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Li-ion vs lithium batteries: Key differences

When it comes to batteries, one of the most common and widely used types is lithium-ion (Li-ion). However, many people may confuse these with (or be unaware of) another battery type, known as lithium batteries. 


Here, we explore the key differences found between a lithium vs Li-ion battery to provide a better understanding of their chemistry, applications, advantages, disadvantages, safety considerations, and environmental impact.


Chemistry and composition

Lithium batteries: Lithium batteries typically refer to non-rechargeable, primary batteries. These batteries use lithium metal as one of their primary components. The lithium metal reacts with other materials within the battery to produce electrical energy. Lithium batteries can typically be found in wrist watches, TV remotes and children’s toys. 


Lithium-ion batteries: In contrast, lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable, secondary batteries. They do not use pure lithium metal. Instead, they rely on lithium compounds like lithium cobalt oxide, lithium iron phosphate, or other variations. These compounds allow for the reversible movement of lithium ions between the positive and negative electrodes, creating the charge and discharge cycle. 


Working principle

Lithium batteries: Lithium batteries function on a one-way process. They generate electrical energy through the chemical reaction between lithium and other materials. Once depleted, they cannot be recharged.


Lithium-ion batteries: Lithium-ion batteries operate through a reversible electrochemical process. When you charge a Li-ion battery, lithium ions move from the positive electrode to the negative electrode. During discharge, the ions move back, producing electrical energy. This cycle can be repeated multiple times.


Energy density

Lithium batteries: Lithium batteries often have a higher energy density than their lithium-ion counterparts. This means they can store more energy for their size and weight.


Lithium-ion batteries: While lithium-ion batteries have a lower energy density compared to lithium batteries, they excel in terms of rechargeability, making them suitable for a wide range of applications.


Charge and discharge cycles

Lithium batteries: Lithium batteries are typically designed for single-use applications and do not support rechargeability. Once their energy is depleted, they must be disposed of properly.


Lithium-ion batteries: Lithium-ion batteries are designed to be recharged and can endure hundreds to thousands of charge and discharge cycles, depending on their chemistry and quality. Again, this makes them a cost-effective and sustainable option for many applications.



Lithium-ion batteries have a broader range of applications due to their rechargeable nature and diverse chemistries. They’re commonly used in portable electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets, as well as e-vehicles. In contrast, lithium batteries are typically used in applications with lower energy demands, such as hearing aids or traditional wrist watches.


Li-ion vs lithium: advantages and disadvantages

Due to their different compositions, chemistry, and working methods, each type of battery has specific advantages and disadvantages over the other: 


Advantages of lithium batteries

  • High energy density
  • Long shelf life
  • Lightweight


Disadvantages of lithium batteries

  • Non-rechargeable
  • Limited applications


Advantages of lithium-ion batteries

  • Rechargeable and cost-effective in the long run
  • Versatile and used in numerous applications, including smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles, and more


Disadvantages of lithium-ion batteries

  • Lower energy density compared to lithium batteries
  • Require proper handling and disposal


Safety considerations

While there are some commonalities, the safety considerations for a lithium vs lithium-ion battery may differ slightly. Both types of batteries require careful handling, storage, and usage practices to minimise the risk of accidents or hazards associated with their chemical properties. Following manufacturer guidelines and being vigilant about any signs of damage or malfunction are essential safety practices for both lithium and lithium-ion batteries. However, as lithium-ion batteries are particularly susceptible to overheating and thermal runaway, extra care must be taken to avoid excessive heat – for example, not using a faulty charger or overcharging the battery.


Environmental impact

The environmental impact of batteries should not be overlooked when it comes to disposing of them responsibly. Battery recycling (lithium-ion especially) allows for the recovery of valuable materials and minimises environmental impact. Both types of battery can be taken to recycling centres (although you may need specific centres for lithium-ion batteries), and you could also check retailer take-back schemes and battery collection events.


In conclusion, understanding the key differences between lithium and lithium-ion batteries is crucial for understanding how to prevent and protect against their potential dangers. Each type has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, as well as unique safety and environmental considerations.


Due to the explosive nature of lithium-ion fires, it’s vital to be equipped with a specific fire extinguisher to tackle them. Stay prepared and compliant with our CommanderEDGE LFX Lithium-ion Battery Fire Extinguisher range, and sign up to our newsletter to stay updated with all the latest fire safety news and regulations.

The content of the CheckFire blog is for general information purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure accuracy at the time of publication, under no circumstances should it be considered professional advice. Any reliance you place on the information is at your own risk. Always seek the advice of a fire professional for your particular circumstances and requirements.

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