Battery Chargers and Charging Methods
The charger has three key functions
- Getting the charge into the battery (Charging)
- Optimising the charging rate (Stabilising)
- Knowing when to stop (Terminating)
The charging scheme is a combination of the charging and termination methods.
Once a battery is fully charged, the charging current has to be dissipated somehow. The result is the generation of heat and gasses both of which are bad for batteries. The essence of good charging is to be able to detect when the reconstitution of the active chemicals is complete and to stop the charging process before any damage is done while at all times maintaining the cell temperature within its safe limits. Detecting this cut off point and terminating the charge is critical in preserving battery life. In the simplest of chargers this is when a predetermined upper voltage limit, often called the termination voltage has been reached. This is particularly important with fast chargers where the danger of overcharging is greater.
If for any reason there is a risk of over charging the battery, either from errors in determining the cut off point or from abuse this will normally be accompanied by a rise in temperature. Internal fault conditions within the battery or high ambient temperatures can also take a battery beyond its safe operating temperature limits. Elevated temperatures hasten the death of batteries and monitoring the cell temperature is a good way of detecting signs of trouble from a variety of causes. The temperature signal, or a resettable fuse, can be used to turn off or disconnect the charger when danger signs appear to avoid damaging the battery. This simple additional safety precaution is particularly important for high power batteries where the consequences of failure can be both serious and expensive.
During fast charging it is possible to pump electrical energy into the battery faster than the chemical process can react to it, with damaging results.
The chemical action can not take place instantaneously and there will be a reaction gradient in the bulk of the electrolyte between the electrodes with the electrolyte nearest to the electrodes being converted or "charged" before the electrolyte further away. This is particularly noticeable in high capacity cells which contain a large volume of electrolyte.
There are in fact at least three key processes involved in the cell chemical conversions.
- One is the "charge transfer", which is the actual chemical reaction taking place at the interface of the electrode with the electrolyte and this proceeds relatively quickly.
- The second is the "mass transport" or "diffusion" process in which the materials transformed in the charge transfer process are moved on from the electrode surface, making way for further materials to reach the electrode to take part in the transformation process. This is a relatively slow process which continues until all the materials have been transformed.
- The charging process may also be subject to other significant effects whose reaction time should also be taken into account such as the "intercalation process" by which Lithium cells are charged in which Lithium ions are inserted into the crystal lattice of the host electrode. See also Lithium Plating due to excessive charging rates or charging at low temperatures.
All of these processes are also temperature dependent.
In addition there may be other parasitic or side effects such as passivation of the electrodes, crystal formation and gas build up, which all affect charging times and efficiencies, but these may be relatively minor or infrequent, or may occur only during conditions of abuse. They are therefore not considered here.
The battery charging process thus has at least three characteristic time constants associated with achieving complete conversion of the active chemicals which depend on both the chemicals employed and on the cell construction. The time constant associated with the charge transfer could be one minute or less, whereas the mass transport time constant can be as high as several hours or more in a large high capacity cell. This is one of the reasons why cells can deliver or accept very high pulse currents, but much lower continuous currents.(Another major factor is the heat dissipation involved). These phenomena are non linear and apply to the discharging process as well as to charging. There is thus a limit to the charge acceptance rate of the cell. Continuing to pump energy into the cell faster than the chemicals can react to the charge can cause local overcharge conditions including polarisation, overheating as well as unwanted chemical reactions, near to the electrodes thus damaging the cell. Fast charging forces up the rate of chemical reaction in the cell (as does fast discharging) and it may be necessary to allow "rest periods" during the charging process for the chemical actions to propagate throughout the bulk of the chemical mass in the cell and to stabilise at progressive levels of charge.
See more about rest periods and how they can be used to increase battery life and to improve the accuracy of SOC measurments in the Software Configurable Battery page.
See also the affects of Chemical Changes and Charging Rate in the section on Battery Life.
A memorable though not quite equivalent phenomenon is the pouring of beer into a glass. Pouring very quickly results in a lot of froth and a small amount of beer at the bottom of the glass. Pouring slowly down the side of the glass or alternatively letting the beer settle till the froth disperses and then topping up allows the glass to be filled completely.
