My New Battery Setup for Full-Timing - LifePO4 - Build Log

Sep 16, 2013
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As I've mentioned in a few posts over the last couple of months, I'd like a LifePO4 battery bank in my camper rebuild. This build is designed for the Missus, dog and myself to go full-time.

12v power is vital for me, as I work online. Having a lot of 12v power means I can spend longer off grid without EHU or having to drive for hours.

Of course the initial costs of this type of setup are high, compared to a traditional lead acid battery bank. But the advantages (in my opinion) are huge.

Firstly LifePO4 is generally smaller and lighter than the equivalent in lead acid. This is a big deal in a small van.
More of the power can be used (much more) than with traditional batteries. It's normally recommended not to go below 50% capacity in lead acid, whereas a LifePO4 can safely use at least 85% of it capacity.
LifePO4 can be charged and discharged at far higher rates than traditional batteries. This is a huge deal to me, as it means quick charging with a short drive.
LifePO4 is as safe as a normal battery and doesn't have the volatile characteristics of other types of lithium battery.
There are other advantages, but for me, these are the main ones.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I made a decision and ordered my cells. I went for 4 x 400Ah, 3.2v Winston cells, which will be wired in series to create a 400Ah 12v battery bank. They arrived today from China.

I've had to learn a lot about what's involved in creating what I want, so I thought it might be useful to some if I did a bit of a build log on my setup. So here it is, starting with a quick un-boxing video.

 

Robert Clark

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Looks interesting- can you advise costs involved?

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Looks interesting- can you advise costs involved?

For the battery itself, it works out around £2k. After that there will be a BMS (some don't bother with this and use bottom-balancing, but I will be using one) which should be under £300. This is all monitored (charging and usage) via Bluetooth.

Then there's charging, which I haven't made my mind up completely on. I'll also probably need a couple of fairly expensive relays to really protect the system. Say another £200.

So not cheap at probably £3.5k ish total, but a lot cheaper than other, similar solutions. To get a similar setup using EZA units would be nearly £9k
 
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Great stuff! Any updates in this project? :)

Yeah lots happening :)

On the LiFePO4 side I've been waiting on the last few components I need to complete system.

The first was a relay. I was all set to order one a few weeks ago, when I spoke to the manufacturer of my BMS (to check what I was ordering was correct) and they told me they were about to release one themselves. For the sake of a short delay I decided to wait for this. It arrived a few days ago.

The last thing I'm waiting for is the charger. This is the simplest past of my install as it's a single unit that combines a B2B, MPPT and EHU into a single charger. It's made by Votronic and I ordered this from their UK distributor, RoadPro. This was a special order and not it stock at Votronic. It's due to get to me next week :)

Once it's here I'll put it all together and give it a good test. Looking forward to that bit :)

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That's fantastic David. Your van will be one of the best out there once complete.(y)

Thanks. But please don't jinx it :D

I really hope it does all work out as planned (not just the electrics, the whole thing). It's taken 6 months just to plan this build - hopefully all worth it (y)

Just a quick update on the actual costings for my LiFePO4 setup. Amazingly (for this project), it's come out cheaper than I originally thought. Here's the actual costs:
LiFePO4 Costing.JPG

I don't think this is too bad. Obviously more of an outlay than a traditional setup, but not awful considering that gives me about 350Ah of usable power with very efficient charging.

To give a rough idea how much a similar powered standard setup would be (using the same chargers and inverter) I did a costing using Varta LFD90 batteries. I worked this out using the 50% rule, so 8 x 90Ah batteries at 50% = 360Ah usable:
LiFePO4 compared.JPG
Obviously a lot cheaper to initially purchase, but my Winston cells are rated at a much longer life so hopefully cost effective long term.

Then there's the weight. My battery weighs about 55Kg with the elecs it needs to work. For 8x Varta LFD90 it would be 192Kg (8 x 24Kg). My little van couldn't spare this much payload. Let alone the space :D2

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Urs4_2008

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Thanks! Great info, love the sharing! (y) I'm a bit disappointed by the limited capacity of the votronic charger regarding the size of the solar array (both watts and voltage). 430w is not a lot, especially if your're going full time. How many amps does the BMS support both out and in? My guess is the cells supports probably a lot more than the 60 amps max you get from the generator (or 40 from the mains), is that correct?

Keep sharing! Love your youtube channel as well!
 
