Lithium System Comparison: Lithionics and Volta (as offered by Winnebago)


When Stef started her Winnebago EKKO Owners and Wannabes group, one of the things I noticed right away was that not many people knew about the Lithionics system that Winnebago was offering in the EKKO.  Everybody seemed to know about the Volta system though, and were trying to compare the two.  Stef and I are unique.  We have actually had a Lithionics system installed in Lance for about 4 years now, and we also camped in a rig with a Volta system for about 9 months.  Since we’re the only ones I know of who have lived with both systems, I sat down and started writing and writing.  The end result is this video.  It came out kind of like a seminar!

 

The video is a bit long, at almost 40 minutes.  But that’s OK.  There’s a lot of information in it.  I break things down topic-by-topic and try to make this information accessible to everyone, regardless of their experience level with RV lithium technology.  I won’t put a transcript of the whole video here, but if there’s just one section you’re interested in, then you can find those below.

Battery Chemistry 3:07

Though the batteries are both “lithium” batteries, they’re chemically different.  I break down the differences for you.

Battery Voltage  6:56

One of these systems is a nominal 48 volt system, and the other is a 12 volt system.  Does it matter?

Battery Capacity  11:18

The systems offered by Winnebago have different capacities.  How much do you need?  Can you expand them later?  Answers here.

The Alternators  17:42

The main source of charging for both of these systems is a second alternator.  Learn about both of them here.

The Inverter/Chargers  21:53

Inverter/chargers handle both creating 120v alternating current AND charging the battery bank.  How do these differ between the two systems?

System Management Software 28:20

Keeping all the components working together requires some programming.  The two systems take very different approaches to this “traffic cop” software.  Learn what those are in this section.

Conclusion?  31:56

Only you can decide what’s right for you.  But I try to offer a couple examples of our thinking and how our RV lifestyle relates to these systems in this wrap up.  In the end, it’s not like you really have a choice – because certain systems are only available in certain rigs.  But at the end of this video, you should at least know what you’re getting.

If I were to boil the whole thing down to just a few bullet points each, I’d summarize the main advantages of the Volta system like this:

 

And I’d summarize the advantages of the Lithionics system like this:

 

Update from Volta Power Systems: Since this video went live, I’ve been contacted by Volta Power Systems. They felt like they wanted to respond to some of the things I said in the video. We asked them to put their response in writing. They’ve done that, and you can find it here: The FitRV Li-ion Comparison Video – a Spirited Response! | Volta Power Systems

 

 

And Finally – the Links!

I mention in the video that I’d provide links for each of the spec sheets or articles I’ve referenced, in case you want to check them out yourself.  Here they are:

Battery University Lithium Chemistry Comparison:

https://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/types_of_lithium_ion

Volta Battery Module Sizes:

https://voltapowersystems.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Battery-Pack-Data-Sheet_8.28.20.pdf

Lithionics Battery Data:

https://lithionicsbattery.com/product/12v-315ah-e2107-gtx-battery/

Volta Alternator Specs: 

https://voltapowersystems.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Alternators_For-Web.pdf

Balmar Alternator Specs:

https://balmar.net/balmar-technology/at-series-technology/

Volta Inverter/Charger Specs: 

https://voltapowersystems.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Inverter-Data-Sheet_12.8.17.pdf

Xantrex Inverter/Charger Specs: 

http://www.xantrex.com/documents/Inverter-Chargers/Freedom%20XC/DS20200416_Freedom%20XC.pdf

So… questions?  Comments?  I’m sure there will be lots and lots of discussion on this, so sound off in the comments below.

Cheers!

 


Correction: Initial Travato models had a 6000W alternator. As of 12/02/2020, the alternator offered by Volta on the Travato is an 8000W alternator.



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.


    42 thoughts on “Lithium System Comparison: Lithionics and Volta (as offered by Winnebago)

    1. Ethan

      You’re amazing first off. Question: on the Ekko, if you can charge the batteries at low idle then what’s the benefit of the generator? Liked the idea of a backup motor in a pinch but it sounds like the chassi engine fulfills that role.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Well, we won’t be getting a generator, so it’s certainly not mandatory. But if we were going to sit in the same place in the heat for days and we had to run the air conditioner constantly… the generator would be a better choice than running the engine non-stop without moving.

        Of course, I’d be seriously questioning our choice of camping destinations if that happened… but that’s another story.

