Monday, July 9, 2012

Validating Battery Capacity for End-use Conditions

In my previous posting “Some Basics on Battery Ratings and Their Validation” I discussed the importance of making certain you are getting the most out of your battery as a key task for optimizing the battery run-time of a mobile battery powered device. You do not want to just rely on what is specified for the battery but you really need to validate it. Indeed, when I did, I found a battery’s capacity to be 12% lower than its rated value. That is a lot of unexpected loss of run-time to try to make up for! On further testing and investigation I indeed confirmed it was the battery and not something I did with inadequate charging or discharging.

Once you get a handle on the battery’s stated ratings, based on recommended charging and discharging conditions, you should then validate the capacity you are able to get under the loading conditions your device subjects the battery to. Most modern mobile battery powered devices draw high peak pulsed, low average current from the battery. Batteries subject to pulsed loading deliver less capacity in comparison to being subjected to the comparable loading that is only DC.  The amount of impact depends on the battery’s design and its ability to handle high peak pulsed loading. Furthermore two different batteries with the same ratings can deliver substantially different results in the end-use application. The bottom line is you need to validate the battery under end-use conditions to assess how much impact it has on the battery’s performance.

Creating end-use operating conditions for devices of course depends on the type of device. In some cases it may be fairly simple but in many cases it can be rather complex. A smart mobile phone, for example, requires a set up that can emulate the wireless network it normally operates in and then place it in a representative active operating state under which to run down the battery. The battery’s run down voltage and current in turn needs to be logged until the battery reaches its proper discharge termination point, in order to assess the amount of capacity it delivers under end-use conditions. An example of such a set up is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: End-use battery run down test set up for a mobile phone

As you are trying to assess battery capacity under end-use conditions you will likely want to run trials several times and for different batteries, you will want to control conditions as closely as possible so that you can confidently compare results knowing they were done under comparable test conditions. You also need to be careful about (not) relying on the mobile device’s internal battery management system for end-of-life discharge termination as it is a possible source of error. A technique I resorted to was to record a representative portion of the end-use pulsed current drain drawn by the mobile phone which I then “played back” continuously through our N6781A SMU, acting as an electronic load, to discharge the battery. The N6781A had the required fidelity, accuracy, and “playback” hooks to faithfully reproduce loading of the actual device.  Further details on this record and playback approach are documented in a technical overview “Simplify Validating a Battery’s Capacity and Energy for End-Use Loading Conditions”. The results of my validating the battery’s capacity under end-use conditions are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: End-use battery capacity validation results

In this case the battery delivered 3% less capacity under end-use pulsed loading in comparison to the results when validated using comparable DC-only loading. Here the battery appears well suited for its end-use application. Many times however, the impact can be much greater. As always, make certain to take appropriate safety precautions when working with batteries and cells.

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