th to 1/10th the price. You can buy today a Communist made Lithium battery that should last 50 years for $0.50/Wh which is 1/10th of NiFe today. The economics are not nor will they ever justify NiFe.

                To add more expense is the NiFe charge efficiency of 60% which means you need a much larger solar panel wattage to store a given amount of energy. This eliminates pretty much of any chance of CO2 offset in addition to any economic gain.

                So by choosing to use NiFe you just chose to pay around $6/Kwh for the rest of your life vs 12 cents from the utility. You could have invested that money and retired in luxury in 10 years.

                Comment


                • #23
                  Originally posted by isoutar View Post
                  This cost comparison is completely out of line. For good quality industrial batteries of the lead acid type the price comparison to NiFe is about 3x to 4 times the price ... never seen them as high prices as you are suggesting.

                  As an example, my battery system which consisted of 22 200 amp hour cells has a rating of 200 times 26.4 (nominal voltage of battery) or 5280 watt hours. Divided by the price $2500 that makes it about 2 dollars / watt hour.
                  You just admitted it my friend, you do not have to see it, you know it already and admitted it..

                  Using your own words NiFe cost $2/wh. A high quality Surrette 10 year lead acid cost $.014/wh. Simple math means LiFe cost are $2/$.14 = roughly 14 times higher.
                  MSEE, PE

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    Clearly there is a strong element of prejudice in the assessment of NiFe

                    I am perfectly happy with Nickel Iron Cells and others in this forum notice a strong biased point of view suggesting that they are terrible. There is no need in this life to be Right or Wrong ... there are applications for both types of batteries.

                    If you simply do not want to be a continuous consumer of batteries then the higher price of NiFe will be attractive. If you do not care about having to go through a number of sets of batteries in a lifetime ... then lead acid batteries are for you. If you are in Africa in a place where there is no recycling methods at all then lead acid batteries would best be avoided to protect their environment.

                    Every technology has its perfectly suited applications. In my case it was a requirement that my batteries never need replacing because I was modelling power systems for schools and hospitals in Africa. Lead acid batteries were already being shunned by the Non Governmental Organizations building the schools and hospitals. They had tried it and they had mountains of dead batteries behind the school after a decade or two. The specifications included "no lead acid batteries for backup".

                    Why not just accept that some of us are dedicated to using them and are seeing none of the supposed problems spoken of. We are actually using them and not speaking from theory only.

                    Ian Soutar
                    Vancouver Island BC Canada.


                    Originally posted by isoutar View Post
                    This cost comparison is completely out of line. For good quality industrial batteries of the lead acid type the price comparison to NiFe is about 3x to 4 times the price ... never seen them as high prices as you are suggesting. When I saw the price difference was so minor for something that actually lasted in spite of abused I knew it was the only solution for me.

                    As an example, my battery system which consisted of 22 200 amp hour cells has a rating of 200 times 26.4 (nominal voltage of battery) or 5280 watt hours. Divided by the price $2500 that makes it about 2 dollars / watt hour.

                    The price listed for lead acid is way too low compared to the price for real industrial batteries with a (supposed) 20 year lifespan. Their lifespan is usually much shorter in solar applicaitons.

                    I am trying to avoid all consumerism that involves regular replacements. That is why I also used leading edge DC light modules. I should get about 15 years or more out of the lights.

                    For others interested in the lights, I found some at http://ledsupply.com and have used their services many times. My lights always came through and worked perfectly. This is one source and http://www.digikey.ca was another great source for lighting module parts.

                    As far as the choice of batteries goes, the cost of simply replacing batteries over and over again to beat the price of NiFe is kind of deceiving since there will be 5 times when the system is down for maintenance. There will be 5 deliveries disassemblies and reconstructions of the battery system and 4-5 disposals that probably involve moving a ton of batteries many times.

                    All these things cost money above and beyond the cost of the cells. I prefer to buy only one set and forget about battery replacements for the remainder of my life. I am 62 and in 10 years might not even be able to manage the battery replacement. So I went with the permanent choice to be kind to myself as I get older.

                    Ian Soutar
                    Vancouver Island
                    BC Canada.

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      Good for you ... you will love the NiFe you purchased.

                      If you look back over the previous posts you will see that I have been using NiFe for my house and now for African schools and hospital power projects. You are right ... most people who are speaking against them have never used them. I put quite a few posts to dispell the NiFe bashing comments in the eariler comments on this thread. Go back and read the old posts again to catch my comments.

                      I accept that different people have different wishes and different views of the world. Why not just accept that people are different ... there is no reason to prove that one is right or wrong. Personally I did not find NiFe to be that expensive and the price had no effect on my choiice of NiFe. Lead acid was a battery type I was determined to avoid for environmental reasons. I would simply not have bothered to even build a solar system by using lead considering the pollution that they have already created.

                      The USA Dept of Energy estimates that at least 15% of lead batteries are lost in landfill sites, rivers, lakes and oceans. A University of Michigan study shows that the problem is much worse.

                      Lead acid is not going to be my approach since RE is all about protecting the environment. If you want to carry on a friendly and supportive chat about your project you can email me directly at soutar@uvic.ca. I am very interested to learn how your system works and compare notes to my house experience.

                      I also had to ignore the lead acid propaganda from this site as well as several others ... and just move forward to purchase my NiFe cells.