        Reply
    2. Don Wilson

      James, the video was spectacular, easy to follow and understand. The information could not have been for fair to both systems, which I was looking for when I found this. As I have my order in for a 22A, and also look forward to figuring upgrades/changes to make it more to our lifestyle and convenience.
      I’m down for the adapter you made, when available, look forward to any ideas/changes you WILL think of. Still up in the air about with or without generator. Keep the info coming.
      Thank You.

      Reply
    3. Dwight Merrill

      Battery capacity on Ekko that you laid out: 630 ah x 13.333 = 8,400 wh.
      Why did you use 13.333 when nominal voltage on battery spec sheet is 12.8.
      Spec sheet nominal watt hour is listed as 4,032 x 2 = 8,064
      630 ah x 12.8 = 8,064.
      8,064wh (nominal) vs 8,400wh (is a wish wh).
      Good seminar, but 13.333 was not explained.
      Thanx, looking to buy a Ekko, which will alter my glide path to a Revel..

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Lithionics is being rather conservative in their spec sheet by using 12.8.
        In our years with a Lithionics battery, I have literally never seen the voltage that low.
        Never.
        In over 4 years.
        If I did see it that low, I would be concerned we were approaching a low voltage cut-off.

        Based on our experience, on measured voltages, on the runtime we get from our appliances, etc., 13.3 volts is a more appropriate value to use.
        It’s a “as seen in real life” number vs a “spec sheet” number.

        Reply
    4. Shaun Simpkins

      Where do I start, James?

      First, excellent overview of the two systems.

      Where I felt I had something to add was in the summary.

      Where the growth in the industry appears to be coming from of late is novice RVers looking for a different experience than the usual fly-and-hotel. They don’t want to know about all the ins and outs of running an RV – they just want it to work. This is exactly who WGO and others who use the Volta system are trying to attract with its high level of automation.

      Volta’s system also reflects its genesis – large coaches and work vehicles with heavy 110VAC loads. For this, a mains voltage higher than 12V makes a lot of sense for the gains in conversion efficiency to 110VAC and the reduction in wiring size. For class B/C RV use, a 12V mains voltage makes a lot more sense because 110VAC use is quite limited.

      I own a Travato KL and like it, but think that it’s really too complicated, expensive, and too closed off for the typical class B/C use case. But it sure sounds cool. I’d much prefer a Lithionics style system with its greater redundancy and lower complexity – particularly if the RV manufacturers paid careful attention to power efficiency – where all big battery projects should start.

      Now if you were to ask me if the Promaster was a good platform for a 2nd alternator installation…

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        “Now if you were to ask me if the Promaster was a good platform for a 2nd alternator installation…”

        We hear you, Shaun… We hear you…

        Reply
    5. Jack

      2021 GL NPF and just last night was wondering why the inverter did not turn off while the DC/DC converter did when I tried to turn off the Volta was moving the van to a different parking spot. So, to answer your question, it still does not turn off when the engine is running.

      As far as the annoyance of the inverter turning on whenever the system is powered up, it is only a minor annoyance because we literally leave the system on the entire time we are on a trip. This is because we want to keep the fridge on.

      Biggest gripe with the Volta is the DC/DC converter as an additional complexity. It has no redundancy in that respect and will single handedly ruin a trip if it malfunctions.

      Thanks for the video.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        You’re not the first person to mention the lack of redundancy in the DC-DC converter. If it goes bad, I guess you’re just out of luck for 12v power (which would pretty much kill your heat, your refrigerator, your lights, etc.)
        Has anyone priced out a spare DC-DC converter? Would it make sense to carry a spare?

        Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Lol. That’s actually a pot of fine sand. When assembling projects with dowels or dominos, I heat them in the warm sand just prior to assembly. This dries them out and shrinks them very slightly, which eases assembly.

        Reply
    6. Tim Krueger

      I’ve seen RV sites suggesting to install a 2nd inverter. The idea is to have a 400W inverter that’s always on, and a larger 2000W inverter on a manual switch wired for AC, microwave, etc. Think this really gains you anything, and would it interfere with the battery re-charging software?

      This is from someone who’s never RV’d. I’ve been in lockdown since March dreaming of retirement, my perfect RV, and driving off into the sunset – or at least California. I’ve really enjoyed your videos. They’re a great primer to the RV world.

