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6, JUNE 2009 2115

Self-Equalization of Cell Voltages to Prolong the

Life of VRLA Batteries in Standby Applications
William Gerard Hurley, Fellow, IEEE, Yuk Sum Wong, Member, IEEE, and Werner Hugo Wölfle

Abstract—The valve-regulated lead-acid battery has been the age is typically 24–48 V in emergency lighting and telecoms
work horse of standby applications for several decades. Float applications; in wind farms, the voltage is typically 288 V,
charging is normally implemented in these systems. However, float which means that there are more cells in series, and this makes
charging tends to overcharge the battery, causing water loss and
grid corrosion which shorten the service life of the battery. This a compelling case for equalization of cell voltages.
limitation may be avoided by using cell voltage equalization and Float charging tends to overcharge the battery at the end
temperature-compensated interrupted charge control (TCICC). of the charging process. The capacitances of the cells are not
Cell voltage equalization reduces the voltage distribution range matched, and therefore, the cell voltages are not distributed
over many cells, which, in turn, means that there are fewer cells equally, which means that some cells are overcharged while
with either overvoltage or undervoltage, both of which shorten the
life of the battery. TCICC can increase the service life of the bat- others are undercharged. Overvoltage in a cell causes hydro-
tery by avoiding overvoltage. Experimental evidence is presented gen evolution and water loss at the negative electrode of the
to validate the new approach by comparing float charging and cell; grid corrosion occurs at the positive electrode [8], [9].
TCICC in terms of battery voltage equalization and temperature Undercharging causes sulphation [10], which reduces the active
response. area of the plates and can even cause plate buckling. All of
Index Terms—Batteries, charge equalization, emergency power these effects shorten the service life of the battery [11]–[14].
supplies, float charging, temperature compensation. Equalization circuits exist to deal with this situation [15], [16],
but of course, more circuitry means reduced reliability. The
I. I NTRODUCTION higher voltages encountered in wind farms give a proportion-
ally greater exposure to the detrimental effects of a lack of

T HE battery is a critical component in standby applica-

tions from telecom systems to emergency lighting to
wind farms. Offshore and remote wind farms require standby
equalization and lower reliability when equalization circuits are
The TCICC regime avoids overvoltages and gives an im-
batteries for blade pitch control in the event of power loss proved distribution of cell voltages. Experimental results are
in extreme high wind conditions. Increased service life in provided for both float charging and TCICC for comparison
the batteries improves reliability and reduces maintenance purposes. Field tests on the batteries used in a North Sea wind
costs. Typically, a standby system has valve-regulated lead- farm are provided to validate the improved performance of the
acid (VRLA) batteries with float charging. Overcharging is a TCICC regime.
salient feature of float charging that causes water loss and grid
corrosion in the battery, and this shortens the service life of the
Temperature-compensated interrupted charge control The interrupted charge control (ICC) regime is described in
(TCICC) [1]–[4] prolongs the service life of the battery by detail in [1], and the temperature compensation is described in
avoiding overcharging [5]–[7]. The Arrhenius equation predicts [3]. The ICC regime and temperature compensation are sum-
that reaction rate in the electrolyte doubles for every 10 ◦ C in- marized here for completeness. Fig. 1 shows the four operating
crease in temperature. The raised temperature increases the modes of the ICC regime. In Mode 1, the battery is charged with
rates of positive grid corrosion and water loss. The standby volt- a constant charging current of 0.1Crated , where Crated is the
rated battery capacity in ampere–hour. At the end of Mode 1,
Manuscript received October 1, 2008; revised December 18, 2008. First the state of charge (SoC) of the battery is typically over 85%
published March 16, 2009; current version published June 3, 2009. This work
was supported in part by Enterprise Ireland and in part by Convertec Ltd.
[17], [18]. Mode 2 is triggered when the battery voltage reaches
through the Innovation Partnership Programme under Project IP20060417. the upper threshold voltage (Vut ). The battery is in open
W. G. Hurley is with the Power Electronics Research Centre, Department circuit, and the voltage falls, leading to a reduction in internal
of Electronic Engineering, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
resistance. Mode 3 is triggered when the open-circuit voltage
Y. S. Wong was with the Power Electronics Research Centre, National drops below the lower threshold voltage (Vlt ). There are two
University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland. He is now with the Energy Studies states in Mode 3, namely, pulse current charging state and the
Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117576 (e-mail: rest state. The battery is pulse charged with a peak current of
W. H. Wölfle is with Convertec Ltd., Wexford, Ireland (e-mail: wwolfle@ 0.05Crated , in the pulse current changing state and left in open circuit in the rest state. The period of the states is 30 s, and the
Color versions of one or more of the figures in this paper are available online
at duty cycle of the pulse current charging state is 33.3% at 25 ◦ C.
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/TIE.2009.2017094 Mode 4 is triggered when the battery voltage again reaches