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Thanks! Great info, love the sharing! (y) I'm a bit disappointed by the limited capacity of the votronic charger regarding the size of the solar array (both watts and voltage). 430w is not a lot, especially if your're going full time. How many amps does the BMS support both out and in? My guess is the cells supports probably a lot more than the 60 amps max you get from the generator (or 40 from the mains), is that correct?

Keep sharing! Love your youtube channel as well!

Thanks @Urs4_2008 :)

I thought long and hard regarding how much solar to fit. Thing is, with my roof setup I couldn't fit much more anyway. I think this should be enough tbh as the 200w I have on my van now keeps up pretty well for most of the year.

If my calculations are correct, I should be able to rely on solar energy for about 9 months of the year (my max usage is about 90Ah per day). If I need more then a short drive should top me up nicely as I will get 60Ah per hour this way (and LiFePO4 charging is more efficient than normal batteries).

Your quite right regarding max charging currents. My battery will happily take 200Ah per hour :)

In reality though, this would be expensive and I don't think I need it. Votronic make a B2B that charges at 90Ah, but I think this would probably kill my existing alternator quite quickly. To get anywhere near the full 200Ah I'd need a second alternator.

My BMS doesn't have a limit on amps. Instead, the limit is set by whatever relay is fitted (in my case 200A in and out). I only need to use the relay for the load side as the charger I've chosen works with my BMS (one of the main reasons I went with this model).
 
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Thanks. But please don't jinx it :D

I really hope it does all work out as planned (not just the electrics, the whole thing). It's taken 6 months just to plan this build - hopefully all worth it (y)

Just a quick update on the actual costings for my LiFePO4 setup. Amazingly (for this project), it's come out cheaper than I originally thought. Here's the actual costs:
View attachment 219136
I don't think this is too bad. Obviously more of an outlay than a traditional setup, but not awful considering that gives me about 350Ah of usable power with very efficient charging.

To give a rough idea how much a similar powered standard setup would be (using the same chargers and inverter) I did a costing using Varta LFD90 batteries. I worked this out using the 50% rule, so 8 x 90Ah batteries at 50% = 360Ah usable:
View attachment 219138 Obviously a lot cheaper to initially purchase, but my Winston cells are rated at a much longer life so hopefully cost effective long term.

Then there's the weight. My battery weighs about 55Kg with the elecs it needs to work. For 8x Varta LFD90 it would be 192Kg (8 x 24Kg). My little van couldn't spare this much payload. Let alone the space :D2

I reckon you'll have a few Funsters knocking on your door by Xmas asking for you to do a few upgrades on their vans.

I might be coming down at this rate:rolleyes::cool:

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Urs4_2008

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Sounds great :) Although if you could get ie 200 amps from the generator(s) even a very short drive in the winter would top you up nicely :)

A boat shop might have a kit or an idea to get more generator charging as it’s not uncommon to build bigger charging solutions in boats. (Either extra or bigger generator).

I think the standard generator in my fiat is a 160 amp unit (at least the previous x250 had this). From my understanding it should support a constant load of about 2/3 of max capacity meaning ~100 amps - without melting. But haven’t tested it :)

If you had 100 amps though, 2 drives of 30 minutes each would get you through one day worth of usage, if you stay at maximum 100 ah / 24 hours.

My guess is none of this is a surprise to you - I’m just mumbling enviously :)
 
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I think the alternator in my van is 150A. The thing is there's everything else it needs to power. To be honest after taking a lot of advice, I wouldn't be happy with even my 60A charger if my van had air-con (not a fan of air-con thankfully).

Funnily enough I did a lot of my research looking at the marine industry. LiFePO4 is far more common on boats so a great area to learn from. From my understanding, a lot of boats do have 2 alternators.

Also in the States (again, LiFePO4 more common) I found second alternator kits for the Ram Promaster (US version of Ducato/Boxer/Relay - probably a different engine). These kits are fitted on some professional converters vans as part of a lithium setup. Mind you, I saw one YT video where a 600Ah LiFePO4 option with second alternator was being offered by one converter. The cost of this upgrade (at time of ordering van) - $16k :LOL:

I would like faster charging in an ideal world, but happy with what I have. Even in winter I should get some solar charging, so shouldn't need a lot of driving to keep me topped up. Plus I'll use sites at times, so will have the option of EHU.

What I am looking forward to is not having to watch how much power I use. I know that without switching the van on and with no solar, I'll definitely be fine for at least 3 days at a time. This coupled with accurate monitoring (love this about LiFePO4) on my phone, takes a lot of the stress away I've had with 12v usage in my last van. Plus my batteries can't run too low and get damaged. They are well protected from that.

