Lithium (LiFePo4) batteries are a big deal and offer huge benefits for liveaboard off-grid boaters particularly in the winter. I work on the systems surrounding them installing equipment required to fit them. It’s quickly become a big part of my work and is something I’m passionate about.
I’m happy installing a complete system from scratch, working on specific components of a system, or make improvements and additions to a previously installed system (such as alternator/charging upgrade or battery monitoring and control).
Having a powerful and reliable charging system is critical to take full advantage of a lithium setup. Any deficiencies quickly become apparent. Many original engine mariniser setups don’t adapt well and haven’t been designed with lithium batteries in mind and I have specific upgrades which transform charging performance for some of the most popular engines:
- For Isuzu Canaline engines a complete kit using a Bosch 200 amp alternator with 6PK Poly V crank pulley conversion.
- For some Barrus Shire 40 & 45 a 200 amp upgrade kit with a 6PK poly V crank pulley conversion.
- 12V 175 amp or 24V 120 amp Mahle (Iskra) with Beta’s custom freewheeling pulley replacing the original 12V 95 amp Iskra or poor performing 12 & 24 Volt Delco Remy on the Beta 1903, 43 & 50.
- For the 3.5 Travel Power there’s a 12V 200 Amp Bosch, or 24V 110 amp Mahle alternator conversion available.
- On a new-build it’s well worth selecting an engine carefully even if there’s no plan to install lithium batteries at that stage. Some engines are far better suited than others. At this point it’s well worth considering a 24 volt or even 48 volt system.
The incredible limitless recharge property of Lithiums have to be controlled as max alternator current rating can’t be achieved continuously. There has to be a way to control alternator loads and temperatures and an alternator controller becomes incredibly useful with many advantages over other methods which simply limit current alone. I keep both the Balmar MC-614 & Mastervolt Alpha Pro in stock for a supply and fit basis along with an uprated alternator as part of a package. You don’t need the expensive Balmar or Mastervolt alternator and when running a poly V setup I’d advice against them due to inability to run a freewheel-clutch alternator pulley – a freewheeling pulley makes for far smoother power transfer and handles continuous high loads so much better than a solid pulley. I can modify all alternators to work with Mastervolt, Balmar (& Wakespeed) controllers.
Key points that Mastervolt & Balmar alternator controllers offer in respect to charging lithium batteries:
- Both have alternator temperature sensing. Damage caused by the alternator overheating is a real risk without any temp sensing. This is an important point as engine bay air temperatures can become incredibly high particularly in warmer weather and limiting current alone isn’t always enough.
- They enable an alternator to be easily shut down – either with an engine panel mounted switch, or automatically with a lithium BMS or a Victron BMV Battery Monitor. This means you are not disconnecting the output load which risks destroying the alternator. Doing this safely is complicated in itself requiring a dump load.
- Absorption voltage can be adjusted to a safe, conservative level – so you generally don’t need to rely on a Battery Monitor or BMS completely disconnecting and disabling charging as is done with other methods.
- The Balmar MC-614 and the full Mastervolt setup can be used to de-rate the alternator.
- Mastervolt Alpha Pro has a ‘small engine’ feature where output is throttled back at low engine speeds to improve engine driveability but at a selected engine speed full power (or an adjustable percentage of full output) is unleashed. This is an awesome feature and fully enables the fast recharge ability of Lithium while protecting the engine and alternator.
- Small engine mode is useful for the 35-45hp engines typically seen in narrowboats where large alternator loads can cause serious engine running problems at low engine speeds particularly in-gear tickover. Raising tickover isn’t a good way to deal with it.
- The Alpha Pro’s small engine function is especially useful for Beta 43 & Beta 50 engines where uncontrolled high alternator loads below 1200 rpm increase the risk of the crank pulley issues associated with these engines.
For narrowboats already with a 3.5 Travel Power and a Victron 12/3000/120 Multiplus it’s possible to build a great simple setup. The Multicontrol AC current control should be dialled to put a limit on crank loads at tickover. For the Beta 43/50 in particular it’s important to have a sensible limit on crank load at low engine speeds & high alternator loads should be disabled while using the Travel Power.
I have the equipment to program and setup all of the Victron and Mastervolt kit.
Any queries or if you need this type of work doing please call Ed 07922 163072.