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A Rokion R100 driving underground.

Are All Lithium-Ion Batteries the Same?

The short answer is no.

When looking into battery electric mining vehicles, you've no doubt come across the term "lithium-ion." This rechargeable battery type has been utilized in user electronics for decades and has since become the industry standard amongst battery electric vehicles. Some further research into EVs, however, and you’ll come to find that there’s a lot of variety amongst the “standard” lithium-ion battery.

The major differences between lithium-ion batteries are due to their unique chemistries. Different chemical compounds have different associated costs and provide different levels of specific energy (energy per unit mass), different life spans, and different levels of safety. As such, there are important distinctions between the lithium-iron phosphate (a variety of lithium-ion) batteries used in Rokion battery powered trucks and the other lithium-ion battery types that have been regularly used in personal electric vehicles.

Lithium-Ion Cobalt Batteries

Many electric vehicle batteries contain cobalt. Lithium cobalt battery types have a high specific energy that allows daily driver vehicles to easily reach and maintain highway speeds and offer good stability during battery charging. Despite its surface benefits, however, the inclusion of cobalt in lithium-ion batteries is becoming increasingly problematic.

An exceptionally costly material, the largest concentration of cobalt is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As of 2019, over 60% of the world’s cobalt is produced within the DRC, a country with an unfortunate history of political upheaval and child labour exploitation. These monetary and moral concerns are part of why Tesla and other personal electric vehicle manufacturers have been making efforts to remove cobalt from their battery modules.

Mined Cobalt Distribution by Region

Lithium-Iron Phosphate Batteries

As the popularity of battery electric vehicles continues to rise, research and development regarding alternative lithium-ion batteries is more important than ever. Rokion, a producer of battery powered mining trucks, has observed the added safety benefits of the lithium-iron phosphate battery type for use in potentially hazardous environments. Lithium-iron phosphate (or LiFeP04) batteries are considerably safer, offering greater chemical and thermal stability than other lithium-ion types and a lesser risk of overheating and thermal runaway.

While LiFeP04 batteries have a lower specific energy than lithium cobalt battery types, they are free from any reliance on cobalt and the negative implications that accompany the resource.

Lithium-Ion Battery Comparison

Due to their low cost, stable performance, long life span, and, most importantly, increased safety characteristics, lithium-iron phosphate batteries are favourable option, particularly for industrial electric vehicles.

A Question of Safety, Sustainability, and Performance

Different lithium-ion battery compositions offer different levels of performance, different levels of safety, and different levels of sustainability. While many consumer electric vehicle producers continue the search for a cobalt substitute for their battery packs, some industrial BEV manufacturers have opted for the safety and stability of LiFePO4. As battery electric vehicles continue to become a more viable option for personal and commercial use, consumers are certain to see advancements in lithium-ion battery technology for years to come.