I kind of like how simple my setup is as well. I seriously looked at adding a complete Victron solution, but so many different components needed to make it all work. In mine I have one battery with the BMS mounted to it. Then one charger that does everything. Add the inverter (no prob drawing over 200Ah from my setup at a time) and I have a very usable electricity supply. Almost like a home system.

As I work online, having good power is so important. Using LiFePO4 makes this practical off-grid. I'm really happy with how this part of my build is turning out. It's just what I'd hoped for, without costing ridiculous money :D
 

Urs4_2008

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Gotcha:) It seems like a really well designed system. I really like the idea of the votronic 3in1 unit. Space and weight are areas most of us are struggling with :) Looking foreward to more pictures/videos and updates!

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Urs4_2008

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Efoy no good?
If you have the >5000 pounds, space and has no issue refueling the alcohol tank ever so often, it works :) With 90 Ah / day the biggest tank patron lasts about 10 days at a daily cost of about ~7 GBP or a winter (no solar charging) cost of about 840 GBP. Works, but costly :)
 
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Theonlysue

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Not long enough!
Seen them for £3500 on ebay lol

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Efoy no good?

I thought about going the Efoy route. But with my power usage I'd have needed the 210 version (£5k) and then had to carry the fuel and replace it when needed.

I know people who have them really like them. But not right for my van and way out of budget for me.

Does the Efoy have a LiFePO4 setting?

Yep :)
 

Urs4_2008

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The fuel is a bit expensive and the unit itself is very expensive. Why doesn’t ie Webasto have a generator built into their diesel heater? Would be insanely great!

I know you get a bit cheaper gas generators, but then you’ll need lpg constantly.

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Just added all the little electrical bits I need to my basket on 12vPlanet. My god they add up :eek:

I need 50mm cables in places now (moved my LB a few metres), a ton of different sized lugs, 25mm cable, distribution box, big main busbar, other size cables....

I already had the fuse boards, smaller busbar's, quite a bit of other stuff.

My basket is sitting at around £250 :cry:

Can't bring myself to checkout at the moment. Seems a hell of a lot for some wires. I'll wait until tonight when I've had a drink :D
 

Gromett

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I need 50mm cables in places now (moved my LB a few metres), a ton of different sized lugs, 25mm cable, distribution box, big main busbar, other size cables....
For 50mm cable I never found anyone cheaper than ebay. Last batch I bought off these guys.
Red: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/202122944054
Black: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/192373646214

£5.98 per metre which is cheaper than the 12volt planet by about half.

I ended up buying all my heavy duty electrical stuff of ebay as it was even cheaper than specialist shops and Amazon.
 

Gromett

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PS: if you don't already have a crimping tool capable of doing good 50mm crimps I bought one of these and can recommend it.
http://amzn.to/2GFOt44

Just be careful when putting it down. I dropped it and it sproinged one of the circlips. Ended up buying a circlip kit :D

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OP
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Cheers @Gromett :)

I didn't pull the trigger last night on my order, so perfect timing :)

Having said that, just looked on Amazon. £4.86 per meter:
Amazon product
Regarding the crimping, I was going to solder all the lugs. I did this last time with 25mm cables and it seemed to work well. Is there a reason I shouldn't solder?
 

Gromett

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Cheers @Gromett :)

I didn't pull the trigger last night on my order, so perfect timing :)

Having said that, just looked on Amazon. £4.86 per meter:
Amazon product
Regarding the crimping, I was going to solder all the lugs. I did this last time with 25mm cables and it seemed to work well. Is there a reason I shouldn't solder?

Thanks for the Amazon Link (y) for cable. Much prefer ordering via Amazon. Back then the cables weren't as cheap.

On crimps there are big debates on which is better and it is a rabbit hole I don't intend to go down again :p

However, my opinion (and it is just an opinion). When you solder cables you reduce the flexibility as the solder will run down the cable somewhat. In a vibrating vehicle this could in theory lead to stress breaks. Whilst it is unlikely to break completely you may increase the resistance and therefore losses and heat.

I prefer to crimp them then hang a bit of weight off it to ensure it is secure. You then maintain all the flexibility of the stranded copper conductors..

As I say, big debates on this, and this is just my opinion. When I was at trade college we were taught to crimp multi conductor cables and solder solid conductors so I may have some bias from those teachers.
 

Gromett

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PS: I see solder as an aid to conduction between two surfaces not as a structural component. I would want to see more holding the cable in the crimp than just solder. A good physical bond even if it is just friction makes me feel safer.

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