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The Art of Battery Charging

Richard C. CopeaandYury Podrazhanskyb

"Advanced Charger Technology, 680 Engineering Drive, Suite 180, Norcross, GA 30092, rcc@actcharge.com bAdvanced Charger Technology, 680 Engineering Drive, Suite 180, Norcross, GA 30092, ymp@actcharge.com
ABSTRACT The demand for portable products is showing exponential growth with no end in immediate sight. Along with the overall growth in volume has come increased demand for greater features and functions. This combination has brought the issue of power management to the forefront of engineering design considerations. The overall success of a portable product will not only be dictated by its features and functions, it will also be influenced by how long it can perform before running out of power, the time it takes to return the batteries to full capacity and the life expectancy of the battery. Sound engineering design begins with a good working knowledge of batteries and battery charging techniques.
Rechargeable Battery Basics The lead acid battery was the first on the scene in the mid-1800's. It was almost a century before Nickel Cadmium batteries followed. These two battery types still dominate the rechargeable battery market today. Recently, new chemistries have been developed for commercial use which are making significant headway into the marketplace. At the vanguard of these new chemistries is Nickel Metal Hydride, Lithium Ion, Rechargeable Alkaline Manganese and Zinc Air. All of these commercial battery types operate on the same basic type of electrochemical process. As a battery is discharged, its internal electrochemical process results in the transfer of ions from one electrode to the other through the electrolyte. When the battery is charged, the process is reversed and the ions travel in the opposite direction. During this electrochemical process, each electrode goes through a chemical reaction which generates these ions at one electrode and consumes the ions at the opposite electrode. How well this process is carried out has a significant impact on the overall performance of the battery. A battery consists of two electrodes, a negative anode and a positive cathode, with a porous separator in between. If the electrodes come into contact with one another, the battery would be shorted and of no use. The electrodes and separator are placed in an electrolyte solution which has an initial concentration of ions to support the chemical reaction and provides a medium for subsequent ion transport. The rate and uniformity by which the ions move from one electrode to the other significantly impacts the performance of the battery. The chemical reaction rate at the electrode which consumes ions is limited by the concentration of the ions at its surface. This concentration is related to how well the ions are able to move through the electrolyte and separator. If the ion concentration across the surface of an electrode is uneven, the chemical reaction rate will not be uniform, leading to the development of dendrites-outgrowths of material from the electrode. If not addressed dendrites can eventually

grow through the separator and cause the two electrodes to come into contact and short out the battery. Another factor in the performance of a battery is centered around the metallic structure of it's electrodes. A finer grain structure reduces internal resistance and increases surface area. Under extended low current conditions, the slower chemical reactions rates can lead to the development of relatively larger metallic crystals. These larger metallic crystals reduce the surface area, causing a potential drop in overall battery capacity and an increase in internal resistance. The increase in internal resistance will result in a lower battery voltage for a given discharge current. To maximize the performance of a rechargeable battery, the charging regime should work with the electrochemical process to ensure a high uniform ion concentration at the electrode which is consuming ions. In addition to these issues with the basic electrochemical process, Nickel Cadmium has a characteristic which manifests itself as a voltage depression, often referred to as memory effect. Memory effect occurs when portions of the nickel electrode are left in a charged state for long periods of times. The charged portion of the nickel electrode will change it's metallic structure over time into one which requires the cell voltage to be dropped below normal for it to return to it's normal electrode configuration. Most electronic equipment will stop operating before the battery can reach a low enough per-cell voltage to recover the voltage depression. In other words, the capacity lost to voltage depression in normal operations may not be recovered without performing special procedures.
Conventional Charging There are several techniques used in the conventional approach to charging a battery. The first and the most common in consumer products is the constant current trickle charge. These chargers provide a very low, constant current rate to the battery and rely on user intervention to stop the charge when the battery has returned to