The time constants and the phenomena mentioned above thus give rise to hysteresis in the battery. During charging the chemical reaction lags behind the application of the charging voltage and similarly, when a load is applied to the battery to discharge it, there is a delay before the full current can be delivered through the load. As with magnetic hysteresis, energy is lost during the charge discharge cycle due to the chemical hysteresis effect.
The diagram below shows the hystersis effect in a Lithium battery.
Allowing short settling or rest periods during the charge discharge processes to accommodate the chemical reaction times will tend to reduce but not eliminte the voltage difference due to hysteresis.
The true battery voltage at any state of charge (SOC) when the battery is in its "at rest" or quiecent condition will be somewhere between the charge and discharge curves. During charging the measured cell voltage during a rest period will migrate slowly downwards towards the quiescent condition as the chemical transformation in the cell stabilises. Similarlly during discharging, the measured cell voltage during a rest period will migrate upwards towards the quescent condition.
Fast charging also causes increased Joule heating of the cell because of the higher currents involved and the higher temperature in turn causes an increase in the rate of the chemical conversion processes.
The section on Discharge Rates shows how the effective cell capacity is affected by the discharge rates.
The section on Cell Construction describes how the cell designs can be optimised for fast charging.
This refers to the properties of the battery itself and does not depend on the charger. It is the ratio (expressed as a percentage) between the energy removed from a battery during discharge compared with the energy used during charging to restore the original capacity. Also called the Coulombic Efficiency or Charge Acceptance.
Charge acceptance and charge time are considerably influenced by temperature as noted above. Lower temperature increases charge time and reduces charge acceptance.
Note that at low temperatures the battery will not necessarily receive a full charge even though the terminal voltage may indicate full charge. See Factors Influencing State of Charge.
Basic Charging Methods
- Constant Voltage A constant voltage charger is basically a DC power supply which in its simplest form may consist of a step down transformer from the mains with a rectifier to provide the DC voltage to charge the battery. Such simple designs are often found in cheap car battery chargers. The lead-acid cells used for cars and backup power systems typically use constant voltage chargers. In addition, lithium-ion cells often use constant voltage systems, although these usually are more complex with added circuitry to protect both the batteries and the user safety.
- Constant Current Constant current chargers vary the voltage they apply to the battery to maintain a constant current flow, switching off when the voltage reaches the level of a full charge. This design is usually used for nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride cells or batteries.
- Taper Current This is charging from a crude unregulated constant voltage source. It is not a controlled charge as in V Taper above. The current diminishes as the cell voltage (back emf) builds up. There is a serious danger of damaging the cells through overcharging. To avoid this the charging rate and duration should be limited. Suitable for SLA batteries only.
- Pulsed charge Pulsed chargers feed the charge current to the battery in pulses. The charging rate (based on the average current) can be precisely controlled by varying the width of the pulses, typically about one second. During the charging process, short rest periods of 20 to 30 milliseconds, between pulses allow the chemical actions in the battery to stabilise by equalising the reaction throughout the bulk of the electrode before recommencing the charge. This enables the chemical reaction to keep pace with the rate of inputting the electrical energy. It is also claimed that this method can reduce unwanted chemical reactions at the electrode surface such as gas formation, crystal growth and passivation. (See also Pulsed Charger below). If required, it is also possible to sample the open circuit voltage of the battery during the rest period.
The optimum current profile depends on the cell chemistry and construction.
- Burp charging Also called Reflex or Negative Pulse Charging Used in conjunction with pulse charging, it applies a very short discharge pulse, typically 2 to 3 times the charging current for 5 milliseconds, during the charging rest period to depolarise the cell. These pulses dislodge any gas bubbles which have built up on the electrodes during fast charging, speeding up the stabilisation process and hence the overall charging process. The release and diffusion of the gas bubbles is known as "burping". Controversial claims have been made for the improvements in both the charge rate and the battery lifetime as well as for the removal of dendrites made possible by this technique. The least that can be said is that "it does not damage the battery".