0278-0046/$25.00 © 2009 IEEE


Fig. 2. Voltage responses of a VRLA battery to a current pulse.

Fig. 1. Operating modes of the ICC regime.

Vut . The battery is expected to be fully charged at the start of

Mode 4. The battery is in open circuit and in self-discharge in
Mode 4. Mode 1 restarts the cycle when the voltage drops to
Vr , when the SoC is 97%.
There are many secondary reactions taking place in the
battery. For example, oxygen evolution at the positive terminal
is reduced at the negative terminal, thus establishing an internal
oxygen cycle. The acceleration factor (Fa ) due to a rise in
temperature is given by the Arrhenius equation

Fa = 210(V −2.27) 2(T −25)/10 (1)

where V is the cell voltage (in volts) and T is the temperature

(in degree Celsius).
The temperature aging factor (Fta ) is

Fta = Fa−1 (2)

and the effective life of the battery (Le ) is

Le = Lp Fta (3)

where Lp is the projected service life of the battery. Fig. 3. Temperature compensation algorithm for ICC regime.
This shows that for every 10 ◦ C rise in battery ambient
temperature, the expected life is reduced by 50%. Conversely,
properly chosen temperature compensation can greatly improve
service life.
Temperature compensation in float charging of VRLA batter-
ies normally involves adjusting the float voltage [19]–[23]. The
float voltage would decrease linearly from a maximum value
at the minimum operating temperature to a minimum value at
the maximum expected operating temperature. Self-discharge is
mitigated at low temperature, and thermal runaway is prevented
at high temperature. Typical values might be 2.37 V at 10 ◦ C
and 2.15 V at 50 ◦ C. This simple approach will not suffice for
the ICC regime.
The ICC regime must maintain the battery in a high SoC
state in Mode 4. Mode 4 is triggered when the battery voltage
reaches Vut . Fig. 2 shows the voltage response of a 12-V 16-Ah
VRLA battery to a 0.05Crated current pulse at different tem- Fig. 4. Laboratory setup of the battery test system.
peratures, when the battery is at 99.5% SoC. There is a fivefold
increase in battery voltage when the temperature drops from Vut too early when the temperature is low, resulting in an
45 ◦ C to 15 ◦ C. Evidently, the trigger for Mode 4 is strongly undercharged battery. We can compensate for this by reducing
influenced by temperature, i.e., the battery voltage will reach the duty cycle of the pulse current charging state in Mode 3

Fig. 5. Block diagram of a TCICC regime battery charger.

at low temperature. To prevent overcharging, we need to reduce

the threshold voltage at high temperature. The overall temper-
ature compensation scheme in the TCICC regime is shown in
Fig. 3 where Trated is the rated temperature of the battery. The
duty cycle and threshold voltage are controlled at temperature
T as follows:

