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Nickel Iron vs. Lead Acid - Off Grid battery debate

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  • Nickel Iron vs. Lead Acid - Off Grid battery debate

    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 Mike90250; 09-20-2012, 07:26 PM. Reason: change battle -> debate

  • #2
    I do not think you will get many replies as NiFe are just unsuitable for RE applications. They are just too expensive, more than lithium, and extremely inefficient charge characteristics. I know of a couple of people who have toyed with the idea, but with a cost of $2 to $6/wh is just out of the question, plus 40% larger solar panel array to make up for the 65% charge efficiency just makes it unreasonable. Lead acid cost are $0.14/wh for a 10 year battery, and LFP is around $0.50/wh. No one in their right mind is going to pay 10 to 40 times more for a battery

    NiCd are pretty much history because of the cadmium and replaced with MiMh but still too expensive for for RE applications and require special charging algorithms which no manufacture makes a charge controller for. I do some some RC modelers using NiMh for planes and cars using solar panels to charge in th efeild, but they custom design/build there chargers from scratch

    For now and for the foreseeable future lead acid chemistry are king, and soon Lithium LFP may make their mark when prices come down some more and reasonable battery management systems enter the RE market.
    MSEE, PE

    Comment


    • #3
      Thoughts on multiple charge efficency under different conditions

      Hey,

      I am very interested on your thoughts on different efficiencies at different charge levels.

      Here is a detailed writeup I found on charging, and I would like to hear what you think. Especially the 2nd paragraph. Granted, this is for NiCd but I just want to point out that efficiency is not exactly constant. Anyways amigo, check this out...

      To obtain a sufficient voltage drop, the charge rate must be 0.5C and higher. Lower than 0.5C charge rates produce a very shallow voltage decrease that is often difficult to measure, especially if the cells are slightly mismatched. In a battery pack that has mismatched cells, each cell reaches the full charge at a different time and the curve gets distorted. Failing to achieve a sufficient negative slope allows the fast-charge to continue, causing excessive heat buildup due to overcharge. Chargers using the NDV must include other charge-termination methods to provide safe charging under all conditions. Most chargers also observe the battery temperature.

      The charge efficiency factor of a standard NiCd is better on fast charge than slow charge. At a 1C charge rate, the typical charge efficiency is 1.1 or 91 percent. On an overnight slow charge (0.1C), the efficiency drops to 1.4 or 71 percent.

      At a rate of 1C, the charge time of a NiCd is slightly longer than 60 minutes (66 minutes at an assumed charge efficiency of 1.1). The charge time on a battery that is partially discharged or cannot hold full capacity due to memory or other degradation is shorter accordingly. At a 0.1C charge rate, the charge time of an empty NiCd is about 14 hours, which relates to the charge efficiency of 1.4.

      During the first 70 percent of the charge cycle, the charge efficiency of a NiCd battery is close to 100 percent. Almost all of the energy is absorbed and the battery remains cool. Currents of several times the C-rating can be applied to a NiCd battery designed for fast charging without causing heat build-up. Ultra-fast chargers use this unique phenomenon and charge a battery to the 70 percent charge level within a few minutes. The charge continues at a lower rate until the battery is fully charged.

      Once the 70 percent charge threshold is passed, the battery gradually loses ability to accept charge. The cells start to generate gases, the pressure rises and the temperature increases. The charge acceptance drops further as the battery reaches 80 and 90 percent SoC. Once full charge is reached, the battery goes into overcharge. In an attempt to gain a few extra capacity points, some chargers allow a measured amount of overcharge

      Comment


      • #4
        I am aware of the variable charge efficiency with NiCd with the higher charge rates be the most efficient. High charge rates are desirable with things like electric vehicles, but are show stoppers for RE application. This gets back to why the Nickel chemistry are incompatible with RE system, in order to obtain high charge rates requires over sizing of solar panel wattage. Typically a RE system working with Lead Acid chemistry runs up to as high as C/10 charge rates. To get to say C/2 of a NiCd requires a 5 time large solar panel thus 5 times the cost. It would be a complete waste of resources and money. Such a system would never ever stand a chance of any kind of payback, nor would it offset any carbon. It would completely defeat the purpose.