      Before I forget. “Steph – It’s absolutely necessary for James to upgrade”. (I was told to say that.:-)

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        That’s a really interesting idea, and I can see where they’re coming from.
        I think in that situation – which I imagine is just to charge a laptop or phone or something – I’d use some kind of portable inverter (think cigarette lighter plug appliance).
        We have two of those laying around here anyway, so that’s probably what I’d do.
        That way, I wouldn’t have to fuss with tapping into the circuit panel or anything like that.

        Also… STEF! Look!

        Reply
    7. Jim

      Great primer. Can u address the maximum discharge rate of lithium batteries and how u can avoid exceeding it particularly when running the ac, thus causing the bms to shut down the batteries. Thx.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        We’ve honestly never hit any kind of discharge limit in four years with Lithionics, or over a hot summer with Volta.
        We have had a BMS shutdown event for an over-temperature situation on our Lithionics system. But not for discharge rate. (And that over temperature thing was kind of my fault.)
        I know the BMS on Lithionics will shut things down if it senses what seems to be a massive kind of short. I assume Volta does the same.
        But running an air conditioner shouldn’t approach that in either of these systems.
        If it does, then something is wrong and it needs to be diagnosed.

        Reply
    8. Don Kane

      When working with 12V wiring, I am always amazed at the wire sizes and the consequences of loose connections (which can get really hot). So I bet reliability, wire size and connectors is driving the move to 24V and 48V systems.

      But it could be worse…before the mid-fifties most cars had 6V batteries and some had positive grounds. In my ancient VW there was 10 gauge wire going to the lights. Sheesh.

      Reply
    9. Patrick Broos

      Very good tutorial on a complex subject. Thanks, James.

      As the number of in-service lithium systems grows (both electric vehicles, and RV “house” systems), I worry about a potential “market failure” when those systems reach the used vehicle market. A used lithium system can be fairly and efficiently valued by the market only if sellers and buyers can determine the performance the buyer can expect from the specific used system at hand. My understanding (or misunderstanding?) is that right now consumers cannot easily obtain such predictions of future performance.

      For example, “estimated range” figures shown by electric vehicles are NOT a directly measure of the battery’s health, because the vehicle software manages hidden reserve capacity to give the illusion of a nearly constant “range” as the battery ages.

      James, do you have any insight into whether Volta or Lithionics give consumers information about the cumulative damage a specific used battery has suffered, or conversely how much future performance (“cycles”) can be expected? Obviously, counting “cycles” is not the whole story, because damage also depends on temperature, overcharging events, depth of discharge, etc.

      Do you know if Volta/Lithionics have given buyers any tools or insights into how to rationally place a value on a used Volta/Lithionics system they encounter?

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        That’s a really interesting question!
        If either company were to deliver that information, the place where they would (and should) do it is in their respective apps. I would think it should be a fairly straight forward thing for them to give a “current capacity” measurement in the apps.
        That measurement, if accurate, would decrease over time due to all the factors that you mentioned. A new battery would show 10,000 watt hour capacity, for example, and a 2 year old battery in good condition might show 9,600 watt hours. One that had been mis-used might show only 9,100.
        Our BMS in Lance is “pre-app”, so I don’t know if Lithionics shows this. Likewise, our time in Parky was also “pre-app”.
        Perhaps current owners or representatives from Lithionics and/or Volta will chime in and let us know if they offer this info.

        Reply
        1. Patrick Broos

          Capacity reporting in the apps would be great! I hope Volta & Lithionics will respond.

          And I hope all lithium vendors to the RV industry will choose to report the unvarnished engineering facts (i.e. a slow reduction in capacity as the battery ages) instead of following the EV industry—where the vehicle software feeds the owner a story of constant accessible capacity (using “hidden” reserve capacity to compensate for battery wear).

          That “feel good” strategy keeps the owner blissfully ignorant—until the day the software runs out of hidden capacity reserves and is then forced to report a (rapid) capacity decline for a battery that is near end of life.

    10. James Donnelly

      Another great video. Thank you. A lot of details will need laying out re how the system is finally laid out in the EKKO. At regular idle the batteries are gonna take a long time to recharge, especially when you add another one or two. So even at highway speeds with moderate distance you will probably not see full charge as often as one does with the Volta. Since we don’t like really long drives if we can avoid them, that big Volta alternator is a plus for us. And there are enough times we have crossed the 2kW threshold we would probably want that inverter upgrade. The need for thicker copper cabling for additional batteries and possibly rewiring the AC panel is probably too much for many. Even adding a third battery may be tough depending on where it has to be sited (passenger side eg). Many of us look forward to seeing your upgrades and hope WGO will follow suit in future iterations. Thanks again.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Good points.
        My initial thoughts on adding batteries would be to try to keep them on the driver’s side for a number of reasons.
        But we’ll have to wait for a production rig to see what’s possible. Exciting stuff!

