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Lithium-ion battery technology is bringing some big changes to the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) market, giving companies an option that provides significant benefits as compared to traditional valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) UPS batteries – including a far lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

The main difference between a lithium-ion battery and a VRLA battery is the chemical makeup of the materials used in the battery's electrodes and electrolyte. Most lithium-ion batteries use a metal oxide for the cathode (positive terminal) and a carbon-based material for the anode (negative). The electrolyte solution is a lithium salt dissolved in an organic solvent. A lead-acid battery, on the other hand, uses a lead dioxide for the cathode, a lead anode and a form of sulfuric acid as the electrolyte.

VRLA batteries are based on the same basic technology as an automobile battery. "Valve regulated" refers to a valve or vent that allows for the discharge of excess hydrogen gas that may be produced during charging. They have been used for decades in UPSs, and are thus far more common than Lithium-ion – but that is changing for some very good reasons. 

Benefits of Lithium-ion UPSs

For UPS batteries, Lithium-ion provides at least four main benefits when compared to VRLA. 

1. Longer battery life

VRLA batteries have a life expectancy of about three to five years, meaning they will likely need to be swapped out at least once and maybe twice over the 10-year life expectancy of a UPS. Lithium-ion batteries on the other hand last around 10 years, meaning they can be expected to last just as long as the UPS itself. That means far less or even no UPS maintenance is required. What's more, Lithium-ion batteries can withstand far more charge/discharge cycles as compared to VRLA batteries with similar capacity, further contributing to their longevity.

2. Lower weight

Lithium-ion batteries also weigh about one-third less than VRLA and are far smaller in size. That means you get more power in the same space as a VRLA UPS, or the same power in a smaller space, along with more flexibility in terms of where they can be installed.

3. Wider temp range

Tolerance for higher temperatures is a third benefit of Lithium-ion batteries vs. VRLA. Lithium-ion batteries can withstand temperatures of up to 40° C/104° F with no performance degradation. That makes them suitable for harsh industrial environments such as plant floors or outdoor applications.

4. Lower TCO

Finally, all of these benefits add up to a lower overall TCO for UPSs with Lithium-ion batteries vs. VRLA. While they do cost more up front, because they last so much longer and require little to no maintenance, Lithium-ion UPSs deliver TCO savings of 35 percent to 53 percent, depending on model.

Lithium-ion UPS use cases

Their smaller size and weight expand the universe of potential use cases for UPSs with Lithium-ion batteries. Applications that would not have been practical for a VRLA-based UPS are now within the realm of possibility.

Examples include: 

  • Retail point-of-sale systems, including the registers and card readers out on the floor and the back office servers that support them. A Lithium-ion-based UPS would be small enough to be unobtrusive even on a retail floor.
  • Automated teller machines, whether in standalone locations or attached to bank branches.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) applications, including protecting the networks that send data from sensors attached to everything from vending machines to street light fixtures supporting smart city deployments.
  • Remote, outdoor locations, including utility equipment, oil rigs and sensor networks on farms for smart agriculture applications.

Your APC UPS connection

We were so impressed with Lithium-ion technology that we upgraded the UPSs in our Advanced Technology Centers (ATCs) to models with Lithium-ion. They take up far less room and we expect the 10-year battery life will deliver lower TCO vs. VRLA-based UPSs.

Through our relationship with APC by Schneider Electric, we can help you select the UPS that best fits your requirements, whether Lithium-ion or VRLA. With our extensive reach, we can also help you install them virtually anywhere, even if it means dozens or hundreds of remote branches or retail locations. 

Interested in learning more? Connect with our  Facilities Team, request a Power Briefing or a Facilities Workshop.