In our last camper van conversion, a Chevy Astro van, we mounted two AGM batteries underneath the van chassis. We wanted to keep the weight low as AGM batteries are very heavy. We used these batteries for years, along with two 50-watt solar panels and a 2500-watt inverter.
However, for our Sprinter van conversion, we wanted to go with something different.
Lithium batteries for a van conversion have many benefits over lead-acid batteries and AGM batteries. They are lighter weight, have a longer shelf life and you can run them down way further than lead-acid and AGM batteries. In fact, you can drain a lithium battery down all the way, where an AGM battery needs to be around 50%.
[Disclaimer: Battleborn sent me a complete campervan battery kit in exchange for an honest review]
In this article, I’ll tell you more about our Lifepo4 batteries from Battleborn, where we put the batteries in our van conversion, and why we chose heated batteries for van life.
Table of Contents
What are Lifepo4 lithium batteries?
The Lifepo4 batteries sold by Battleborn are 12-volt lithium iron phosphate batteries. Lithium iron phosphate is one of many types of lithium-ion batteries. These batteries use graphite as the anode material, which gives them a high current rating, good thermal stability and a long life cycle.
The fact that lithium iron phosphate batteries are more stable than other types of lithium batteries makes them a great fit for a campervan. The only other comparable option is batteries made with lithium titanate, which is cost-prohibitive and doesn’t run correctly with a 12-volt system.
Battleborn’s Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery, or Lifepo4 batteries, are 1/5 the weight of lead acid batteries and can be discharged to 100% of their capacity every time. They also charge 5 times faster than lead acid and run fo 3,000-5,000 cycles. These batteries are built to last 10-15 years, which means you spend way less time swapping out batteries and more time out in nature.
These are the main reasons we chose to put lithium batteries in our camper over AGM batteries.
Reasons Why We Wanted Lithium Batteries in our Sprinter Build
There are many pros to installing lithium batteries in a campervan over any other type. Here are a few of the things that made up our minds.
Lithium Batteries are Lightweight
Lithium batteries weigh way less than a typical AGM battery. We chose to put four 100 aH batteries in our van, and each weighs just 31 pounds. Compare that with an AGM battery, which weighs 70 pounds! It’s really important for us to keep our Sprinter van light as we plan to go off-roading as much as possible. A lighter van not only means better performance on 4×4 roads, but better gas mileage, too.
They Have a Long Lifespan
Another major plus of using lithium ion batteries is their lifespan. Battle born batteries last 3,000-5,000 cycles, which means they could last 10 years depending on how you use them and where you travel. Even after 10 years, their battery capacity just goes down 20-25%, meaning you can still use. the batteries. They just won’t hold as much charge.
You Can Discharge Them Completely
One pain about using AGM batteries is that you can only drain them to 50% of charge without damaging the battery. This means you need to keep an eye on the charge of your AGM deep cycle battery, and you may need to add more batteries to achieve your desired capacity. This means more upfront expense and a larger battery bank.
This is eliminated with the lithium battery. You can discharge it to 100% with zero chance of damage.
Battleborn offers a really good warranty for their lithium batteries, which you often won’t get with AGM. You’ll get an 8-year full replacement manufacturer’s defect warranty and a 2 year prorated warranty after that.
We also like that Battleborn is located in Reno, Nevada, making contacting them and getting customer service a breeze.
You Can Mount Them in Any Position
Want to put your batteries on their side to better fit them into a battery box? No problem. Lithium ion batteries don’t care which direction they are mounted, unlike flooded lead acid batteries. You can mount AGM batteries in any position as well.
They can Handle Vibration and Humidity
We plan to do a lot of off-roading in our Sprinter van, which means we wanted the best camper van batteries that can hold up to the rigors of dirt roads. Lithium batteries don’t mind being bumped and jostled around a bit, and can also handle humidity.
Lithium Ion Batteries Charge Quickly
A lithium battery charges faster than traditional lead acid batteries and AGM batteries. I’ve heard estimates that lithium charges 5 times faster than AGM.
You Can Add More Batteries Later
Another thing that’s unique about lithium ion batteries for a campervan conversion is that you can add more batteries in the future. This won’t damage the battery bank at all. You can increase the number of batteries in your Battleborn bank up to two years down the road without any damage or reduction in lifespan.
Battleborn’s Lithium Batteries Include a Battery Management System
The battery management system protects your batteries from stressors like hot and cold temperatures, low and high voltages, high current discharge surges, short current discharge surges and balancing of cells.
This system works hard to keep your batteries safe and long-lasting.
More Benefits of Lithium over other campervan batteries:
- They don’t off-gas like lead acid batteries
- You can store them for over a year without attaching them to a trickle charger
- Battle born batteries are manufactured in Reno, Nevada, giving you incredible access to customer service
- They maintain a consistent voltage for longer as they are discharging
The cons of Lithium ion Batteries for Campervans
There are only a couple of real cons to the lithium battery for a van build.
They don’t charge in super low temperatures
If you’re planning on doing lots of cold winter van life activities without a heater running in your van, lithium batteries might not be quite right for you. These batteries won’t accept a charge when their internal temperature reaches 24° F. However, they will continue to discharge down to -4 °. If you like camping in extremely cold conditions, you won’t be able to mount your batteries beneath your van, as we did with the Chevy Astro. The lithium batteries will need to be inside your campervan conversion.
However, Battleborn does offer heated battery kits where an internal heating element triggers when the batteries reach 35° F.
The negative of this is the heating element does require 1.8 amps when running.
Lithium batteries for van conversions are expensive
You might get sticker shock when you first set eyes on lithium batteries. One Lifepo4 battery costs between $800-$1,000, compared to $200-$300 for an AGM battery.
