AS lithium batteries have grown in popularity, they have inadvertently created a significant issue that could rob consumers and businesses of thousands of dollars.
Fuelled by a lack of regulation by Australian Standards, a technology that is widely misunderstood and globalised has allowed battery cowboys to import cheap, inferior products that are faulty and potentially dangerous.
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These products understate the usable capacity and are sourced from manufacturers with questionable procedures and parts in their construction, in some cases even using second-hand or low-grade cells.
Zac Page, technical advisor at Sealed Performance Batteries, said: “We started hearing whispers of cheap lithium batteries working its way into the Australian market some years ago, and we were always questioning the quality of them.
“We even managed to independently test some and were surprised at how inaccurate their claimed performance was.”
Understandably, consumers are hesitant to lift the lid on their battery as this would void the warranty of a product (we recommend you never dismantle a battery case). However, with a recent picture circulating on social media, it has exposed a shocking truth to what is in a cheap battery.
“After we saw those photos on social media, we had to analyse what was happening there, and we were shocked at the actual internal quality, even if you were to ignore the damage,” he said.
The examination noted:
• A cheap BMS (battery management system) overheated and melted, potentially causing fire and damage to any electrical component connected to the battery, including the vehicle.
• Moisture has penetrated the case, from either poor sealing or user abuse, which would allow rust to develop internally. This can lead to a higher internal resistance that restricts power and generates heat.
• The cable used is likely to be inadequate for the current passing through it. Further restricting power and generating more heat.
• The connectors, if not properly terminated, could cause shorting.
• Overall poor construction of the case, which could lead to the cells coming loose from even small vibrations.
“It’s important to remember that Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) is different from other lithium chemistries and is actually a really safe and reliable technology, but when a (generic) product like this is released to market it has potential to damage its (technological) reputation,” Page added.
REFUNDS AND EXCHANGES
CONSUMERS are usually within their rights to request a refund or exchange in the case of a failed battery. However, consumers may be at risk if the battery was bought from an overseas supplier, as Australian Consumer Law can get complicated when dealing with international suppliers. If purchasing from a foreign supplier, check if it is covered by a third-party insurer.
Australian businesses should also be wary of international suppliers, as consumer law does apply to the retailer when supplying goods. If a company has an influx of genuine warranties, they would be obliged to provide a refund or replacement. If those warranties are not being honoured from the manufacturer to the retailer, this could put their business at significant financial risk.
There have also been reports of local businesses that ignore consumer claims or provide no help due to closure or just an unwillingness to cooperate. This forces the consumer to seek answers from more reputable suppliers and makes receiving a refund (if any) painful and drawn-out.
“I believe that the businesses providing these batteries should be as transparent as possible about what they are selling,” says Page.
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“For our Invicta product, we supply detailed spec sheets, internal photos, webinars and videos. Anything that isn’t provided, customers can call us to get an answer.
“We even provide this service to our distributors and resellers that may not have the knowledge, so there is no excuse for an answer to not be provided in a timely manner.”
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
TO avoid disappointment, only buy from a reputable business or supplier and arm yourself with knowledge and a list of questions that verify the quality of the product.
• A 100amp/h LiFePO4 battery should weigh between 12 and 13kg.
• The BMS should protect against short circuit, high voltage, low voltage, high current and high/low temperature.
• Achieved an IEC Certification of some sort and ideally covers the whole battery or at very least the cells. This guarantees the safety, reliability and claimed capacity of the battery.
• Always ask for photos of internals or spec sheets.
• Be aware of your system’s needs and compare to the battery (if your system requires 10amp/h, then a 100amp/h would last 10hrs – give or take). If these do not match, speak to the supplier, there could be a fault in your system, a fault in the battery or the capacity was overstated.
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SEALED PERFORMANCE BATTERIES
SPB has more than 25 years of experience in the energy storage industry and is a distributor of products including ACDelco, Bosch, Invicta Lithium, Garo EV Chargers, and Spectrum Energy Storage Solutions.
Located in a modern warehouse complex south of Brisbane and with warehouses in Melbourne and Sydney, SPB says it provides customers with the world’s best portable energy storage products throughout Australasia and Pacific regions, and only sources products from companies who manufacture to the ISO 9000 quality management system or above.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.spb.net.au