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Beware inferior Lithium batteries

The proliferation of solar powers and inverters has led to a boom in demand for Lithium batteries but, if one is uninformed, it poses massive risk.

The growth in demand for Lithium batteries, thanks to widespread adoption of solar power and inverters, has resulted in a proliferation of small battery manufacturers. Many previously manufactured Nickel-based batteries but are now producing Lithium.

However, both the battery itself, and the overall installation of the Lithium battery, can pose a risk, says Michael Rogers, MD of Uniross Batteries. Consequently, South Africans looking to mitigate the impact of load-shedding by installing a solar system for their home must do so through an accredited installer or electrician to avoid insurance claims being rejected.

A certificate of compliance (CoC) is essential to ensure that building and household content is covered by insurance. Customers need to make sure that the electrician is accredited. Most insurance policies stipulate that they aren’t liable for defective workmanship if solar panels or batteries cause damage, says Rogers.

“Once a battery has been manufactured and the final label applied, there is no possible way of differentiating a good quality battery from a poor one. Yes, you can measure the open circuit voltage, you could even measure the voltage under load, or if you have the means, you could even test the capacity of the battery. 

“But none of this will indicate whether the battery has been manufactured in accordance with internationally accepted practices and, more importantly, if it is going to be safe in your equipment after a few months of usage. Battery manufacturing is a complex process, and now even more so than ever, given that most new battery powered devices are being designed with rechargeable Lithium-based batteries.

“In the past, the old Nickel based batteries (Ni-Cd and NiMh) were relatively easy and safe to manufacture. Lithium-based batteries are far more complex with a far smaller margin for error in the manufacturing process.”

Ordinarily, this would not be a bad situation, he says. However, the vast majority of these small manufacturers do not have the facilities, equipment or the technical know-how to safely and consistently produce these Lithium batteries. Despite this, they continue to do so regardless of the consequences.

“As a result, we are beginning to see an influx of cheap and potentially dangerous Lithium batteries finding their way into our devices, with potentially disastrous consequences. Uniross makes use of one of the safest Lithium chemistries on the market today: Lithium Iron Phosphate (Li-FePO4). It can withstand abuse like no other battery chemistry. Even subjecting a Uniross Lithium battery to extreme temperatures, short circuits and even crushing the battery, won’t cause it to catch fire or explode.”

According to King Price client experience partner Wynand van Vuuren, the onus is on homeowners to ensure that their installation is 100% correct.  He said during an interview on Cape Talk: “We’ve seen solar panels up in flames. We’ve seen lithium batteries up in flames, but also generators which were incorrectly installed.”
Rogers says Uniross batteries have been tested by an independent international test company and certified in accordance with the United Nations Transport standard – UN38.3. During this certification process, the Uniross Lithium 12v 7Ah battery was subjected to a multitude of abusive and destructive tests and passed with flying colours.  

“Uniross batteries are also required to withstand a short circuit for at least one hour without the battery temperature exceeding 170°C. In addition, the battery is not allowed to rupture or catch fire during the test within six hours after the test. Comparing this to an old lead type battery usually found in an alarm, gate motor or electric fence, our Lithium battery is far safer. A lead battery under these conditions would most certainly pose a severe safety hazard.”

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