        The other downfall of Nickel chemistry is cost which cannot be brought down to compete with Lead Acid and Lithium chemistry. Nickel is a semi-precious metal, and like gold or silver the price of it is likely not ever to come down enough to compete. Thus no one is going to be willing to pay 10 to 40 times more for Nickel chemistry. Not even the Electric Vehicle crowd will buy into it, not so much because of the price, but because of the LOW Energy Density where weight means everything.
        MSEE, PE

        Comment


        • #5
          Why C2?

          Ok, this is great b/c you definitely have a lot of experience with using different battery systems!

          [B]Have you ever seen / used a Nickel-Iron set or are you just basing your comments on your experience?
          [/B]
          What I don't understand is why you would require a C/2 charge level to charge ANY off-grid system??? If you are suggesting that you would need to charge the battery in 2 hours, that just doesn't seem reasonable for anyone.

          A C/2 charge rate assumes you are going to reach cutoff min voltage in only 2 hours. That is not the case either. Are you saying that nickel batteries must be charged at C/2 voltage... if so do you have a source on that (please, I would really like to see).

          Also, I am really hoping to hear your constructive reply. I know this is the internet, and you may find this hard to believe, but I am really not trying to argue. I just want to help clarify some issues. Thanks for your help.

          There are at least 3 different types of nickel-iron batteries for renewable energy systems, each with it's own charge / discharge characteristics. Check this out:

          According to different discharge requirements, Changhong pocket type Ni-Fe rechargeable batteries are classified into three types, TNG type (High discharge rate cells), TNZ (Medium discharge rate cells) and TN type (Low discharge rate cell).

          With more than 30 year

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Iron Bran View Post
            [B]Have you ever seen / used a Nickel-Iron set or are you just basing your comments on your experience?[/B]
            Mostly experience with battery manufactures of 33 years. When I first got out of college there was only one battery company making NiFe, Exide which they discontinued in around mid 70's. They quit making them because FLA and SLA technologies are superior products, plus the cost of LiFe antiquated them from the market. No one will pay 40 times more for them no matter how long they last.

            Originally posted by Iron Bran View Post
            What I don't understand is why you would require a C/2 charge level to charge ANY off-grid system??? If you are suggesting that you would need to charge the battery in 2 hours, that just doesn't seem reasonable for anyone.

            A C/2 charge rate assumes you are going to reach cutoff min voltage in only 2 hours. That is not the case either. Are you saying that nickel batteries must be charged at C/2 voltage... if so do you have a source on that (please, I would really like to see).
            I do not require a C/2 for RE applications. You were talking NiCd and charge efficiency. To get Nickel chemistry battery up to a 75 to 80% charge efficiency requires a C/2 to C/1 charge rate. Otherwise at C/10 where RE applications falls you only get 60% charge efficiency. With 60% requires 30% more panel wattage vs FLA and SLA chemistry.

            The whole point I am making about NiFe is you cannot justify the expense. A good 7 to 10 year FLA or SLA battery cost $140/Kwh of storage capacity. A NiFe cost $2000 to $6000/Kwh. There is no way to justify that expense. If you are looking for the future, it is already here with LFP at current price of $400 to $600/Kwh with 90% charge efficiency and 10,000 cycles, and that price will drop. LiFe price cannot drop much because of the price of Nickel. Only way to drop the price a small fraction is to have them made in the USA rather than Russia or China to avoid freight charges, and no US manufacture will touch them because they know there is no market for them, that is why Edison never renewed his patent and Exide quit making them 35 years ago.

            I understand the interest NiFe has sparked in some circles with their long life spans and duribility. But once you understand the cost, and know what is on the horizon for Lithium batteries, NiFe is an antiqued technology. It is like trying to bring back 8-track tapes.

            There are only 1 or 2 markets for NiFe that have used them for decades, but a very limited market; Rail Road signal lighting and switching, and Mining emergency lighting.
            MSEE, PE

            Comment


            • #7
              A guy (research type) that works at LBNL and specializes in state of the art plus future batteries recently wrote in his blog about buying a lawn mower as he had just bought a house with a yard.

              After going through all the different possibilities about battery types, energy density and cost he bought a mower with a cord. The battery type didn't make sense from a money stand point.

              His comment was something like, 'My favorite technology does not make financial sense for this application'.

              Russ
              [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

              Comment


              • #8
                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


                • #9
                  Hi Steve - Please keep us updated!

                  Everyone wants to learn and in this case you are the guinea pig.