        Reply
    11. Gerhard Waechter

      Absolutely the best explanation of lithium batts application? I am so impressed with the professionalism that you displayed, as well as the little fun bits!
      We are looking forward to getting our Ekko as soon as possible, probably a 25C. We are very experienced RVers since 1969 and do not think we can handle the cassette system for waste disposal.
      We would love to see the possibility of putting a black water tank in place of the cassette and since we are not getting the generator it seems in the realm of possibility. Your thoughts?

      Reply
    12. Linda Valiquette

      James, you never disappoint! I was fascinated by all of it & found it easy to understand. I think you addressed every issue I have heard raised about concerns about the EKKO. Thank you so much for taking the time to cover this in such detail.

      Reply
    13. Paul Bailey

      Great video, extremely informative. Really liked the way you summarized at the end of each section. Plus some fun breakaway shots.

      Reply
    14. Bill H.

      Great video with lots of useful info!

      I think there might be a typo in one of your graphics. At the 12:33 point, the second bullet point in the graphic states “Useable Capacity is around 10% of total”

      I believe that should read “90% of total”, leaving a reserve of 10%. This small required reserve seems one of the great advantages of lithium systems over lead-acid batteries, which I gather should only be discharged to about 50%.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Yeah, I’ve caught that typo. Unfortunately, there’s no way to change it on YouTube without uploading a new video and wiping out all the comments and such.
        I double checked everything for spelling but since nothing is spelled incorrectly, I didn’t catch it. (There was a lot to review.)

        Reply
    15. James Ralph

      Good video! From looking at X’s ws it appears that to upgrade from the Freedom XC 2000 to a higher watt unit one would have to go to X’s Freedom XC Pro. That unit is physically an inch larger in L and W. Is there room in the EKKO where the inverter is mounted? Also are the wire connection locations an issue? Thanks!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        I *think* there’s room for the inverter/charger upgrade. Will have to wait until we have a rig to see for sure. But where there’s a will, there’s a way!
        (Keep in mind that if you upgrade the inverter/charger, a cabling upgrade may also be required.)

        Reply
    16. Denny

      Thank you, very informative. I’ve wanted to know for awhile and now finally understand the relationship and roles of batteries, alternators and inverters as well as the relative advantages/disadvantages of these two systems.

      I know it’s a lot of work to put such a video together. Making the process look easy and the highly technical content understandable is a major feat – you’re good at this.

      One of the things I appreciate most is your balanced approach – you make a concerted effort to keep perspective on the ultimate point and purpose and how each of our needs can vary.

      Reply
    17. Michael Pierce

      I did learn so much from your video and a guy with your ability to present in understandable terms a complex system should have been a teacher.
      One reason I love the Lithionics system is the chemical is not mined by child labor like NMC.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Another dimension to the conversation!
        I honestly hadn’t considered any ethical implications of either system.

        Reply
    18. James Coffman

      Currently working on converting my Mercedes ‘C’ to all DC w/ no LP or genetic, so all of this was, as usual – extremely good information to know. I’ve always felt that eliminating AC loads and providing highest reasonable voltage (48 in this case) for the major energy users was most efficient – thereby allowing smaller design size, etc. Not a Winnie owner, but I still get a lot out of everything that you guys produce. As always, very well done and much appreciated.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        A self-build where you get to make all your own decisions… that’s a different animal entirely.
        Best of luck on your conversion!
        I’d be curious if you find 48v pumps, refrigerators, etc. When those become readily available, that will be interesting!

        Reply
    19. Andy & Kim

      That was a certified Master Class Professor!
      Could you do a followup covering how solar plays with these systems?

      Holiday Blessings to you two!
      Andy & Kim

      Reply
    20. Fred Minix

      James, thank you for a very informative presentation. Living in Southwest Florida I am interested in the difference between the two battery systems with regard to storage in a rather hot/humid climate. I vaguely recall reading something to the effect that the NMC chemistry is less forgiving than LFP when it comes to long term storage in hot conditions. Do you have any thoughts on this?

      Reply
    21. Carl Rice

      You need to check out a YT video from a channel CarFeed about the Ekko, (super off-road RV, or something similar)they have just done an intro and then plugged in your walkthrough video of the prototype.

      Reply

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