Battery Tutorial 0

While there are many battery chemistries today, and new types becoming commercially viable over time, we deal with the lead acid types, flooded, AGM, and true Gel, as they are widely used in the applications we specialize in. Lead acid battery technology has been used commercially for over a century. Some archeological finds of the appropriate materials in a man made configuration suggest the principle has been known and used much longer than that. Their construction is of lead alloy plates, and an electrolyte of sulphuric acid and water. A battery is made up of a number of cells, and the lead acid chemistry dictates a fully charged voltage of about 2.12 volts per cell. Thus, a nominal 6 volt battery has three cells with a full charge voltage of 6.3 to 6.4 volts, and a 12 volt battery has six cells, and a full charge voltage of 12.7 volts. High quality, high performance lead acid batteries may may exhibit higher cell voltage.

The cell has two plate types, one of lead and one of lead dioxide, both in contact with the sulfuric acid electrolyte as either a liquid, absorbed in a mat, or a gel. The lead dioxide (PbO2) plate reacts with the sulfuric acid (H2SO4) electrolyte resulting in hydrogen ions and oxygen ions (which make water) and lead sulfate (PbSO4) on the plate. The lead plate reacts with the electrolyte (sulfuric acid) and leaves lead sulfate (PbSO4), and a free electron. Discharge of the battery (allowing electrons to leave the battery) results in the build up of lead sulfate on the plates and water dilution of the acid. More on sulfation and its problems later. The specific gravity of the electrolyte as measured with a hydrometer in flooded batteries, indicates its relative charge (strength), or level of dilution (discharge). The reversibility of this reaction gives us the usefulness of a lead acid battery. The sealed versions contain the water, hydrogen, etc. under normal use, for recombination, and eliminate the maintenance of checking water levels, and corrosion around the terminals.

Charging the battery is reversing the process above, and involves subjecting the battery to voltages higher than its existing voltage. The higher the voltage, the faster the charge rate, subject to some limitations. There is a gassing point to consider, and true gel batteries have a lower peak charge voltage, because bubbles can occur in the gel which don't dissipate, and result in battery damage. More on this in the charging tutorial.

The electrolyte may be absorbed into a mat type material so there is no free electrolyte (AGM battery), or may be in a gel format which also stabilizes it (true Gel battery). Current lead-acid batteries are basically distinguished as deep cycle/storage (rated in amp hours), or automotive SLI type (Starting/Lighting/Ignition), rated in cranking amps. There are also combination types, rated for both duties, but these usually have a lower cranking amp rating than a starting battery of the same group size.

SLI Batteries

SLI batteries are designed to release a high burst of amps for a short time (a starting sequence), and then be relatively quickly recharged from the equipment's charging system (alternator). Typically, a starting sequence discharges less than 3% of the battery capacity. SLI batteries are not designed for repeated deep discharge, and their life is considerably reduced when subjected to this. There are wet (flooded) and totally sealed, maintenance free batteries (AGM - absorbed glass mat) in this class. These generally have a high plate count, and the plates are relatively thin. They are rated in CA, cranking amps (at 32 degrees F), and CCA, cold cranking amps (at 0 degrees F).

Deep Cycle Batteries

Deep cycle batteries are designed with thicker plates, to have a constant discharge rate, and to be deeply discharged and subsequently accept recharging. They are called RV, marine, deep cycle, storage, and sometimes golf cart batteries, as these are the typical markets they apply to, as well as others. There is no benefit to deeply discharging deep cycle batteries as a maintenance procedure, and they have no memory effect. They are typically rated in amp hours (ah), but may have a CA and CCA rating, if they are dual purpose, or occasionally used for starting purposes.

Deep cycle lead acid batteries are available in two configurations - wet and sealed. A wet cell battery has a higher tolerance to overcharging, however, it will release hydrogen gas when charging that must be properly vented, and the water levels must be checked frequently. Sealed lead acid batteries can be of AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) or Gel construction, and both are sometimes called VRLA (valve regulated lead acid) batteries. Frequently the term "Gel" is used to refer to any truly sealed, maintenance free battery, and this practice causes confusion to battery consumers, as the AGM and true Gel have some different characteristics, particularly in the charging requirements of the true Gel. Both types are maintenance free, have no liquid to spill and gassing is minimal. Other names for the sealed types are starved electrolyte, maintenance-free, dry cell, and spill proof. Most of these are Department of Transportation (DOT) approved for air transport, and classified as non-hazardous.