- IUI Charging This is a recently developed charging profile used for fast charging standard flooded lead acid batteries from particular manufacturers. It is not suitable for all lead acid batteries. Initially the battery is charged at a constant (I) rate until the cell voltage reaches a preset value - normally a voltage near to that at which gassing occurs. This first part of the charging cycle is known as the bulk charge phase. When the preset voltage has been reached, the charger switches into the constant voltage (U) phase and the current drawn by the battery will gradually drop until it reaches another preset level. This second part of the cycle completes the normal charging of the battery at a slowly diminishing rate. Finally the charger switches again into the constant current mode (I) and the voltage continues to rise up to a new higher preset limit when the charger is switched off. This last phase is used to equalise the charge on the individual cells in the battery to maximise battery life. See Cell Balancing.
- Trickle charge Trickle charging is designed to compensate for the self discharge of the battery. Continuous charge. Long term constant current charging for standby use. The charge rate varies according to the frequency of discharge. Not suitable for some battery chemistries, e.g. NiMH and Lithium, which are susceptible to damage from overcharging. In some applications the charger is designed to switch to trickle charging when the battery is fully charged.
- Float charge. The battery and the load are permanently connected in parallel across the DC charging source and held at a constant voltage below the battery's upper voltage limit. Used for emergency power back up systems. Mainly used with lead acid batteries.
- Random charging All of the above applications involve controlled charge of the battery, however there are many applications where the energy to charge the battery is only available, or is delivered, in some random, uncontrolled way. This applies to automotive applications where the energy depends on the engine speed which is continuously changing. The problem is more acute in EV and HEV applications which use regenerative braking since this generates large power spikes during braking which the battery must absorb. More benign applications are in solar panel installations which can only be charged when the sun is shining. These all require special techniques to limit the charging current or voltage to levels which the battery can tolerate.
Batteries can be charged at different rates depending on the requirement. Typical rates are shown below:
- Slow Charge = Overnight or 14-16 hours charging at 0.1C rate
- Quick Charge = 3 to 6 Hours charging at 0.3C rate
- Fast Charge = Less than 1 hour charging at 1.0C rate
Slow charging can be carried out in relatively simple chargers and should not result in the battery overheating. When charging is complete batteries should be removed from the charger.
- Nicads are generally the most robust type with respect to overcharging and can be left
on trickle charge for very long periods since their recombination process tends to keep the voltage down to a safe level. The constant recombination keeps internal cell pressure high, so
the seals gradually leak. It also keeps the cell temperature above
ambient, and higher temperatures shorten life. So life is still better
if you take it off the charger.
- Lead acid batteries are slightly less robust but can tolerate a short duration trickle charge. Flooded batteries tend to use up their water, and SLAs tend to die early from grid corrosion. Lead-acids should either be left sitting, or float-charged (held at a constant voltage well below the gassing point).
- NiMH cells on the other hand will be damaged by prolonged trickle charge.
- Lithium ion cells however can not tolerate overcharging or overvoltage and the charge should be terminated immediately when the upper voltage limit is reached.
Fast / Quick Charging
As the charging rate increases, so do the dangers of overcharging or overheating the battery. Preventing the battery from overheating and terminating the charge when the battery reaches full charge become much more critical. Each cell chemistry has its own characteristic charging curve and battery chargers must be designed to detect the end of charge conditions for the specific chemistry involved. In addition, some form of Temperature Cut Off (TCO) or Thermal Fuse must be incorporated to prevent the battery from overheating during the charging process.
Fast charging and quick charging require more complex chargers. Since these chargers must be designed for specific cell chemistries, it is not normally possible to charge one cell type in a charger that was designed for another cell chemistry and damage is likely to occur. Universal chargers, able to charge all cell types, must have sensing devices to identify the cell type and apply the appropriate charging profile.
Note that for automotive batteries the charging time may be limited by the available power rather than the battery characteristics. Domestic 13 Amp ring main circuits can only deliver 3KW. Thus, assuming no efficiency loss in the charger, a ten hour charge will at maximum put 30 KWh of energy into the battery. Enough for about 100 miles. Compare this with filling a car with petrol.
