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Lithium-Hybrid What is it and why do you want it?

Let's recapitulate what we have seen in the previous articles:

Lead-acid batteriesLithium batteries
  • Hate to cycle
  • Love to remain fully charged
  • Love to cycle
  • Hate to remain fully charged

Lead-acid batteries love to remain fully charged indefinitely but hate to cycle and stay for any time in a discharged state. Lithium batteries however hate to remain charged but love to cycle and to remain forever in a discharged state. It is almost as if they are made to complement each other.

Lithium/Lead-acid hybrid
Lithium/Lead-acid hybrid

A Lithium Hybrid system is a system where you don't replace your lead-acid batteries but just add a BMS-equipped Lithium battery to an existing lead-acid based installation.

How this compares to other lithium implementations you can read in our article lithium implementations.

How can it work?

Discharge curve: Lithium-Ion vs Lead-Acid
Discharge curve: Lithium-Ion vs Lead-Acid

Operating the lithium batteries and lead-acid batteries in parallel is possible because lithium batteries have a much flatter charge and discharge voltage curve.

Discharging

While discharging, the lithium batteries stay above 13.0 Volt until they are almost empty. The lithium voltage is higher than the voltage of a lead-acid batttery under load, so the lead-acid battery will hardly deliver any current, if anything at all.

After the lithium battery has only about 20% of charge left the voltage becomes low enough to allow the lead-acid batteries to gradually start taking over the load. Only when the lithium battery becomes fully discharged and is taken offline by the BMS, the lead-acid batteries will fully take over. With a correctly dimensioned lithium battery, this will only happen in rare situations. Most of the time, the lead-acid batteries will remain fully charged, which is exactly what keeps them healthy.

Charging

While charging, the voltage quickly rises to about 13.4 Volt, a voltage where the lithium batteries absorb all the available current but a too low voltage for lead-acid batteries to meaningfully charge. So the lithium batteries take up all the current until the BMS takes them offline, and only then the voltage rises enough to charge the lead-acid batteries.

When charging the lithium battery, the chargers "see" a voltage which is similar to the voltage of a lead-acid battery which is in its early bulk phase, so the chargers are providing charge current to the lithium battery while "thinking" they are charging a normal lead-acid battery, patiently waiting for the voltage to increase.

When the lithium battery is fully charged it is taken offline by the BMS, the charging continues with the lead-acid batteries only, following a charge trajectory which the chargers fully recognize, allowing them to do their "end-point-voltage-limiting" thing. If the lead-acid battery has not been used, the voltage will rise quickly to the end-voltage and the charge process will be terminated and revert to a "float" voltage.

As long as there is a charge current available the fully charged lithium battery will remain "parked" aside and the on-board equipment will be fed by the charge sources with the lead-acid battery as a buffer. Only when the lead-acid voltage starts dropping below the float voltage, indicating the absence of a charge source, the BMS will put the lithium battery online again.

Note that OpenHybridBMS implements a "lead-acid priority" feature, where after a (partial) discharge of the lead-acid battery, the lithium battery is held offline to allow the lead-acid battery to first complete its bulk charge phase, then to charge the lithium battery, and then to use the remaining available charge current to finish the lead-acid absorption phase.

In practice

So the lead-acid batteries don't disturb the lithium batteries at all. The lead-acid batteries don't have to be "regulated", they just remain connected to the DC-bus all the time. The whole system works naturally, the BMS only has to disconnect the lithium battery to prevent it from overcharging and overdischarging. Practically, the lithium system is just a simple add-on to an existing unmodified lead-acid installation and is the most easy conversion you can imagine.

In a hybrid lithium/lead-acid installation you are going to use the lithium batteries to cover the short time (i.e. overnight) cycles. The lithium cells discharge deep enough to keep them healthy and the lead-acid batteries are just doing nothing at all, just sitting there fully charged the majority of the time, which keeps them healthy as well. Only when there are multiple days without any means of recharging, which usually does not happen very frequently, the lead-acid batteries are used to supply their reserve power after the lithium batteries become fully discharged.

The big advantages of a Hybrid installation

Simplicity
You don’t have to change anything on the ship to convert to a hybrid installation. You can continue to use the existing alternators, wind generators, solar controllers, etc. You don't have to split the DC-bus into a dual-bus with a "chargers" and "dischargers" branch. The lead-acid batteries remain connected to the power bus all the time, just as before. The lithium batteries are controlled by their BMS which can take them offline whenever it likes to, because the alternators then still "see" the lead-acid batteries which they were designed for. This is the only way to correctly use Lithium power on a ship without redesigning the entire existing installation.
Redundancy
You have a plan B. If something fails with the lithium battery or its BMS, one has still the unmodified lead-acid system to automatically fall back to. Sure, lithium batteries are very reliable if treated well, but they can not work without a BMS, which comprises of complex electronics and is sensitive to salt water, lightning discharges, connectors, sensors, corrosion, etc. If things go wrong, nothing beats the simplicity of a lead-acid battery.
Lead-acid charge curve
Lead-acid charge curve
From around 80% SOC upwards, the charge voltage reaches a ceiling and consequentially the charge current drops of sharply. It takes a long time to increase the SOC from 80% to 100% because the battery doesn't accept the full available charge current anymore.

The trajectory under A is called "bulk phase", B is called "absorption phase".

