Data Center Lithium Ion Batteries: Important 2022 Considerations

At a Glance

  • Geopolitical and supply chain issues will continue for lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery solutions.
  • Proper monitoring and fire protection is an often overlooked cost driver
  • Manufacturer documentation discrepancies for proper installation and sizing of field conductors connecting UPS systems to Li-Ion battery cabinets



For decades, valve-Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) batteries have been the predominant battery technology utilized in three-phase Uninterruptible Power Supply systems.  VRLA batteries have been a reliable choice for data centers, but they have shortcomings, including weight, size, and performance fluctuations at varying temperatures.  In addition, very little innovation has occurred in this technology in recent years.

Lithium-Ion batteries are becoming a viable alternative to VRLA batteries, and most UPS systems vendors are now offering Lithium-ion options with many of their product lines.  According to Frost & Sullivan, Li-ion batteries accounted for 15 percent of the data center battery market in 2020, but with the increased technology adoption in data centers, F&S expects an increase to 38.5 percent by 2025.

Vendors have championed the main benefits of Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) at length, most notably the significant reduction in footprint, longer lifecycle, about three times less weight, less self-discharge, and faster self-charging.  

Most owners are also aware of the CAPEX increase to purchase a Lithium-ion solution, which averages two to three times the initial cost of a VRLA solution.

After designing and deploying Li-ion systems for owners, we are advocates for the solution at Leading Edge Design Group.  However, as a newer technology to the market, we have observed several important considerations that owners are not often informed of when making a procurement decision to move forward with Li-ion.  These considerations impact total project cost, constructability, and project timeline.


Geopolitical & Supply Chain

Everyone is aware of the supply chain challenges facing our country today. The issue for Li-ion batteries is how fickle that supply chain is, both now and into the future. If we look beyond the pandemic's impacts on the supply chain, the demand for lithium batteries is skyrocketing across our economy. Electronics, electric vehicles, renewable energy storage; the US Department of Energy even makes a case for battery-powered planes.  

The US is also a minor player in the global battery industry, with China dominating battery manufacturing and mineral supply chains. (image 1). With domestic demand for Li-ion increasing exponentially, the supply chain challenges facing data center owners interested in Li-ion will persist until the United States has significantly improved production capacity.  


Thermal Runaway

Proper monitoring and fire protection for Li-ion battery solutions is a cost-driver for projects that surprises many owners. The local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) has the final say in the adequate requirements of the systems installations to protect Li-ion systems in the event of a fire. The battery management system of Li-ion systems is critical, used to identify faults in advance of a thermal runaway occurrence. Most Li-ion systems come with battery monitoring, but owners need to know the software and operational requirements of monitoring these systems correctly.  


The materials that make up the Li-ion cells impact the reliability of these systems. Lithium iron phosphate (commonly abbreviated "LFP") is widely known to have less risk of thermal runaway. When communicating with vendors and designers during the selection process, vendors should fully disclose the cell materials and potential risks.  


Field Documentation Confusion

We have experienced discrepancies in manufacturer field documentation around the proper installation and sizing of field conductors connecting UPS systems to Li-ion battery cabinets. As with any new technology, gaps may exist between a vendor's product engineering, documentation, and field service organizations, resulting in conflicting information regarding installation requirements. Owners should ensure installation requirements are documented and verified by the manufacturer before finalizing pricing with their contractors to avoid the potential for change orders in the field.

Lithium-ion batteries are a great solution for data center operators. With the increasing demands, struggling supply chains, and technology changes, make sure to look at these three considerations before your installation.

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