It takes about 3 minutes to put enough chemical energy into the tank to provide 90 KWh of mechanical energy, sufficient to take the car 300 miles. To put 90 KWh of electrical energy into a battery in 3 minutes would be equivalent to a charging rate of 1.8 MegaWatts!!
Charge Termination Methods
The following chart summarises the charge termination methods for popular batteries. These are explained in the section below.
Charge Termination Methods
Fast Charge 1
Imin at Voltage Limit
Fast Charge 2
Back up Termination 1
Back up Termination 2
TCO = Temperature Cut Off
Delta TCO = Temperature rise above ambient
I min = Minimum current
Charge Control Methods
Many different charging and termination schemes have been developed for different chemistries and different applications. The most common ones are summarised below.
Regular (slow) charge
- Semi constant current Simple and economical. Most popular. Low current therefore does not generate heat but is slow, 5 to 15 hours typical. Charge rate 0.1C. Suitable for Nicads
- Timer controlled charge system Simple and economical. More reliable than semi-constant current. Uses IC timer. Charges at 0.2C rate for a predetermined period followed by trickle charge of 0.05C. Avoid constantly restarting timer by taking the battery in and out of the charger since this will compromise its effectiveness. The incorporation of an absolute temperature cut-off is recommended. Suitable for Nicad and NiMH batteries.
(1 to 2 hours)
- Negative delta V (NDV) Cut-off charge system
This is the most popular method for rapid charging for Nicads.
Batteries are charged at constant current of between 0.5 and 1.0 C rate. The battery voltage rises as charging progresses to a peak when fully charged then subsequently falls. This voltage drop, -delta V, is due to polarisation or oxygen build up inside the cell which starts to occur once the cell is fully charged. At this point the cell enters the overcharge danger zone and the temperature begins to rise rapidly since the chemical changes are complete and the excess electrical energy is converted into heat. The voltage drop occurs regardless of the discharge level or ambient temperature and it can therefore be detected and used to identify the peak and hence to cut off the charger when the battery has reached its full charge or switch to trickle charge.
This method is not suitable for charging currents less than 0.5 C since delta V becomes difficult to detect. False delta V can occur at the start of the charge with excessively discharged cells. This is overcome by using a timer to delay the detection of delta V sufficiently to avoid the problem. Lead acid batteries do not demonstrate a voltage drop on charge completion hence this charging method is not suitable for SLA batteries.
- dT/dt Charge system NiMH batteries do not demonstrate such a pronounced NDV voltage drop when they reach the end of the charging cycle as can be seen in the graph above and so the NDV cut off method is not reliable for ending the NiMH charge. Instead the charger senses the rate of increase of the cell temperature per unit time. When a predetermined rate is reached the rapid charge is stopped and the charge method is switched to trickle charge. This method is more expensive but avoids overcharge and gives longer life. Because extended trickle charging can damage a NiMH battery, the use of a timer to regulate the total charging time is recommended.
- Constant-current Constant-voltage (CC/CV) controlled charge system. Used for charging Lithium and some other batteries which may be vulnerable to damage if the upper voltage limit is exceeded.
The manufacturers' specified constant current charging rate is the maximum charging rate which the battery can tolerate without damaging the battery. Special precautions are needed to maximise the charging rate and to ensure that the battery is fully charged while at the same time avoiding overcharging.
For this reason it is recommended that the charging method switches to constant voltage before the cell voltage reaches its upper limit. Note that this implies that chargers for Lithium Ion cells must be capable of controlling both the charging current and the battery voltage.
In order to mainain the specified constant current charging rate, the charging voltage must increase in unison with the cell voltage to overcome the back EMF of the cell as it charges up. This occurs quite rapidly during the constant current mode until the cell upper voltage limit of the cell is reached, after which point the charging voltage is maintained at that level, known as the float level, during the constant voltage mode. During this constant voltage period, the current decreases to a trickle charge as the charge approaches completion. Cut off occurs when a predetermined minimum current point, which indicates a full charge, has been reached. See also Lithium Batteries - Charging and Battery Manufacturing - Formation.
