This year's Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to John B Goodenough, M·Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for their contribution to the development of lithium batteries.

John Goodenough, who is 97, also becomes the oldest ever Nobel laureate. His lifelong exploration of lithium batteries is truly admirable. As one of his important discoveries, lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) is currently the safest cathode material for lithium batteries.

Thanks to Goodenough's remarkable identification of LiFePO4, LiFePO4 batteries, or LFP batteries have been created and widely used in various places. Among them data centers and communications base stations are two of the most common application scenarios. Lightweight and powerful lithium battery is also used in fields like electric vehicles.

Compared with lead-acid batteries, lithium batteries are smaller, lighter, and have higher energy density, higher availability, longer service life, and more cycle times.

– Huawei

Data center

According to a global survey conducted by Uptime, 10% of data centers use lithium batteries as backup power. For data center operators, the optimal space utilization and minimum operating costs (especially power costs of UPS cooling and battery maintenance and replacement costs) are what they are most concerned about. Lithium batteries can help them meet all these requirements.

Telecom base station

During the process of 5G evolution, the total power consumption of a site rockets. Traditional lead-acid batteries cannot support smooth capacity expansion to adapt to 5G evolution because of their large size and weight, short service life, and inferior performance. Small, lightweight lithium batteries feature longer service life and better performance. They can enable sites to evolve smoothly to 5G and improve site values. Therefore, lithium batteries have become the first choice for 5G sites. Currently, more than 200 telecom operators use lithium batteries as energy store.

In data centers and telecom base stations, LFP and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) cells are most commonly used. LFP is at present the safest cathode material of a lithium battery for it contains no heavy metal that is harmful to human. Compared with NMC batteries, LFP batteries are more reliable, which better meets high reliability requirements of data centers and telecom base stations.

Why Are LFP Batteries Needed?

  1. Stable Structure
  2. LFP batteries feature high thermal stability as well as a low rate and amount of heat yield.
  3. LFP batteries do not release oxygen in case of overcharge and overdischarge

Test conclusion: LFP batteries are more reliable than NCM batteries.

Common test method:

  • Puncture the cell with a needle to check its stability in the case of an internal short circuit.
  • Secure the fully charged battery
  • Use an 8 mm diameter high-temperature-resistant steel needle to puncture through the geometrical center of the cell in the direction vertical to the cell polarity plate at a speed of 25 mm/s, keep the needle in the cell, and observe for 1 hour.

Test conclusion:

  • After an LFP battery is punctured with a needle (internal short circuit), the heat of reaction inside the cell is minimal. The highest surface temperature of the cell is only 80° C, the cell does not catch fire or leak electrolytes, and its shell is intact.
  • After an NCM battery is punctured with a needle (internal short circuit), the cell reacts violently internally and generates a large amount of heat and oxygen in a short time. The battery burns within one second, thermal runaway occurs within four seconds, the highest surface temperature reaches 458° C, and the shell melts.

LiFePO4 vs NCM in Nail Test

Though its technology has been improved a lot, the lithium battery still has many problems in practical application.

  • When multiple battery cabinets are connected in parallel, current imbalance occurs due to inconsistent cell resistance and capacity and power distribution differences, especially for short-time discharge of large current. As a result, overcurrent protection is triggered in each battery cabinet
  • Partial failure is unavoidable in a lithium battery system. New and old battery cabinets may be connected in parallel. If resistance and capacity are inconsistent in this case, serious bias current can be caused, and a battery cabinet can even be disconnected in case of overcurrent
  • Inconsistency of cell resistance and capacity in a battery can cause cell charge overvoltage, so that the entire battery system cannot be fully charged.
  • If a battery module in a battery string is faulty, the entire battery string cannot work properly
  • If fire occurs in a lithium battery cabinet after lithium batteries are deployed in a modular data center, it is hard to control the fire inside the cabinet and prevent it from spreading to ICT equipment nearby
  • Lithium batteries at base stations are prone to be stolen

In view of this, Huawei launched the new-generation data center lithium battery solution SmartLi. Characterized with high reliability, efficiency, and flexible expansion, SmartLi is aimed to help customers reduce investment, simplify O&M, and build a stable and efficient data center power supply system.

  1. Reliable
  • Long Lifespan, cycle life can be up to 5000 times
  • Highly stable LFP cell, no fire when thermal runaway
  • Intelligent Voltage balance control, Single module failure system can work normally
  • Three-layer BMS system ensures the reliability of lithium batteries layer by layer

2. Efficient

  • High power density, save 70% footprint compared with lead-acid battery
  • Intelligent battery management system, save 80% of daily O&M costs

3. Simple

  • Modular swappable design, easy maintenance
  • Active current balance technology, New and old battery strings can be connected in parallel, Simple capacity expansion

Based on a deep understanding of 5G networks, Huawei also integrates intelligent technologies and lithium battery technologies and launches BoostLi, the energy storage solution tailored for telecom base stations.

As an intelligent lithium battery energy storage system, BoostLi features high density, intelligent hybrid use, intelligent voltage boosting, and intelligent peak shaving. It enables smooth site capacity expansion to support 5G evolution, reducing evolution costs and shortening 5G deployment time. Compared with the traditional solution, BoostLi serves not only as backup power. Its intelligent features such as peak shaving enable BoostLi to be fully used other than in the mains failure scenario. In this way, the values of the energy storage system and a site can be maximized, creating more profits while ensuring the security of site backup power.

BoostLi works with the temperature control unit and monitoring system to greatly reduce site power consumption and improve site reliability. When used with the intelligent site management system, BoostLi can also improve site O&M efficiency.

BoostLi also integrates multiple anti-theft technologies, such as intelligent displacement detection and intelligent software lock. If a BoostLi is stolen from the site, it will be locked and cannot be charged or discharged. This greatly improves energy storage security and reduces losses caused by theft.

Currently, more than 400,000 BoostLi products have been delivered to over 100 operators in 90 countries.