                  Thanks for participating and good luck!

                  Russ
                  [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Sure will. There are many posts on forums and other info' floating about regarding these batteries. In about 99.9% of the cases, it seems, they are coming from those who've never used them. Some of the warnings are downright scary. But after reading it all and talking to a couple of people [two different companies] who have sold and installed them for customers, the batteries look good to me.

                    Yep, guinea pig here. I could not afford them, it drained us completely. But the positives look so good to me that I had to take the chance. I was able to either refute or see past all the dire warnings I kept reading. Sort of on the line of "anyone who got these for a PV-based system would be an idiot."

                    We shall see. I will keep you posted. Even if they turn out to be a nightmare. But I don't think they will..... The lead acid battery is, far as I'm concerned, the Achille's heel of off-grid systems.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by SteveC View Post
                      Yep, guinea pig here. I could not afford them, it drained us completely. But the positives look so good to me that I had to take the chance.
                      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.
                      MSEE, PE

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Sunking View Post
                        Like I have said 100 times the cost prevents them from being used. The cost is 2-fold.


                        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.


                        I have noticed a certain almost derision toward this battery and I have yet to read among the many, many posts about them on various forums any real-life reports from people actually using them in PV or any other alternative energy household other than maybe running some low-voltage lights. There are certainly those out there in the world at large who have and are doing so, but I haven't run across any reports from any of them.

                        I said the cost was high and it hurt. But let's look at a situation right here with me and my only neighbor in this gulch, a mile away. In my case, I've had this bank of lead acid batteries for over 20 yr., actually not too far off from a quarter century. 1875 amp hr for which I paid something like $2200 with trucking. For the first fifteen yr., I was charging them with a PV array of roughly 750 watts. I was in ignorance of how small that array was according to what is needed to keep a bank that large healthy and charged up for use. The batteries did fine. After the 15 yr. point, I expanded my array to about 2000 w. to take advantage of some utility co. and fed. rebates/tax credits. Plus we wanted a freezer and etc.

                        The experts would have had conniption fits about the small size of my array. I had no idea it was too small. Then, with the array upgrade, I began to get back into reading up on the latest technology and such. I learned more about equalization and the like, realizing thru this that my 750 watt array was far too small. Everyone said....

                        Meanwhile, my neighbor has just now ordered his fourth set of very pricey, designed-specifically-for-PV batteries in the same time span. Not quite 24 years. Guess what: his total outlay for these sets of batteries is a little more than what I'm paying for the new set of NiFe batteries. Huh.

                        An "expert" who came up to service my neighbor's system stopped by to see mine when told that I had such a small array with a large-capacity bank. He even went up on the hillside and wrote down the spec's from the rear of the panels. He claimed I was not being honest and my lead acid batteries were no way that old. I got the invoice from my files and showed him. Which is just to say the experts cannot always predict what will happen. I do not advise anyone to go buy a large bank of batteries and use them with a too-small array. I did it it ignorance. However, as I said before, in all these years, they've done great and are actually still working for us, though showing signs of aging.

                        I said before I will report here on how these nickel-iron batteries work out, even if they are a nightmare I regret having bought. I am feeling they will be just fine. But in either case, I'll report.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by SteveC View Post
                          I have noticed a certain almost derision toward this battery and I have yet to read among the many, many posts about them on various forums any real-life reports from people actually using them in PV
                          The reason is very simple: ECONOMICS. Flooded Lead Acid $.14Kwh, NiFe $6/Kwh. A price difference of 4200% is not hard to grasp.
                          MSEE, PE

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            True Statement

                            Originally posted by stevec View Post
                            there are many posts on forums and other info' floating about regarding these batteries. In about 99.9% of the cases, it seems, they are coming from those who've never used them.
                            fact

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Iron Bran View Post
                              fact
                              NiFe are one of the oldest battery technologies known to exist. Before gasoline vehicles were Electric Vehicles and NiFe was king. Everything to be known about them is already known and well documented as it is a fully developed technology. You do not have to do any more experiments to know what they can do or cannot do.

                              It is like using CRT for displays or 8 track tapes. It is history. Or another way to put it is Germany during WWII trying to exterminate Jew's, it will not work to solve your problem and no reason to try. Well until Nickels grows on trees, abundant, and free for the picking.
                              MSEE, PE

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