Note 1: When Fast Charging rates are specified, they usually refer to the constant current mode. Depending on the cell chemistry this period could be between 60% and 80% of the time to full charge. These rates should not be extrapolated to estimate the time to fully charge the battery because the charging rate tails off quickly during the constant voltage period.
Note 2: Because it is not possible to charge Lithium batteries at the charging C rate specified by the manufacturers for the full duration of the charge, it is also not possible to estimate the time to charge a battery from empty simply by dividing the AmpHour capacity of the battery by the specified charging C rate, since the rate changes during the charging process. The following equation however gives a reasonable approximation of the time to fully charge an empty battery when the standard CC/CV charging method is used:
Charging time (hrs) = 1.3 * (Battery capacity in Ah) / (CC mode charging current)
- Voltage controlled charge system. Fast charging at rates between 0.5 and 1.0 C rate. The charger switched off or switched to trickle charge when predetermined voltage has been reached. Should be combined with temperature sensors in the battery to avoid overcharge or thermal runaway.
- V- Taper controlled charge system Similar to Voltage controlled system. Once a predetermined voltage has been reached the rapid charge current is progressively reduced by reducing the supply voltage then switched to trickle charge. Suitable for SLA batteries it allows higher charge level to be reached safely. (See also taper current below)
- Failsafe timer
Limits the amount of charge current that can flow to double the cell capacity. For example for a 600mAh cell, limit the charge to a maximum of 1,200mAH. Last resort if cut off not achieved by other means.
As a safety precaution with high capacity batteries a pre-charging stage is often used. The charging cycle is initiated with a low current. If there is no corresponding rise in the battery voltage it indicates that there is possibly a short circuit in the battery.
- Intelligent Charging System
Intelligent charging systems integrate the control systems within the charger with the electronics within the battery to allow much finer control over the charging process. The benefits are faster and safer charging and battery longer cycle life. Such a system is described in the section on Battery Management Systems.
Most chargers provided with consumer electronics devices such as mobile phones and laptop computers simply provide a fixed voltage source. The required voltage and current profile for charging the battery is provided (or should be provided) from electronic circuits, either within the device itself or within the battery pack, rather than by the charger. This allows flexibility in the choice of chargers and also serves to protect the device from potential damage from the use of inappropriate chargers.
During charging, for simplicity, the battery voltage is usually measured across the charger leads. However for high current chargers, there can be a significant voltage drop along the charger leads, resulting in an underestimate of the true battery voltage and consequent undercharging of the battery if the battery voltage is used as the cut-off trigger. The solution is to measure the voltage using a separate pair of wires connected directly across the battery terminals. Since the voltmeter has a high internal impedance there will be minimal voltage drop in the voltmeter leads and the reading will be more accurate. This method is called a Kelvin Connection. See also DC Testing.
Chargers normally incorporate some form of voltage regulation to control the charging voltage applied to the battery. The choice of charger circuit technology is usually a price - performance trade off. Some examples follow:
- Switch Mode Regulator (Switcher) - Uses pulse width modulation to control the voltage. Low power dissipation over wide variations in input and battery voltage. More efficient than linear regulators but more complex.
Needs a large passive LC (inductor and capacitor) output filter to smooth the pulsed waveform. Component size depends on curent handling capacity but can be reduced by using a higher switching frequency, typically 50 kHz to 500kHz., since the size of the required transformers, inductors and capacitors is inversely proportional to the operating frequency.
Switching heavy currents gives rise to EMI and electrical noise.
- Series Regulator (Linear) - Less complex but more lossy - requiring a heat sink to dissipate the heat in the series, voltage dropping transistor which takes up the difference between the supply and the output voltage. All the load current passes through the regulating transistor which consequently must be a high power device. Because there is no switching, it delivers pure DC and doesn't need an output filter. For the same reason, the design doesn't suffer from the problem of radiated and conducted emissions and electrical noise. This makes it suitable for low noise wireless and radio applications.
With fewer components they are also smaller.
