How to Prolong Lithium-based Batteries

Battery research is focusing on lithium chemistries so much that one could imagine that the battery future lies solely in lithium. There are good reasons to be optimistic as lithium-ion is, in many ways, superior to other chemistries. Applications are growing and are encroaching into markets that previously were solidly held by lead acid, such as standby and load leveling. Many satellites are also powered by Li-ion.

The lithium-ion battery works on ion movement between the positive and negative electrodes. In theory such a mechanism should work forever, but cycling, elevated temperature and aging decrease the performance over time. Manufacturers take a conservative approach and specify the life of Li-ion in most consumer products as being between 300 and 500 discharge/charge cycles.

Evaluating battery life on counting cycles is not conclusive because a discharge may vary in depth and there are no clearly defined standards of what constitutes a cycle. In lieu of cycle count, some device manufacturers suggest battery replacement on a date stamp, but this method does not take usage into account. A battery may fail within the allotted time due to heavy use or unfavorable temperature conditions; however, most packs last considerably longer than what the stamp indicates.

The performance of a battery is measured in capacity, a leading health indicator. Internal resistance and self-discharge also play roles, but these are less significant in predicting the end of battery life with modern Li-ion.

Environmental conditions, not cycling alone, govern the longevity of lithium-ion batteries. The worst situation is keeping a fully charged battery at elevated temperatures. Battery packs do not die suddenly, but the runtime gradually shortens as the capacity fades.

Lower charge voltages prolong battery life and electric vehicles and satellites take advantage of this. Similar provisions could also be made for consumer devices, but these are seldom offered; planned obsolescence takes care of this.