How do Battery Chargers Work? Types of Chargers

The most basic charger was the overnight charger, also known as a slow charger. This goes back to the old nickel-cadmium days where a simple charger applied a fixed charge of about 0.1C (one-tenth of the rated capacity) as long as the battery was connected. Slow chargers have no full-charge detection; the charge stays engaged and a full charge of an empty battery takes 14–16 hours. When fully charged, the slow charger keeps NiCd lukewarm to the touch. Because of its reduced ability to absorb over-charge, NiMH should not be charged on a slow charger. Low-cost consumer chargers charging AAA, AA and C cells often deploy this charge method, so do some children’s toys. Remove the batteries when warm.

 

The rapid charger falls between the slow and fast charger and is used in consumer products. The charge time of an empty pack is 3–6 hours. When full, the charger switches to “ready.” Most rapid chargers include temperature sensing to safely charge a faulty battery.

 

The fast charger offers several advantages and the obvious one is shorter charge times. This demands tighter communication between the charger and battery. At a charge rate of 1C, which a fast charger typically uses, an empty NiCd and NiMH charges in a little more than an hour. As the battery approaches full charge, some nickel-based chargers reduce the current to adjust to the lower charge acceptance. The fully charged battery switches the charger to trickle charge, also known as maintenance charge. Most of today’s nickel-based chargers have a reduced trickle charge to also accommodate NiMH.

 

Li-ion has minimal losses during charge and the coulombic efficiency is better than 99 percent. At 1C, the battery charges to 70 percent state-of-charge (SoC) in less than an hour; the extra time is devoted to the saturation charge. Li-ion does not require the saturation charge as lead acid does; in fact it is better not to fully charge Li-ion — the batteries will last longer but the runtime will be a little less. Of all chargers, Li-ion is the simplest. No trickery applies that promises to improve battery performance as is often claimed by makers of chargers for lead- and nickel-based batteries. Only the rudimentary CCCV method works.

 

Lead acid cannot be fast charged and the term “fast-charge” is a misnomer. Most lead acid chargers charge the battery in 14–16 hours; anything slower is a compromise. Lead acid can be charged to 70 percent in about 8 hours; the all-important saturation charge takes up the remaining time. A partial charge is fine provided the lead acid occasionally receives a fully saturated charge to prevent sulfation.

 

The standby current on a charger should be low to save energy. Energy Star assigns five stars to mobile phone chargers and other small chargers drawing 30mW or less on standby. Four stars go to chargers with 30–150mW, three stars to 150–250mW and two stars to 250–350mW. The average consumption is 300mW and these units get one star. Energy Star aims to reduce current consumption of personal chargers that are mostly left plugged in when not in use. There are over one billion such chargers connected to the gird globally at any given time.

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