- Shunt Regulator - Shunt regulators are common in photovoltaic (PV) systems since they are relatively cheap to build and simple to design. The charging current is controlled by a switch or transistor connected in parallel with the photovoltaic panel and the storage battery. Overcharging of the battery is prevented by shorting (shunting) the PV output through the transistor when the voltage reaches a predetermined limit. If the battery voltage exceeds the PV supply voltage the shunt will also protect the PV panel from damage due to reverse voltage by discharging the battery through the shunt. Series regulators usually have better control and charge characteristics.
- Buck Regulator A switching regulator which incorporates a step down DC-DC converter. They have high efficiency and low heat losses. They can handle high output currents and generate less RF interference than a conventional switch mode regulator. A simple transformerless design with low switch stress and a small output filter.
- Pulsed Charger. Uses a series transistor which can also be switched. With low battery voltages the transistor remains on and conducts the source current directly to the battery. As the battery voltage approaches the desired regulation voltage the series transistor pulses the input current to maintain the desired voltage. Because it acts as a switch mode supply for part of the cycle it dissipates less heat and because it acts as a linear supply part of the time the output filters can be smaller. Pulsing allows the battery time to stabilise (recover) with low increments of charge at progressively high charge levels during charging.
During rest periods the polarisation of the cell is lowered. This process permits faster charging than possible with one prolonged high level charge which could damage the battery since it does not permit gradual stabilisation of the active chemicals during charging. Pulse chargers usually need current limiting on the input source for safety reasons, adding to the cost.
- Universal Serial Bus (USB) Charger
The USB specification was developed by a group of computer and peripheral device manufacturers to replace a plethora of proprietary mechanical and electrical interconnection standards for transferring data between computers and external devices. It included a two wire data connection, a ground (earth) line and a 5 Volt power line provided by the host device (the computer) which was available to power the external devices. An unintended use of the USB port has been to provide the 5 Volt source not only to power peripheral devices directly, but also to charge any batteries installed in these external devices. In this case the peripheral device itself must incorporate the necessary charge control circuitry to protect the battery. The original USB standard specified a a data rata of 1.5 Mbits/sec and a maximum charging current of 500mA.
Power always flows from the host to the device, but data can flow in both directions. For this reason the USB host connector is mechanically different from the USB device connector and thus USB cables have different connectors at each end. This prevents any 5 Volt connection from an external USB source from being applied to the host computer and thus from possibly damaging the host machine.
Subsequent upgrades increased the standard data rates to 5 Gigabits/sec and the available current to 900 mA. However the popularity of the USB connection has led to a lot of non standard variants paricularly the use of the USB connector to provide a pure power source without the associated data connection. In such cases the USB port may simply incorporate a voltage regulator to provide the 5 Volts from a 12 Volt automotive power rail or a rectifier and regulator to provide the 5 Volts DC from the 110 Volts or 240 Volts AC mains supply with output currents up to 2100 mA. In both cases the device accepting the power has to provide the necessary charge control. Mains powered USB power supplies, often known as "dumb" USB chargers, may be incorporated into the body of the mains plugs or into separate USB receptacles in wall mounted AC power socket outlets.
See more about USB connections in the section on battery Data Buses.
- Inductive Charging
Inductive charging does not refer to the charging process of the battery itself. It refers to the design of the charger. Essentially the input side of charger, the part connected to the AC mains power, is constructed from a transformer which is split into two parts. The primary winding of the transformer is housed in a unit connected to the AC mains supply, while the secondary winding of the transformer is housed in the same sealed unit which contains the battery, along with the rest of the conventional charger electronics. This allows the battery to be charged without a physical connection to the mains and without exposing any contacts which could cause an electric shock to the user.
A low power example is the electric toothbrush. The toothbrush and the charging base form the two-part transformer, with the primary induction coil contained in the base and the secondary induction coil and the electronics contained in the toothbrush. When the toothbrush is placed into the base, the complete transformer is created and the induced current in the secondary coil charges the battery. In use, the appliance is completely separated from the mains power and since the battery unit is contained in a sealed compartment the toothbrush can be safely immersed in water.
