The Better Battery - Compare Lithium Iron Phosphate, LFP (LiFePO4) vs. Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide, NMC (LiNiMnCoO2)

Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) and lithium nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) are both members of the lithium-ion battery family. Lithium is a lightweight metal used to make small high-capacity batteries. Goldman Sachs calls lithium the new gasoline, and they are investing in the rare, hard-to-find metal. Lithium powers everything from cell phones to cities.

Lithium is a soft, white, alkali metal. In its pure form, lithium is flammable and reactive. In nature, it is found within minerals like quartz, ocean water, and mica. Lithium has many uses. Manufacturers use it to create flame-retardant ceramics, and doctors use it as medicine to stabilize mentally ill patients. And, it’s also used to make some of the best-performing batteries. 

There are many different kinds of lithium-ion batteries but they all follow a similar structure. The main difference between them all is what metals are used to make the cathode side of the battery. This affects the cost, life, and performance greatly. Some of the metals used in cathode, such as cobalt, cost even more than the raw lithium, and this is why you might see such large variations in battery pricing. Below, we will discuss the difference between two of the newer and more popular lithium batteries.

What exactly are batteries and lithium-ion batteries?

Batteries are made of four main parts:

  1. Anode (electrode)
  2. Cathode (electrode)
  3. Electrolyte and/or Separator (lithium salts/metals)

The separator, as you may have guessed, separates the negative anode from the positive cathode. This separator is where the electrolyte lays also, passing ion charges from one side of the battery to the other.

When a battery is charging, lithium ions travel from the positive cathode to the negative anode. During the discharge, ions flow from the anode to the cathode. The electrolyte is a medium that helps the ions flow freely from one electrode (cathode) to the other while the separator blocks electrons from traveling freely through the device.

As mentioned above, the thing that really makes these batteries different, and all batteries – for that matter – different is the type of metals used to make the cathode. In lithium batteries, the cathode can be made from varying amounts of metals like nickel, carbon, and manganese. The differing amounts of metals used will drastically change the way each battery performs. 

Specific Energy vs. Specific Power

Specific energy is the amount of energy the battery can hold in relation to its size/weight. In batteries, this is measured in w/kg, (watts per kilogram). This is important to consider because it tells us how large and how heavy your battery is, in addition to how much total power it can hold. Just like many things in life, the smaller and lighter, the better-y.

People often use a bottle of water to explain this. Think of a large bottle of water. The amount of water the bottle can hold would be the specific energy. If you could smash more water into a smaller bottle, it would have a higher specific energy. 

Specific power is the amount of power a battery can release at any given moment, or for a period of time. Again, think about that large bottle of water, holding all of that water, or power. If you pour out that bottle, the amount of water/power that can flow out of the small mouth of the water bottle would be limited. It might take some time to fully pour out the water. Batteries are the same, only releasing a set amount of power at a time, or over a period of time. 

The same principle works for charging batteries, and generally, those with a higher specific power can charge faster – just the same way you can fill a water bottle with a larger hole faster.

Scientists and manufacturers have tinkered with various materials to produce high specific energy/high specific power cells. But power variations do exist among the different types of lithium-ion batteries. 

Let’s discuss the differences between LFP and NMC batteries:

Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP)

Lithium iron phosphate is a range of lithium-ion batteries that use phosphate as cathode material. Lithium-iron phosphate batteries possess some attractive qualities. They have a long cycle life which is great for devices that need to be powered for many years, specifically 10 years and beyond. 

Over the last few years, several solar battery backup companies selling LFP batteries have emerged. They are a solid option, but they also have limitations. 

These batteries can also withstand high-voltage use for an extended period of time. Withstanding high voltage goes hand in hand with thermal stability. Batteries with low thermal stability are prone to electric shortages that lead to explosions and fires.

Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC)

Lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide batteries have a multi-layered cathode made of nickel, cobalt, and manganese. Scientists realized that each of these metals has favorable qualities, but their shortcomings leave much to be desired.

When combined, all three of these metals produce a cathode with great specific energy and power. The lifespan of lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide batteries is also very long – long enough for these batteries to power vehicles like Tesla’s. They’re also used in medical devices and industrial equipment.

Thermal stability for lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide batteries is moderate. The thermal runaway is over 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Which One Is Better?

Both types of lithium-ion batteries have their pros and cons. The competition for “better battery” really depends on the application you need to use the battery with. Lithium-iron phosphate batteries are used with portable and stationary devices. They can be placed in anything like a mobile phone or a battery backup application.

Lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide batteries have proven themselves to be capable of handling big tasks like powering vehicles. Products from GoBatery combine the benefits from of multiple technologies; high power density, high power capacity, deep discharge ability, long-life, and SAFETY into one Technology by using 1/3 of each (Nickel, Manganese, Cobalt) NMC paired with our Lithium. You can read more about our products here.