Battery Charger

A battery charger is a device used to put energy into a secondary cell or (rechargeable) battery by forcing an electric current through it. The charge current depends upon the technology and capacity of the battery being charged. For example, the current that should be applied to recharge a 12 V car battery will be very different from the current for a mobile phone battery.

There is a very good web site with FAQ's that you can check out.

Types of Battery Chargers

Simple

A simple charger works by supplying a constant or DC pulsed DC power source to a battery being charged. The simple charger does not alter its output based on time or the charge on the battery. This simplicity means that a simple charger is inexpensive, but there is a trade off in quality. Typically, a simple charger takes longer to charge a battery to prevent severe over-charging. Even so, a battery left in a simple charger for too long will be weakened or destroyed due to over-charging. These chargers can supply either a constant voltage or a constant current to the battery.

Trickle

A trickle charger, also known as a battery trickle charger, is typically a low-current (500–1,500 mA) battery charger. A trickle charger is generally used to charge small capacity batteries (2–30 Ah). These types of battery chargers are also used to maintain larger capacity batteries (> 30 Ah) that are typically found on cars, boats, RVs and other related vehicles. In larger applications, the current of the battery charger is sufficient only to provide a maintenance or trickle current (trickle is commonly the last charging stage of most battery chargers). Depending on the technology of the trickle charger, it can be left connected to the battery indefinitely. Some battery chargers that can be left connected to the battery without causing the battery damage are also referred to as smart or intelligent chargers.

Timer-Based

The output of a timer charger is terminated after a predetermined time. Timer chargers were the most common type for high-capacity Ni-Cd cells in the late 1990s for example (low-capacity consumer Ni-Cd cells were typically charged with a simple charger).

Often a timer charger and set of batteries could be bought as a bundle and the charger time was set to suit those batteries. If batteries of lower capacity were charged then they would be overcharged, and if batteries of higher capacity were charged they would be only partly charged. With the trend for battery technology to increase capacity year on year, an old timer charger would only partly charge the newer batteries.

Timer based chargers also had the drawback that charging batteries that were not fully discharged, even if those batteries were of the correct capacity for the particular timed charger, would result in over-charging.

Intelligent

A "smart charger" should not be confused with a "smart battery". A smart battery is generally defined as one containing some sort of electronic device or "chip" that can communicate with a smart charger about battery characteristics and condition. A smart battery generally requires a smart charger it can communicate with. A smart charger is defined as a charger that can respond to the condition of a battery, and modify its charging actions accordingly. Thus, it is possible in principle to have a smart charger working with "smart" batteries, or instead with "dumb" batteries lacking any internal electronic circuitry. The term "smart battery charger" is thoroughly ambiguous, since it is not clear whether the adjective "smart" refers to the battery or only to the charger.

Output current depends upon the battery's state. An intelligent charger may monitor the battery's voltage, temperature and/or time under charge to determine the optimum charge current at that instant. Charging is terminated when a combination of the voltage, temperature and/or time indicates that the battery is fully charged.

For Ni-Cd and NiMH batteries, the voltage across the battery increases slowly during the charging process, until the battery is fully charged. After that, the voltage decreases, which indicates to an intelligent charger that the battery is fully charged. Such chargers are often labeled as a ΔV, "delta-V," or sometimes "delta peak", charger, indicating that they monitor the voltage change.

The problem is, the magnitude of "delta-V" can become very small or even non-existent if (very) high capacity rechargeable batteries are recharged. This can cause even an intelligent battery charger to not sense that the batteries are actually already fully charged, and continue charging. Overcharging of the batteries will result in some cases. However, many so called intelligent chargers employ a combination of cut off systems, which should prevent overcharging in the vast majority of cases.

A typical intelligent charger fast-charges a battery up to about 85% of its maximum capacity in less than an hour, then switches to trickle charging, which takes several hours to top off the battery to its full capacity.

Universal Battery Charger–Analyzers

The most sophisticated types are used in critical applications (e.g., military or aviation batteries). These heavy-duty automatic “intelligent charging” systems can be programmed with complex charging cycles specified by the battery maker. The best are universal (i.e., can charge all battery types), and include automatic capacity testing and analyzing functions too.

Fast

Fast chargers make use of control circuitry in the batteries being charged to rapidly charge the batteries without damaging the cells' elements. Most such chargers have a cooling fan to help keep the temperature of the cells under control. Most are also capable of acting as standard overnight chargers if used with standard NiMH cells that do not have the special control circuitry. Some fast chargers, such as those made by Energizer, can fast-charge any NiMH battery even if it does not have the control circuit.