The Gel is the least affected by temperature extremes, storage at low state of charge and has a lower internal discharge rate, but has peak charge voltage requirements that are measurably lower than a flooded or AGM battery. An AGM battery will handle overcharging slightly better than the Gel Cell. Included in the AGM category are the Optima™ and the Odyssey™, as well as several other high performance sealed batteries. The smaller batteries you find in house alarm systems, computer UPS (uninterruptible power supply) boxes, etc., that say "sealed lead acid", "spill proof", or "maintenance free", are almost always AGM type batteries. If it doesn't say "gel" on it, or have a "G" in the part number, it's not a gel.

High Performance Batteries

We mentioned the Optima™ and the Odyssey™ high performance batteries. There are others such as the Rock Racing™ as well. These batteries use premium materials and construction techniques and achieve excellent results, which the price tends to reflect. The Odyssey units exhibit extremely high burst amps for the first 5 seconds, a critical feature in starting high displacement or high compression engines. They also can be totally discharged and recharged many times (rated at 400 cycles at 80% depth of discharge). For dual purpose, starting and deep cycle, these are hard to beat. We keep an Odyssey PC1500 charged and ready in the shop for emergency jumps or other situations, and testing. Enough said.

Battery capacity

Battery capacity is a measure of the energy the battery can store and deliver to a load. It is determined by how much current a battery can deliver over an industry standard period of time. The unit of measure is called "ampere hour" (ah). The battery industry standard is a 20 hour rate, i.e. how many amperes of current the battery can deliver over 20 hours at 80 degrees F until the voltage drops to 10.5 volts for a 12 V battery and 21 volts for a 24 V battery. For example, a 100 ah battery will deliver 5 amps for 20 hours. Occasionally a company or marketer will use a 10 hour rate or some other rate, so be sure which rate you are given when comparing brands and group sizes.

Battery capacity is also expressed as Reserve Capacity (RC) in minutes. Reserve capacity is the time in minutes a battery can deliver 25 amps at 80 degrees F until the voltage drops to 10.5 volts for a 12 V battery and 21 volts for a 24 V battery.  A relationship between amp hours (ah) and reserve capacity (RC) can be approximated with this formula: ah = RC times 0.6

Typical battery sizes   BCI*Group Battery Voltage, V             Battery AH 31 12 105 4D 12 200 8D                   12 245 GC2 (Golf Cart) 6 220   * Battery Council International

High battery discharge rates

As discharge rate is increased above the industry standard 20 hour rate, the usable capacity decreases, due to the "Peukert Effect". The decrease is not linear, and is shown in the chart below.

                            Battery Capacity/Rate of Discharge Discharge Hours Usable Capacity 20       100% 10       87% 8 83% 6                                                        75% 5 70% 3 60% 2 50% 1 40%                     

This must be taken into consideration when sizing a battery for a particular application. If it is a high current draw, battery capacity must be increased over the simple calculated amp hour requirement.

Battery life and depth of discharge (DOD)

Battery life is shortened the more deeply it is discharged in each cycle. Increasing a battery bank capacity over minimum requirements will increase the life of the bank. True Gel batteries tend to have a higher number of cycles than AGMs when cycled deeply, hence their frequent use in golf carts and wheelchairs/scooters when sealed batteries are used, and deeply discharged daily.

                               Average Life Cycle Chart  Depth of Discharge        Cycle Life Cycle Life Cycle Life % of AH capacity Group 27/31 Group 8D        Group GC2 10 1000 1500 3800 50  320 480 1100 80 200 300 675 100 150 225 550

Temperature effects on batteries

Lead acid batteries lose capacity in low temperatures. At 32 degrees F, a battery will deliver about 75% of its rated capacity at 80 degrees F. This needs to be considered when sizing a battery bank of required capacity for colder environments. A heated or insulated compartment is advisable for very cold climates. High temperature keeps battery chemistry more active, and measurably decreases battery life. A battery that may last 5 years in a 60 F to 80 F environment, may last only 2 years in a desert environment.


Internal discharge

Batteries are subject to an internal discharge, also called self-discharge. This rate is determined by the battery type, and the metallurgy of the lead used in its construction. Wet cells, with the cavities inside for electrolyte, use a lead-antimony alloy to increase mechanical strength. The antimony also increases the internal discharge rate to between 8% and 40% per month. For this reason, wet cells should not be left unmaintained or uncharged for long periods. The lead used in Gel and AGM battery construction does not require high mechanical strength since it is stabilized by the gel or mat material. Usually calcium is alloyed with the lead to reduce gassing and the internal discharge rate, which is only 2% to 10% per month for the AGM and Gel batteries.