                      Ian
                      Vancouver Island.

                      Originally posted by SteveC View Post
                      Well, I have on order a set of NiFe batteries [bank of 800 a/h]. So, no experience, yet, but looking forward to it and never having lead-acid again. Though I've had great luck with them, more than 20 yr. on my present set.

                      But, stay tuned. I shall be glad to relate both good and bad I find with the NiFes once I get them and am using them.

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        Originally posted by isoutar View Post
                        Lead acid was a battery type I was determined to avoid for environmental reasons. I would simply not have bothered to even build a solar system by using lead considering the pollution that they have already created.
                        Lead is a commodity worth$1.35/lb right now, no one with any common sense will throw lead away, especially poor people.

                        With that said my issues are primarily cost and integration with equipment. It is very hard to justify to a client given two options. I can build you a 1 Kwh per day system for either $3000 using a 10 year FLA battery in my area, or $7000 to $10,000 using NiFe. That is what it really comes down to not too mention all the technical problems that come with NiFe

                        So if you cal that bashing, OK fine, I call it economics.
                        MSEE, PE

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          Pricing of Lead acid cells vs NiFe Cells

                          Sunking

                          My cells cost $3000 or so with shipping and they are 22 cells which are 200 amp hours. Nominal voltage is about 26.4 volts. That makes for a power storage system of 26.4 times 200 = 5.3 kilowatt hours. I paid $3000 for it so that makes the cost about 3000 / 5.3 = $522 per kilowatt hour. That price works for me and for anyone else who desires the properties of nickel iron cells.

                          I suspect there is a math error ... because my NiFE price is only $522 dollars per kilowatt hour. One of us probably made a pricing mistake. Perhaps you can rework your price because lead acid batteries should be cheaper.

                          Ian


                          Originally posted by Sunking View Post
                          Lead is a commodity worth$1.35/lb right now, no one with any common sense will throw lead away, especially poor people.

                          With that said my issues are primarily cost and integration with equipment. It is very hard to justify to a client given two options. I can build you a 1 Kwh per day system for either $3000 using a 10 year FLA battery in my area, or $7000 to $10,000 using NiFe. That is what it really comes down to not too mention all the technical problems that come with NiFe

                          So if you cal that bashing, OK fine, I call it economics.

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Let us know how your NiFe experiments go.

                            Look forward to seeing your results. My own house is going to be online with efficiencies measured by the summer time. So that others can collect efficiency data too.

                            Ian Soutar
                            Vancouver Island.


                            Originally posted by SteveC View Post
                            Well, I have on order a set of NiFe batteries [bank of 800 a/h]. So, no experience, yet, but looking forward to it and never having lead-acid again. Though I've had great luck with them, more than 20 yr. on my present set.

                            But, stay tuned. I shall be glad to relate both good and bad I find with the NiFes once I get them and am using them.

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Sometimes we are not looking for the cheapest price. Sometimes quality is needed.

                              I am amazed that I have to say it again. In my own system I never considered lead acid because I did not want to use them. I am not the kind of person to ever buy the cheapest of anything ... I always pay more to avoid devices that fail and need to be purchased again and again. This is done for environmental reasons to avoid "consumerism" and not because of economics. So if the selection criteria is not price then price comparisons are not relevant. Certain specifications for the battery needed to be met to deal with the requests of NGO groups doing work in Africa.

                              In my case and others who are actively purchasing NiFe cells we are not even looking for the lowest price. That is not relevant to our selection of NiFe. We are all using it to achieve a long term solution that works without replacing batteries at regular intervals. We are also looking for a battery that (should our panels or controller fail) ... that will not be killed by a total discharge.

                              It was a delight near Christmas time this year to just abuse the poor batteries as hard as a could with the result that their performance improved. That is what all NiFe battery users are aiming for. You will find that price comparisons to lead acid are not relevant to us because lead acid batteries do not match the characteristics we want. It is like trying to get someone who prefers an Audi to buy a Hyundai because it is cheaper.

                              We are looking for a quality battery that we are happy to be able to purchase at any price. Now that the Chinese are selling them at such a good price we are excited to put them into our homes and projects.

                              I do not even own a car so there are no lead acid batteries that I ever use. A battery expert friend runs his car on Nickel metal hydride batteries in order to avoid lead. This works very well and the battery can withstand total discharges by leaving his lights on all night. The next morning with an hour of charging he can start his car and the battery perfomance is still good. Not everyone shops by price alone.

                              Ian Soutar
                              Vancouver Island BC
                              Canada.


                              Originally posted by Sunking View Post
                              You just admitted it my friend, you do not have to see it, you know it already and admitted it..

                              Using your own words NiFe cost $2/wh. A high quality Surrette 10 year lead acid cost $.014/wh. Simple math means LiFe cost are $2/$.14 = roughly 14 times higher.

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Originally posted by isoutar View Post
                                in this forum notice a strong biased point of view suggesting that they are terrible. There is no need in this life to be Right or Wrong ... there are applications for both types of batteries.
                                Ian it is not only this forum you have trouble with. From searching it is any forum you participate in you get the same results, your numbers just do not add up. However i do understand your bias as you have a vested interest in NiFe batteries since you either have or still selling them.
                                MSEE, PE

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