How do Battery Chargers Work? Discover which charger is best for your application

A good battery charger provides the base for batteries that are durable and perform well. In a price-sensitive market, chargers often receive low priority and get the “after-thought” status. Battery and charger must go together like a horse and carriage. Prudent planning gives the power source top priority by placing it at the beginning of the project rather than after the hardware is completed, as is a common practice. Engineers are often unaware of the complexity involving the power source, especially when charging under adverse conditions

Chargers are commonly identified by their charging speed. Consumer products come with a low-cost personal charger that performs well when used as directed. The industrial charger is often made by a third party and includes special features, such as charging at adverse temperatures. Although batteries operate below freezing, not all chemistries can be charged when cold and most Li-ions fall into this category. Lead- and nickel-based batteries accept charge when cold but at a lower rate.

 

Lead- and lithium-based chargers operate on constant current constant voltage (CCCV). The charge current is constant and the voltage is capped when it reaches a set limit. Reaching the voltage limit, the battery saturates; the current drops until the battery can no longer accept further charge and the fast charge terminates. Each battery has its own low-current threshold.

Nickel-based batteries charge with constant current and the voltage is allowed to rise freely. This can be compared to lifting a weight with a rubber band where the hand advances higher than the load. Full charge detection occurs when observing a slight voltage drop after a steady rise. To safeguard against anomalies, such as shorted or mismatched cells, the charger should include a plateau timer to assure a safe charge termination if no voltage delta is detected. Temperature sensing should also be added that measures temperature rise over time. Such a method is known as delta temperature over delta time, or dT/dt, and works well with rapid and fast charge.

 

A temperature rise is normal with nickel-based batteries, especially when reaching the 70 percent charge level. A decrease in charge efficiency causes this, and the charge current should be lowered to limit stress. When “ready,” the charger switches to trickle charge and the battery must cool down. If the temperature stays above ambient, then the charger is not performing correctly and the battery should be removed because the trickle charge could be too high.

 

NiCd and NiMH should not be left in the charger unattended for weeks and months. Until required, store the batteries in a cool place and apply a charge before use.

Lithium-based batteries should always stay cool on charge. Discontinue the use of a battery or charger if the temperature rises more than 10ºC (18ºF) above ambient under a normal charge. Li ion cannot absorb over-charge and does not receive trickle charge when full. It is not necessary to remove Li-ion from the charger; however, if not used for a week or more, it is best to place the pack in a cool place and recharge before use.

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