Scooters and powerchairs are powered by one of 2 main battery types; Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery packs, and sealed lead-acid (SLA) batteries. Despite fulfilling nearly-identical functions, the differences between the 2 can be vast. Let’s explore what makes each of these two power sources unique.
What is an SLA Battery?
Sealed-lead acid batteries are typically used in electric vehicles of various types.
The sealed design of SLA batteries makes them completely leak-proof and allows them to be mounted in a variety of positions without fear of them spilling. Another advantage is that you don’t have to top off the electrolyte inside them with distilled water the way you do with traditional lead acid batteries. This is because the gas produced by an SLA battery is reabsorbed into the battery’s electrolyte.
The long-story-short of how they work is; chemical energy in the form of liquid electrolyte is soaked up by mats held between 2 plates coated in another chemical. The reaction between the chemical in the mats and the plates converts to electrical energy when a device is connected to it. Otherwise, it stores chemical energy ready for conversion, with about 15% energy loss per month when left uncharged.
What is a Lithium-ion Battery?
A lithium-ion battery, or Li-ion battery, is a type of rechargeable battery. It is composed of cells in which lithium ions (Li+/Li-) move from the negative electrode (negative end, right side) through an electrolyte (blue) to the positive electrode (positive end, left side) during discharge and back when charging. Li-ion batteries are capable of having a very high voltage and charge storage per unit mass and unit volume. Li-ion batteries can use a number of different materials as electrodes. These are most commonly found in portable electronic devices such as cellphones, laptops and portable scooters.
Alright, Alright! – But Are Lithium-Ion or SLA Batteries Better?
Generally, scooters and powerchairs are designed to use either SLA (GEL or AGM) or lithium-ion batteries, but not both. The vast majority feature SLA, but a few types exclusively use Li-ion. Here are a few comparisons between the main features of both batteries. This will give you an idea of what sort of applications they would be suited to.
SLA has a long-range, low relative cost, high durability and versatility, as well as being easier to source. Most units use generic cable connectors so you don’t need to match brands or proprietary hardware.
On the other hand; they are heavy, take longer to charge than li-ion, and can be bulky and sensitive to improper storage. Despite the image of battery acid is extremely toxic, it can be recycled much easier than Li-ion.
Li-ion is low weight, has high energy storage density, high portability, and malleability (li-ion battery packs come in all shapes and sizes) and are considered safe enough to travel on airplanes as carry-on luggage which is their primary purpose when used in mobility devices. On the other hand, they are typically designed for specific models (proprietary battery packs) which makes them hard to source and more expensive compared to SLA batteries. They are also much harder to recycle, with only 1% of li-ions recycled compared to 90%+ of SLA batteries.
What’s better? They’re both excellent. It just depends on what features matter more to you based on your lifestyle and the use of the device they’re intended for.
Here is a diagram of the energy density of various batteries. At the bottom left the larger, and heavier SLA batteries, and at the top right, the small and lightweight li-ion. You can clearly see how much more energy they can store for each kg/L than every other battery type. However, this is in line with their cost.
Here is a comparison chart between the various battery types. Scooters mainly feature SLA and LFP types, prices in USD for reference:
What’s best is what’s best for you. Take into consideration all of the points outlined above and you will get a good understanding of what battery type will suit your purpose the most.
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