What's the Difference Between Lithium and Lithium-ion (Li-ion) Batteries?
Batteries are an incredible resource of the modern-day, they power everything from cell phones, to wireless automatic vacuum cleaners, to all different types of cameras. There are numerous different varieties of battery which serve many different purposes, but two we hear about more than any are lithium and lithium-ion batteries. You might have had to make a decision in the past regarding these two different battery types, but do you really know what they are?
To get the most out of your batteries, it’s a good idea to have some knowledge about Lithium and Lithium-ion batteries which come in all shapes and sizes like 95Wh batteries and 190Wh batteries. We’ll explain everything you need to know about Lithium batteries and their Lithium-ion cousins, including how they work, what they’re made from, and even how to recycle your old used batteries. Then, we’ll lay out the important differences between Lithium and Lithium-ion batteries, so you can make an informed decision about which to use.
What is a Battery?
To understand the similarities and differences between Lithium and Lithium-ion batteries, you need a basic understanding of what constitutes a battery, and how they work. All batteries are made up of the same three basic components; the anode (negative - side), the cathode (positive + side), and some sort of electrolyte. When the cathode and anode of a battery are connected to an electrical circuit, a chemical reaction occurs between the anode and electrolyte.
Electrons flow through the circuit from the anode, and then enter back through the cathode and prompt another chemical reaction. These reactions continue until the materials are consumed, at which point no more electricity is produced by the battery. Both Lithium and Lithium-ion batteries produce portable electricity in this manner and can be used to power all sorts of different devices and electrical circuits. Batteries are incredibly useful components that allow us all sorts of luxuries, without them we would have to start cars by hand, and phones would still all be attached to the wall.
What is a Lithium Battery?
Lithium batteries are primary cell batteries, which means they cannot be recharged once empty. They use the metal lithium as an anode. Lithium batteries have a high charge density, meaning they last longer than other batteries and can hold more power. Depending on their design, lithium batteries can produce electricity with a voltage of between 1.5 and 3.7 V. The metal used in lithium batteries is very reactive, pure lithium will instantly react with water, and even moisture in the air.
Lithium batteries are used in many electronic devices, from electric toy cars to full-sized vehicles. Although their high power capacity makes them very useful, the fact that they cannot be easily or even safely recharged meant that many companies began to look for other alternatives. The disposable batteries many of us have around our homes are not very good for the environment, which is why many people and companies decide to use Lithium-ion batteries like this beautiful 900W Lithium Polymer Battery instead.
What is a Lithium-ion Battery?
Lithium-ion batteries are secondary cells, meaning that they can be recharged and reused. These batteries are incredibly popular today, and our everyday lives would be quite different without them. Your laptop, cell phone, tablet, and camera all depend on Lithium-ion batteries to keep them working, as these rechargeable batteries are highly effective. The electrodes of Lithium-ion batteries are made from lithium and carbon, making them much lighter in weight than other rechargeable batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are also great at holding their charge, losing only around 5% of their power every month they aren’t used. Another benefit of Lithium-ion batteries is that they have no memory effect. Ever remember being told that you need to completely discharge your batteries before plugging them in to recharge? That doesn’t apply to Lithium-ion batteries. These excellent rechargeable batteries can handle being charged and emptied hundreds of times before deteriorating.
Lithium-ion batteries are quite complex in nature, unlike the simplicity of a plain old Lithium battery. Within a lithium-ion battery, you would find multiple lithium-ion cells which store and provide the power. However, Li-ion batteries have other components too. A small computer within the battery monitors and regulates the temperature, voltage, and the state of battery charge, all from within the unit. This tiny system is necessary to keep your battery functioning as it should and is also responsible for the 5% power loss per month these rechargeable batteries experience.
What’s the Difference Between Lithium and Lithium-ion Batteries?
The biggest difference between Lithium batteries and Lithium-ion batteries is that Lithium batteries feature a single cell construction, meaning that they are single-use and cannot be recharged once empty. On the other hand, Lithium-ion batteries can be used time after time, they are rechargeable and can be charged and emptied hundreds of times.
If they’re sitting on a shelf unused, then Lithium batteries actually last much longer. A lithium battery can last for 10 to 12 years while retaining its charge, whilst Lithium-ion batteries only last from 2 to 3 years. You might not know that these two aren’t actually the only types of Lithium batteries you can get; check out our article on the difference between Lithium-ion and Lithium-polymer batteries.
Although Lithium-ion batteries might seem much better, especially from a waste point of view, there are still some properties that make Lithium batteries incredibly useful. They have a much higher energy density than lithium-ion batteries, meaning they hold more charge in comparison to their size. Lithium batteries can provide power from a single charge, even if it’s the only charge they’ll ever have. Unfortunately, there is no safe or effective way to recharge Lithium batteries, which is why Lithium-ion batteries were invented in the first place. Additionally, Lithium batteries are cheaper and easier to manufacture, meaning they cost less to purchase.
Lithium v.s. Lithium-ion Batteries: Which are Better?
There are many different uses for batteries, as anything which needs a portable power source uses them. The kind of battery which is better depends entirely on your use, that’s why both types of battery are still produced and used all over the world today. Modern life depends heavily on batteries for portable power, they’re vital to our personal electronics, cars and transport, even our medical care.
Lithium batteries are the better choice for powering devices where long battery life is imperative. Examples include watches, film cameras, pacemakers, hearing aids, remote controls, calculators, and smoke detectors. All of these items need a long-lasting source of power without needing to be plugged into mains electricity all of the time, so a Lithium battery is an ideal choice.
The cases where Lithium-ion batteries are much more favorable require frequent recharging to be convenient. The Lithium-ion battery in your mobile phone generally lasts around a day, but you can recharge it every day for years without losing too much function. Devices like laptops, digital cameras, solar power storage, portable power packs, and any sort of wireless technology all rely on rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries to function. They need the ability to recharge without replacing parts because of their incredibly frequent use.
Neither type of battery should be exposed to hot temperatures, as this could risk permanent damage and can even be dangerous. Store your batteries in a cool, dry place at regular room temperature. For more information, read our article on how to store your Lithium-ion battery properly.
A Better Battery for a Better World
Lithium and lithium-ion batteries are both incredibly useful and make huge contributions to most people’s daily lives. Their applications are endless, from lifesaving medical technology to remote control toy cars, it’s hard to imagine a modern world without them. Both these types of batteries provide a form of portable power, they will provide charge to a compatible electric circuit no matter where you are.
The difference between lithium and lithium-ion batteries is that one is not rechargeable (primary cell) and the other can be recharged (secondary cell). In addition to this, Lithium batteries have a shelf life up to four times longer than lithium-ion batteries and are also much cheaper and easier to make. Until some new power technology comes about, Lithium-ion batteries will always be the best choice for the electronics we use every day. This goes for your cell phone, your digital camera, and even your electric toothbrush.
Conversely, the items we rely on to hold their charge for extended periods of time are best powered using Lithium batteries. Whether it’s a medical pacemaker or safety features like a smoke alarm, Lithium batteries are preferred as they last for so much longer. And, although we’d like to point out that it’s very rare, Lithium-ion batteries have been known to catch fire and explode, a feature we thankfully don’t see from Lithium batteries.