Optimisation of charge time
The problem with lead-acid battteries is that they rarely accept the full available charge current after they are charged above 80%. The current tapers off and to get them close to 100% charged means hours of charging, despite the high output alternator you might have installed. But with a hybrid system you usually only used power from the lithium battery so only the lithium battery needs to be recharged, and they accept the full available charge current right up to the moment they are fully charged. This means that the charge time remains as short as possible. Finally you see the full rated output of your alternator flowing into the battery, right up to the end.
Longevity
Both the Lithium batteries and lead-acid batteries are enjoying a maximum life time because they are operating in a way that suits them best: The lithium batteries are cycled daily and don’t have to spend much time in a highly charged state, the lead-acid batteries are rarely cycled and spend most of their time being fully charged.
Economical
Because of the stretched longevity of both batteries in a hybrid installation, it is the most economic configuration possible. Also, installation wise, it is the most economic as no major modifications of the wiring need to take place and no charge sources have to be replaced or modified.
Maintainability
The ship will continue to use standard alternators and other chargers, with standard replacement parts commonly available, with no ties to a specific brand. No dual bus topology is used, a topology which would likely be confusing to engineers unknown with the lithium technology. This system is understood by engineers all over the world and can be serviced just like a regular system.

Comments

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Is this a dead project? There's been no update on Github for 2 years and Frans hasn't commented for 6 months.
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Is de pro-versie van de BMS beschikbaar? En werkt de hybrid Lithium aanpak zoals verwacht? Ziet er zeer doordacht uit en zou graag zelf willen ervaren.
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Any chance of you publishing what you have at the moment on GITHUB? This would allow others to peer review, build, and suggest modifications.
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I am very interested in the BMS Pro system. Is this still an active project? The GitHub repository shows no activity for a while.
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There are various FB groups dedicated to electrics on boats/motorhomes and LFP battery installations. Much is said about having to control or replace the alternator as it risks burning out with LFP, even in a hybrid system. I have installed LFP and kept the system as a hybrid by keeping the old LA batteries. You say that the system needs no modification. Can you reassure me! Thank you. Great articles, by the way.
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Very interested in this. When are you going to publish on Github? and any idea of when the Pro will be available and cost yet?
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1 more comment: my LA and Li battery banks each have their own charging source (LA - solar, LI - wind). The plan is to connect both the LA +/- outputs to the single +/- inputs of a substantial DC to AC inverter. Any comments or thoughts?
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I am going to build this. Parallel connection from each battery type to a single inverter. Inverter has + / - terminals and the Lithium + along with the L Acid + to the inverter +, and same with the negatives. This should work as the author describes, I believe. Any comments?
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I'd love to have a go at building your BMS, when you're happy with it would you mind posting the details of how you built it so others can copy it
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We would be interested in purchasing a Pro Unit.
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Is this Open design available to the public for rebuild?
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Also very interested in the BMS Pro system. Please let me know when it is available. Thank's
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Frans, what you say doesn't fit publishedcapacity/voltage curves of LFP batteries. Check this: https://www.solacity.com/how-to-keep-lifepo4-lithium-ion-batteries-happy/ You see in the 2. plot the 12V version with 13V at 40% LFP capacity. If you discharge from, say, 90% to 40% that leaves you with only 50% of the possible 80% LFP capacity. So loweing the discharge cutoff to 12.6V would still leave the LA batt. rather full and deplete LFP to 15%. Much better!
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Hi Frans, thanks for suggesting this simple solution! Why would you want to develop your own BMS? Can't you simply use one that is available like Electrodacus? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrTu9uehOFg you can set the cut-in low voltage separate from the low cut-off voltage, you can set the high cut-off voltage and many more. It also has a battery overtemp protection aswell as an batt undertemp protection (LFP batt should be chared above 5°C only). The starter batt can then float when LFP is full.
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Nice article. 1 remark though about charging. You can FloatCharge CCCV lithium @ < bms-cut-off-voltage till it's saturated at the voltage setpoint. Advantage hereof is that the battery bms never disconnect the (solar)charger. Under floatcharge I mean just charging with one voltage set-point, e.g @ 14.0v for a 12v battery. Good idea or not?
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Very interested in the pro system.
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Your BMS sounds very promising and perfect for our situation. Please add us to your list, and thanks
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I'm very interested in your BMS when you start making them, can you notify me with a price when they're ready
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I’d be interested in the pro system. What price roughly? Thank you.
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Frans Veldman
Sorry, I have no insight yet in the cost of a small production run.
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what happens if say the alternators are pumping out 100amps+ I seem to see 50amps as max charge on most .Lithiums?
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Frans Veldman
My BMS will disconnect the lithium battery if the charge current is too high. Ofcourse it is better to dimension the system in such a way that the charge current is compatible with the lithium batteries.
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So if I fix cables of a size that would restrict current, say 35qm. Would that keep the BMS happy?
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Hi there, enjoying your articles, thanks. Does the alternator voltage need to be adjusted in order to run a hybrid system? I have one boat which has an alternator which outputs 14.4v, and one which outputs 14.8v via an external regulator. Would these be compatible with a hybrid system?
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Frans Veldman
As long as the lithium battery is charging, the voltage will not be able to go up because the lithiums are absorbing all available current. The BMS will disconnect the lithium battery as soon as it is fully charged. After that, the alternators etc can do just their own thing, increasing the voltage to whatever value they want. So the programmed voltage doesn't matter for the lithium battery, as long as it is higher than the voltage of the lithium charge voltage.
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