Any battery discharge, including internal discharge, produces sulphation on the battery plates as part of the chemical cycle, and given enough time, this sulphation hardens, causing diminished battery capacity at best, or total loss of function. Routine charging after use, or use of a "floating" charger for long periods of storage (boat batteries, ATVs, etc.) prevents this diminished capacity and maximizes battery life. A large portion (approaching 50%) of lead acid batteries have diminished capacity or become unusable due to sulphation, and never reach their rated lifespan. There are electronic devices (chargers and stand alone devices) for dealing with sulphation, but the best practice is avoiding the situation in the first place with proper battery management, including use of quality 'smart' chargers.

Summation on attaining maximum battery life

From the discussion above, it can be seen that there are several issues pertaining to battery life. Recharging in a timely fashion after use, avoiding total discharge if possible, routine maintenance charging or use of a "float" charger on batteries in storage or out of season (jetski, snowmobile, ATV, etc.) are all things which contribute to good battery life. Avoiding extreme temperatures, especially heat, when possible, and checking water levels in flooded batteries are essential as well. There are some applications that are more likely to reach the end of the cycle life of a battery, and have the diminishing capacity as a result. Wheelchairs and scooters used daily and heavily fall into this category.

Series and parallel connection of batteries

When two or more batteries are connected in series (positive to negative in a string), their voltages add up but their AH capacity remains the same. So, two 12 V, 100 ah batteries connected in series result in a 24 V, 100 ah pack. The negative of one battery connects to the positive of a second battery, and the remaining terminals are the system connections.

When two or more batteries are connected in parallel (positive to positive, negative to negative), their AH capacity (amperage) adds up but their voltage remains the same. So, two 12 V, 100 ah batteries connected in parallel result in a 12 V, 200 ah pack.

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Battery Charging Tutorial 0

Current battery charging technology relies on microprocessors (computer chips) to recharge, using 3 stages (or 2 or 4 stages) regulated charging. These are the "smart chargers", and quality units generally are not found in discount stores. The three stages or steps in lead/acid battery charging are bulk, absorption, and float. Qualification or equalization is sometimes considered another stage. A 2 stage unit will have bulk and float stages. It is important to use the battery manufacturer's recommendations on charging procedures and voltages, or a quality microprocessor controlled charger to maintain battery capacity and service life.

The "smart chargers" are profiled with contemporary charging philosophy in mind, and also take information from the battery to provide maximum charge benefit with minimum observation. Some gel cell and AGM batteries may require special settings or chargers. Our units are selected for their suitability on the battery types they specify. Gel batteries generally require a specific charge profile, and a gel specific or gel selectable or gel suitable charger is called for. The peak charging voltage for Gel batteries is 14.1 or 14.4 volts, which is lower than a wet or AGM type battery needs for a full charge. Exceeding this voltage in a Gel battery can cause bubbles in the electrolyte gel, and permanent damage.

Most battery manufacturers recommend sizing the charger at about 25% of the battery capacity (ah = amp-hour capacity). Thus, a 100 ah battery would take about a 25 amp charger (or less). Larger chargers may be used to decrease charge time, but may decrease battery life. Smaller chargers are fine for long term floating, e.g. a 1 or 2 amp "smart charger" can be used for battery maintenance between higher amp cycle use. Some batteries specify 10% of capacity (.1 X C) as the charge rate, and while this doesn't hurt anything, a good microprocessor charger of the appropriate charge profile should be fine up to the 25% rate. You talk to different engineers, even at the same company, you get different answers.

Three Stage Battery Charging

The BULK stage involves about 80% of the recharge, wherein the charger current is held constant (in a constant current charger), and voltage increases. The properly sized charger will give the battery as much current as it will accept up to charger capacity (25% of battery capacity in amp hours), and not raise a wet battery over 125° F, or an AGM or GEL (valve regulated) battery over 100° F.

The ABSORPTION stage (the remaining 20%, approximately) has the charger holding the voltage at the charger's absorption voltage (between 14.1 VDC and 14.8 VDC, depending on charger set points) and decreasing the current until the battery is fully charged. Some charger manufacturers call this absorption stage an equalization stage. We don't agree with this use of the term. If the battery won't hold a charge, or the current does not drop after the expected recharge time, the battery may have some permanent sulphation.

The FLOAT stage is where the charge voltage is reduced to between 13.0 VDC and 13.8 VDC and held constant, while the current is reduced to less than 1% of battery capacity. This mode can be used to maintain a fully charged battery indefinitely.  

