Thursday, June 28, 2012

Some Basics on Battery Ratings and Their Validation

A key aspect of optimizing battery run-time on battery powered mobile devices is measuring and analyzing their current drain to gain greater insight on how the device is making use of its battery power and then how to make better use of it. I went into a bit of detail on this in a previous posting, “Using Current Drain Measurements to Optimize Battery Run-time of Mobile Devices”.

A second aspect of optimizing battery run-time is making certain you are making optimum use of the battery powering the device. This starts with understanding and validating the battery’s stated capacity and energy ratings. Simply assuming the battery meets or exceeds its stated ratings without validating them is bound to leave you coming up shorter than expected on run-time.  It is critical that you validate them per the manufacturer’s recommended conditions. This serves as a starting point of finding out what you can ultimately expect from the battery you intend to use in your device. More than likely constraints imposed by the nature of your device and its operating conditions and requirements will further reduce the amount of capacity you can expect from the battery in actual use.

A battery’s capacity rating is the total amount of charge the battery can deliver. It is product of the current it can deliver over time, stated as ampere-hours (Ah) or miiliampere-hours (mAh). Alternately the charge rating is also stated as coulombs (C), where:
·         1 coulomb (C)= 1 ampere-sec
·         1 ampere-hour (Ah)= 3,600 coulombs

A battery’s energy rating is the total amount of energy the battery can deliver. It is the product of the power it can deliver over time, stated as watt-hours (Wh) or milliwatt-hours (mWh). It is also the product of the battery’s capacity (Ah) and voltage (V). Alternately the energy rating is also stated as joules (J) where:
·         1 joule (J)= 1 watt-second
·         1 watt-hour (Wh) = 3,600 joules

One more fundamental parameter relating to a battery’s capacity and energy ratings is the C rate or charge (or discharge) rate. This is the ratio of the level of current being furnished (or drawn from, when discharging) the battery, to the battery’s capacity, where:
·         C rate (C) = current (A) / (capacity (Ah)
·         C rate (C) = 1 / charge or discharge time

It is interesting to note while “C” is used to designate units of C rate, the units are actually 1/h or h-1. The type of battery and its design has a large impact on the battery’s C rate. Batteries for power tools have a high C rate capability of 10C or greater, for example, as they need to deliver high levels of power over short periods of time. More often however is that many batteries used in portable wireless mobile devices need to run for considerably longer and they utilize batteries having relatively low C rates. A battery’s capacity is validated with a C rate considerably lower than it is capable of as when the C rate is increased the capacity drops due to losses within the battery itself.

Validating a battery’s capacity and energy ratings requires logging the battery’s voltage and current over an extended period of time, most often with a regulated constant current load. An example of this for a lithium ion cell is shown in Figure 1 below. Capacity was found to be 12% lower than its rating.

Figure 1: Measuring a battery’s capacity and energy

Additional details on this can be found in a technical overview I wrote, titled “Simply Validating a Battery’s Capacity and Energy Ratings”. As always, proper safety precautions always be observed when working with batteries and cells. Validating the battery’s stated capacity and energy ratings is the first step. As the battery is impacted by the device it is powering, it must then be validated under its end-use conditions as well. Stay tuned!

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