Pulse

Some chargers use pulse technology in which a series of voltage or current pulses is fed to the battery. The DC pulses have a strictly controlled rise time, pulse width, pulse repetition rate (frequency) and amplitude. This technology is said to work with any size, voltage, capacity or chemistry of batteries, including automotive and valve-regulated batteries. With pulse charging, high instantaneous voltages can be applied without overheating the battery. In a Lead–acid battery, this breaks down lead-sulfate crystals, thus greatly extending the battery service life.

Some chargers use pulses to check the current battery state when the charger is first connected, then use constant current charging during fast charging, then use pulse charging as a kind of trickle charging to maintain the charge.

Some chargers use "negative pulse charging", also called "reflex charging" or "burp charging". Such chargers use both positive and brief negative current pulses. There is no significant evidence, however, that negative pulse charging is more effective than ordinary pulse charging.

Solar chargers

Solar chargers convert light energy into DC current. They are generally portable, but can also be fixed mount. Fixed mount solar chargers are also known as solar panels. Solar panels are often connected to the electrical grid, where as portable solar chargers as used off-the-grid (i.e., cars, boats, or RVs).

Although portable solar chargers obtain energy from the sun only, they still can (depending on the technology) be used in low light (i.e., cloudy) applications. Portable solar charger are typically used for trickle charging, although some solar charger (depending on the wattage), can completely recharge batteries. Although Portable wind turbines are also sold. Some, including the Kinesis K3, can work either way.

Charge rate

Charge rate is often denoted as C or C-rate and signifies a charge or discharge rate equal to the capacity of a battery in one hour.[12] For a 1.6Ah battery, C = 1.6A. A charge rate of C/2 = 0.8A would need two hours, and a charge rate of 2C = 3.2A would need 30 minutes to fully charge the battery from an empty state, if supported by the battery. This also assumes that the battery is 100% efficient at absorbing the charge.

Applications

Since a battery charger is intended to be connected to a battery, it may not have voltage regulation or filtering of the DC voltage output. Battery chargers equipped with both voltage regulation and filtering may be identified as battery eliminators.

Battery charger for vehicles

There are two main types of charges for vehicles:
  • To recharge a fuel vehicle's starter battery, where a modular charger is used.
  • To recharge an electric vehicle (EV) battery pack.

Battery electric vehicle

These vehicles include a battery pack, so generally use series charger.

A 10 Ampere-hour battery could take 15 hours to reach a fully charged state from a fully discharged condition with a 1 Ampere charger as it would require roughly 1.5 times the battery's capacity.

Public EV charging heads (aka: stations) provide 6 kW (host power of 208 to 240 VAC off a 40 amp circuit). 6 kW will recharge an EV roughly 6 times faster than 1 kW overnight charging.

Rapid charging results in even faster recharge times and is limited only by available AC power and the type of charging system.

On board EV chargers (change AC power to DC power to recharge the EV's pack) can be:
  • Isolated: they make no physical connection between the A/C electrical mains and the batteries being charged. These typically employ some form of Inductive charging. Some isolated chargers may be used in parallel. This allows for an increased charge current and reduced charging times. The battery has a maximum current rating that cannot be exceeded
  • Non-isolated: the battery charger has a direct electrical connection to the A/C outlet's wiring. Non-isolated chargers cannot be used in parallel.
Power Factor Correction (PFC) chargers can more closely approach the maximum current the plug can deliver, shortening charging time.

Most modern cell phones, laptops, and most electric vehicles use Lithium-ion batteries. These batteries last longest if the battery is frequently charged; fully discharging them will degrade their capacity relatively quickly.[21] When storing however, lithium batteries degrade more while fully charged than if they are only 40% charged. Degradation also occurs faster at higher temperatures. Degradation in lithium-ion batteries is caused by an increased internal battery resistance due to cell oxidation. This decreases the efficiency of the battery, resulting in less net current available to be drawn from the battery.

Internal combustion engine vehicles, such as boats, RVs, ATVs, motorcycles, cars, trucks, and more use lead–acid batteries. These batteries employ a sulfuric acid electrolyte and can generally be charged and discharged without exhibiting memory effect, though sulfation (a chemical reaction in the battery which deposits a layer of sulfates on the lead) will occur over time. Keeping the electrolyte level in the recommended range is necessary. When discharged, these batteries should be recharged immediately in order to prevent sulfation. These sulfates are electrically insulating and therefore interfere with the transfer of charge from the sulfuric acid to the lead, resulting in a lower maximum current than can be drawn from the battery. Sulfated lead acid batteries typically need replacing.

Lead–acid batteries will experience substantially longer life when a maintenance charger is used to "float charge" the battery. This prevents the battery from ever being below 100% charge, preventing sulfate from forming. Proper temperature compensated float voltage should be used to achieve the best results.
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Tony Ferguson,
Apr 1, 2011, 6:17 AM
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