The recharge time can be approximated by dividing the amp hours to be replaced by 90% of the rated output of the charger. For example, a 100 amp hour battery with a 10 % discharge would need 10 amps replaced. Using a 5 amp charger, we have 10 amp-hours divided by 90% of 5 amps (.9x5) amps = 2.22 hour recharge time estimate.  A deeply discharged battery deviates from this formula, requiring more time per amp to be replaced.

Recharge frequency recommendations vary from expert to expert. It appears that the depth of discharge affects battery life more than the frequency of recharge. For example, recharging when the equipment is not going to be used for a while (meal break or whatever), may keep the average depth of discharge above 50% for a service day. This basically applies to battery applications where the average depth of discharge falls below 50% in a day, and the battery can be fully recharged once during a 24 hour period.



Equalization is essentially a controlled overcharge. Some charger manufacturers call the peak voltage the charger attains at the end of the BULK mode (absorption voltage) an equalization voltage, but technically it's not. Higher capacity wet (flooded) batteries sometimes benefit from this procedure, particularly the physically tall batteries. The electrolyte in a wet battery can stratify over time, if not cycled occasionally. In equalization, the voltage is brought up above typical peak charging voltage (to 15 to 16 volts in a 12-volt system) well into the gassing stage, and held for a fixed (but limited) period. This stirs up the chemistry in the entire battery, "equalizing" the strength of the electrolyte, and knocking off any loose sulphation that may be on the battery plates.

The construction of AGM and Gel batteries all but eliminates any stratification, and most all manufacturers of this type do not recommend it (advising against it). Some manufacturers (notably Concorde) list a procedure, but voltage and time are critical to avoid battery damage.

Battery Testing

Battery testing can be done in several ways. The most popular includes measurement of specific gravity, and battery voltage. Specific gravity applies to wet cells with removable caps, giving access to the electrolyte. To measure specific gravity, buy a temperature compensating hydrometer at an auto parts store or tool supply. To measure voltage, use a digital voltmeter in the DC voltage setting. The surface charge must be removed from a freshly charged battery before testing. A 12-hour lapse after charging qualifies, or you may remove the surface charge with a load (20 amps for 3 plus minutes).

State of Charge  Voltage    Specific Gravity
                             12V   6V
       100%            12.7   6.3    1.265
       75%              12.4   6.2    1.225
       50%              12.2   6.1    1.190
       25%              12.0   6.0    1.155
Discharged          11.9   6.0    1.120

Load testing is another method of testing a battery. Load testing removes amps from a battery (similar to starting an engine). Some battery companies label their battery with the amp load for testing. This number is usually 1/2 of the CCA rating. For instance, a 500 CCA battery would load test at 250 amps for 15 seconds. A load test can only be performed if the battery is at or near a full charge. Some electronic load testers apply a 100 amp load for 10 seconds, and then display battery voltage. This number is compared to a chart on the tester, based on CCA rating to determine battery condition.

Sulphation of batteries starts when specific gravity falls below 1.225 or voltage measures less than 12.4 (12v Battery ) or 6.2 (6-volt battery). Sulphation can harden on the battery plates if left long enough, reducing and eventually destroying the ability of the battery to generate rated volts and amps. There are devices for removing hard sulphation, but the best practice is preventing formation by proper battery care and recharging after a discharge cycle. Sulphation is the main reason a significant portion of lead-acid batteries doesn't attain their chemical life span.

Charging Parallel Connected Batteries

Batteries connected in parallel (positive to positive, negative to negative) are seen by the charger as one large battery of the combined amp-hour capacity of all the batteries. Thus, three 12 volts 100 amp-hour (ah) batteries in parallel are seen as one 12 volts 300 ah battery. They can be charged with one positive and negative connection from one charger of the recommended amp output. They also can be charged with a multiple output charger, like a three bank unit in this case, with each battery getting its own connection at battery voltage. The charging amperage would be the sum of the individual output amps.


Charging Series Connected Batteries

Batteries connected in series are a different story. Three 12 volt 100 amp hour batteries connected in a series string (positive to negative, positive to negative, positive to negative) would make a 36 volt 100 ah battery pack. This can be charged across the pack with a 36 volt output charger of the appropriate amp output. They also can be charged with a multiple output charger, like a three bank unit in this case, with each battery getting its own connection at battery voltage (12 volts in this case). Either method is fine, UNLESS one or more of the batteries are tapped at lower than system voltage. An example would be tapping one of the batteries in this 36 volt string at 12 volts for radio or some lights, etc. This imbalance the pack, and charging at system voltage (36V) doesn't correct the imbalance. The multiple bank charger connecting to each battery is the correct way to deal with this series battery string, as it corrects the imbalance with every charge cycle.

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