But this is equaled out if you plan on using your Lifepo4 batteries for many years, as the one-time cost outweighs the replacement costs of AGM or lead-acid batteries.
Why We Wanted Heated Lifepo4 Batteries in our Sprinter Van Camper
We wanted the option to bring our Sprinter van conversion up to high altitudes for winter skiing, so the fact that lithium campervan batteries won’t charge below 24° was a bit of a concern.
Luckily, Battleborn offers an alternative to regular lithium batteries, which is a heated battery.
These batteries have an internal heating system that kicks on when the battery’s internal temperature reaches 35°. If the battery has been exposed to below-freezing temperatures for a long time without the battery enabled, it could take 2-4 hours for the heating elements to bring the internal temperature up.
The heating function consumes 1.8 amps when it’s running, which is another factor to consider when choosing the number of batteries and solar panels you put in your campervan conversion.
Heated lithium batteries cost a bit more than standard lithium, but are worth it if you’re going to be in cold climates.
NOTE: If you want lithium ion batteries but don’t want the heated version, that’s totally fine. You can install the batteries in an insulated box inside your camper and be sure to keep the temperature inside your rig above 24 degrees with some sort of heater. Many van lifers prefer a diesel heater.
How Many Amp Hours of Lithium Batteries We Put in our Campervan
We worked closely with Battleborn to determine just how many lithium batteries we should add to our Sprinter’s battery bank. Here are a few of the items we’re planning on charging:
- Induction cooktop
- 12-volt vent fan
- Electric kettle
- Laptop charging and other small electronic devices
- Zero Breeze AC unit
- 12-volt fridge
- The possibility of adding a diesel heater in the future
Based on the power consumption these items require, we decided on 400aH of lithium for our deep cycle batteries.
Battleborn has some tips on its website to help you decide how many batteries you should have.
Aside from just the batteries, Battle born sells various components you’ll need to finish your solar system, like an inverter charger, battery isolation manager, etc.
You’ll have to purchase some components, like the solar panels, separately.
Installing Lithium Batteries in a Camper Van Conversion
We thought long and hard about where to install the Battleborn batteries inside our Sprinter van. At first, Tom thought about putting them underneath our chassis like in the Chevy Astro build, but he decided against it due to the potential for theft and cold temperatures.
He decided to put the battery bank in the middle of the van toward the slider door. He welded an aluminum bracket for the batteries and bolted it to the van’s floor. This battery bank will serve as the bottom portion of our campervan kitchen unit.
This position places the batteries closest to the wiring that leads to the solar panels on our roof and the Victron battery charger. We plan to use our battery bank to power our induction cooktop, Pakt electric coffee kit and our Zero Breeze air conditioning unit, all of which will be located on the starboard side of the van. The batteries will also serve several electrical outlets, lights and our Maxxair vent fan.
Our Next Steps
As we are entering into our sailboat cruising season in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, we haven’t wired the battery bank yet or added solar panels. This will be a project for mid-2022, which we are really excited about.
Once we wire the batteries and start using them full-time, I’ll have another report on how we like the battery technology and how well it performs.
From everything we’ve read about lithium batteries, though, we are confident that we are going to love our new setup and won’t be sad about saying goodbye to AGM.
Frequently Asked Questions about Lithium Ion Batteries for a Campervan
Are you considering lithium batteries for your van build? Here are some top questions answered.
Are Lithium batteries safe?
You may have heard stories about lithium batteries exploding or catching fire, yet this is a negligible risk. Battleborn lithium batteries include a battery management system that protects lithium cells from excessively high or low voltages, high currents, short circuits and excessive heat and cold. Those are the most common causes of battery failures, which is why Battleborn has integrated this battery management system. The BMS system also protects against ground faults. All this means safer lithium iron phosphate batteries for campervans.
Will lithium batteries work in my preexisting campervan setup?
Yes! Battleborn’s lithium house batteries are designed as a drop-in replacement for typical lead acid or AGM batteries. Lithium leisure batteries are not plug-and-play, though, and will require specific components to work with your existing system.
How long does a lithium battery last?
Longevity is a strong point of putting lithium batteries in your van build. Battleborn offers a 10-year warranty (8 year full replacement manufacturer’s defect warning and 2 years prorated). These batteries are expected to last 3000-5000 cycles, and still hold 75-80% of their energy capacity. You should be able to use these batteries for 10-15 years.
How many solar panels will you need?
Once you decide on how many amp hours of lithium to install in your campervan, you then have to think about solar panels.
Battleborn recommends 200 to 250 watts of solar per 100 amp hours of battery. This gives you the ability to go from empty to charge to nearly full in just 6-8 hours.
We aren’t following this rule in our campervan, though, as it would be hard to add 800 watts of solar panels to our roof with everything else we want up there as well.
We will have the ability to both charge our batteries with solar, and from campground outlets.
Can you charge a lithium battery using the alternator?
Our AGM batteries in our Chevy Astro van are connected to the alternator to charge them on cloudy days, if needed. You can also do this with a lithium battery. You will need some extra equipment, though, like a battery isolation manager.
This tool makes sure your alternator doesn’t damage your battery bank when on a long drive. This is really only required if your system has over three lithium batteries. If you have three or fewer, you can use a standard isolator to regulate the current.
Conclusion on Using Lithium Batteries for Van Conversions
If you are able to afford the upfront cost, we think lithium ion batteries are the way to go over the lead acid battery and AGM. They are lightweight, charge quickly and last much longer than other batteries on the market.
We are excited to start using Battleborn’s lithium battery system in our Sprinter van.