0-7803-4967-9/99/$10.00

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full capacity. These slow, overnight chargers are generally designed to fully charge a battery in approximately ten hours. They are very economical and simple to design but do nothing to optimize the performance of the battery. Their low charge rate allows the chemical reactions to be localized on the electrode surface leading to potential dendrite growth. Their dependence on the user to manage the charging process makes the battery susceptible to overcharging and, in the case of Nickel Cadmium, voltage depression. The next step up in technology is to increase the constant charging current to achieve faster charge times. The increased charge current requires the addition of rudimentary charge control circuitry which will determine when the battery is fully charged and terminate charging. The advantage of this method is that an equivalent charge is achieved in only two to three hours. However, this approach also ignores the electrochemical process within the battery, resulting in significant long-term negative effects. The high constant current will cause significant deviation in ion concentrations between the electrodes. Charging at a high constant current rate can overdrive the chemical reactions with regard to the supporting ion concentration available at the electrodes. This results in the generation of heat, along with dendrites and poor electrode crystalline formation. All these factors lead to reduced capacity and shortened cycle life of the battery. A deviation on the constant current charge approach is the constant current/constant voltage charge profile. Under this arrangement, a constant current is applied until battery voltage rises to a predetermined value, at which point the charging voltage is held constant and the current is reduced. When current has reached a minimum value, the charging stops. This approach drops current in the final phase of charging when less electrode surface is available to react and the overall concentration of ions may be lower. This approach suffers from all the same problems to a slightly lesser degree as the constant charge regime. The direct result of these lower-cost, simply designed conventional battery. chargers is a potential reduction of battery capacity and a shorter life span.
Pulse Charging In spite of these deficiencies, technological improvement of battery charging has been slow to emerge. Research into more effective means for charging batteries has been in progress since the early 1900s, much of it driven by the military and space agencies until recently. In the 1970s, pulse charging arrived on the commercial scene. This approach to charging was the first to increase the efficiency of the charging process by addressing the chemical processes occurring in the battery. The technique relies on providing a pulse current to the battery for

up to one sec followed by a rest period of no charge lasting for milliseconds. As in the constant current charge method, ions are generated at one electrode during the charging period and must move to the other electrode. If the constant current is applied for a significant period of time, an ion concentration gradient builds up due to mass transport limitations within the battery. This leads to poor charge efficiency which results in heat generation, poorer battery capacity and shorter life span. Periodically interrupting the charge allows the ions to diffuse and distribute more evenly throughout the battery. By allowing the ion concentration to return to normal levels on a routine basis, the negative effects seen with a constant current charge are minimized. In the late 1970s, a variation was added to the pulse charging regime. This involves adding a discharge pulse into the rest period. Following the pulse charge period there is a short rest period followed by a very short duration discharge pulse, approximately 2.5 times the magnitude of the charge pulse. This is followed by another rest period and the process is repeated. The addition of the single negative discharge pulse accelerates the balancing of the ion concentration and addresses some of the negative effects caused by peripheral chemical reactions. The increased speed at which the battery returns to balanced conditions allows ever greater charge efficiency and improved battery performance. Since the advent of pulse charging, little research work within the commercial community was focused on improving charging methods until the late 1980s. Much of the research work has been focused on determining when a battery is fully charged and on addressing new chemistries.
State-of-the-Art

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, research into improving the charging method for all battery chemistries was picked up once again by a Russian immigrant to the US named Yury Podrazhansky. Currently, Podrazhansky is the VP of Research at Advanced Charger Technology, Inc (ACT), where his innovative research has resulted in ground-breaking product design. Podrazhansky began working with pulse charging with a single negative pulse, and has significantly advanced the technology from there. The limitation with the single negative pulse is that if it is applied for too long of a duration, negative effects can occur in the reverse direction. These include excessive discharge of the battery, which extends the charge time and causes ion transport problems in the discharge direction. Through research and analysis Podrazhansky found that applying multiple, short duration negative pulses with a much greater magnitude circumvents the potential negative effects of an extended single pulse and brings significant benefits to all battery chem-

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istry types. The larger magnitude discharge pulses are inherently focused in the area of dendrites serving to remove them; the momentary high currents rapidly balance the ion concentration and improve the metallic crystalline structure of the electrodes. The improved balancing of ion concentration leads to a highly efficient charge process which supports a much higher charge current. This high charge current yields the shortest charge times possible. In addition, an added benefit is found with Nickel Cadmium batteries. The multiple, short high magnitude discharge pulses momentarily pull the battery voltage down to below 0.8 volts per cell resulting in the reversal of the effects of voltage depression. Through this method, Nickel Cadmium batteries are conditioned as they are charged, eliminating the need to discharge the battery before recharging. This advancement in battery charging technology provides an elegant solution with many benefits. The research and development work at ACT has raised the level of battery charging technology to one which

monitors and responds dynamically to the electrochemical state of the battery. The Dynamic Electrochemical Waveform technology has taken the work of pulse charging and moved it to a new level. Following these advancements in the method for battery charging, ACT focused on methods to accurately monitor the electrochemical state of the battery and dynamically adjust the charging waveform to obtain an even greater charge efficiency. As a result of this research, three patents have been issued, four more are pending, and new products have been brought to market which will redefine battery recharging for all chemistry types. Future work at ACT is focused on adding automatic battery chemistry recognition, automatic battery capacity determination, methods to improve ion mass transport, addressing new battery chemistries as they enter the market and continually looking for new and innovative ways to move the stateof-the-art of battery charging ahead. ACT as a company is committed to being the leader in the advancement of battery charging technology.

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