The technique is also used to charge medical battery implants.
A high power example is a charging system used for EVs. Similar to the toothbrush in concept but on a larger scale, it is also a non-contact system. An induction coil in the electric vehicle picks up current from an induction coil in the floor of the garage and charges the vehicle overnight. To optimise system efficiency, the air gap between the static coil and the pickup coil can be reduced by lowering the pickup coil during charging and the vehicle must be precisely placed over the charging unit.
A similar system has been used for electric buses which pick up current from induction coils embedded beneath each bus stop thus enabling the range of the bus to be extended or conversely, smaller batteries can be specified for the same itinerary. One other advantage of this system is that if the battery charge is constantly topped up, the depth of discharge can be minimised and this leads to a longer cycle life. As shown in the section on Battery Life, the cycle life increases exponentially as the depth of discharge is reduced.
A simpler and less expensive alternative to this opportunity charging is for the vehicle to make a conductive coupling with electric contacts on an overhead gantry at each bus stop.
Proposals have also been made to install a grid of inductive charging coils under the surface along the length of public roadways to allow vehicles to pick up charge as they drive along however no practical examples have yet been installed.
- Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
For details about the specialised, high power chargers used for EVs, see the section about Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure.
Charger Power Sources
When specifying a charger it is also necessary to specify the source from which the charger derives its power, its availability and its voltage and power range. Efficiency losses in the charger should also be taken into account, particularly for high power chargers where the magnitude of the losses can be significant. Some examples are given below.
Easy to accommodate and manage.
- AC Mains
Many portable low power chargers for small electrical appliances such as computers and mobile phones are required to operate in international markets. They therefore have auto sensing of the mains voltage and in special cases the mains frequency with automatic switching to the appropriate input circuit.
Higher power applications may need special arrangements. Single phase mains power is typically limited to about 3 KW. Three phase power may be required for charging high capacity batteries (over 20 KWh capacity) such as those used in electric vehicles which may require charging rates of greater than 3 KW to achieve reasonable charging times.
- Regulated DC Battery Supply
May be provided by special purpose installations such as mobile generating equipment for custom applications.
- Special Chargers
Portable sources such as solar panels.
Opportunity charging is charging the battery whenever power is available or between partial discharges rather than waiting for the battery to be completely discharged.
It is used with batteries in cycle service, and in applications when energy is available only intermittently.
It can be subject to wide variations in energy availability and wide variations in power levels. Special control electronics are needed to protect the battery from overvoltage. By avoiding complete discharge of the battery, cycle life can be increased.
Availability affects the battery specification as well as the charger.
Typical applications are:-
- Onboard vehicle chargers (Alternators, Regenerative braking)
- Inductive chargers (on vehicle route stopping points)
This is only applicable to specific cell chemistries. It is nor a charger technology in the normal sense of the word. Mechanical charging is used in some high power batteries such as Flow Batteries and Zinc Air batteries. Zinc air batteries are recharged by replacing the zinc electrodes. Flow batteries can be recharged by replacing the electrolyte.
Mechanical charging can be carried out in minutes. This is much quicker than the long charging time associated with the conventional reversible cell electrochemistry which could take several hours. Zinc air batteries have therefore been used to power electric buses to overcome the problem of excessive charging times.
The battery type and the application in which it is used set performance requirements which the charger must meet.
- Output Voltage Purity
The charger should deliver a clean regulated voltage output with tight limits on spikes, ripple, noise and radio frequency interference (RFI) all of which could cause problems for the battery or the circuits in which it is used.
For high power applications, the charging performance may be limited by the design of the charger.
When charging high power batteries, the energy loss in the charger can add significantly to the charging times and to the operating costs of the application. Typical charger efficiencies are around 90%, hence the need for efficient designs.
- Inrush Current
When a charger is initially switched on to an empty battery the inrush current could be considerably higher than the maximum specified charging current. The charger must therefore be dimensioned either to deliver or limit this current pulse.
- Power Factor
This could also be an important consideration for high power chargers.
See also "Charger Checklist"