Dmin +(0.333−Dmin )(T −5)/20, T ≤ Trated
D(T ) = (4)
Drated , T > Trated
Vut , T ≤ Trated
Vut (T ) = (5)
−Ncell (Vtcpc )(T −Trated ), T > Trated
where T is the ambient temperature of the battery, Drated is
the rated duty cycle (0.33), and Ncell is the number of cells.
Vtcpc is the temperature compensation factor in volts per cell
(0.004 V). The minimum duty cycle Dmin is determined by the Fig. 6. Battery compartment in the wind turbine.
minimum average charging current in Mode 3 (typically 0.167).
Above rated temperature, the duty cycle is constant to shorten Tests were carried out at different temperatures to estab-
the charge time and to prevent thermal runaway. lish the improved temperature compensation provided by the
A number of experiments were carried out in the laboratory TCICC regime. Tests were carried out on equalization voltages
and in the field to establish the self-equalizing effect of the to show that the TCICC regimes provided a more equal distri-
TCICC regime, and these will be described in the next section. bution of cell voltages. Fig. 6 shows the battery compartment
in the wind turbine and the battery that was tested. The hub of
the 5-MW wind turbine that contains the battery pack is shown
in Fig. 7.
The TCICC regime was compared to the float-charging The temperature tests were carried out on a 16-Ah 12-V
regime in the laboratory prior to field testing. The laboratory battery, model no. G12V16CP, at 15 ◦ C, 20 ◦ C, 25 ◦ C, 30 ◦ C,
setup is shown in Fig. 4 [3], the main components being a 35 ◦ C, 40 ◦ C, and 45 ◦ C. The test parameters for the TCICC
data acquisition system, electronic power supplies and loads, regime and the float-charge regime are shown in Table I. The
and a temperature-controlled oven, all controlled in a Lab- battery was charged for 7 h and 45 min followed by discharge
VIEW environment to facilitate data acquisition. Fig. 5 shows at 0.5Crated for 15 min. The charge performance at 15 ◦ C is
a block diagram of the implementation of the TCICC charger shown in Fig. 8, and the charge performance at 35 ◦ C is shown
[3]. It essentially consists of a flyback dc–dc converter with in Fig. 9. For the float-charge regime, the float-charge voltage
current-mode control. The microcontroller is programmed to is 0.48 V lower at 35 ◦ C. On the other hand, the corresponding
implement the TCICC regime; a PWM regulator controls the voltage difference between 15 ◦ C and 35 ◦ C is halved in the
duty cycle of the MOSFET switch in the converter through an TCICC regime. In the case of the float-charge regime, the final
optocoupler. voltage is much higher in the upper temperature range, which

Fig. 7. Wind turbine of 5 MW. Fig. 9. Charge performance at 35 ◦ C.


Fig. 10. Voltage distribution for battery modules for full charging cycle.

was checked over 24 12-V battery modules at the end of the

charging. The batteries were initially discharged at 50 A, typical
of load conditions in the field, followed by charging. The tests
were carried out at 25 ◦ C. Fig. 10 shows the voltage distribution
on the 12-V battery modules for float charging; the voltage
range is 13.75 V ± 0.357 V at 25 ◦ C. The corresponding range
for the TCICC regime is 12.8 V ± 0.117 V. Clearly, the smaller
range means that there is more equalization and a proportionate
improvement in the service life of the battery.
The improvement in the voltage distribution of the TCICC
regime is attributed to the higher voltages at the end of Mode 3
(typically, Vut = 14.7 V per battery module compared to the
charging voltage of 13.75 V for float charging). When the
battery cells are in series, the same amount of electrical charge
Fig. 8. Charge performance at 15 ◦ C. passes though the cells. When the charge passes though the
cells, the fully charged cells undergo secondary reactions only.
gives rise to the increased reaction rates of the overvoltage They do not undergo primary reactions to absorb the energy. On
effects. The influence of overvoltage on service life has been the other hand, the undercharged cells undergo both secondary
described in Section I. The consistency of the voltages and reactions and primary reactions, which absorb the charging
its proximity to the ideal voltage in the TCICC regime mean energy such that the SoC and battery voltages can increase. The
that there will be very little effects arising from elevated pulse current charging state in Mode 3 uses a large current pulse
temperature. to force the cells to undergo primary reactions to equalize the
The effects of equalization were tested on a field battery rated cell voltages. The rest states in Mode 3 and Mode 2 release the
at 288 V. The battery was tested for five cycles with TCICC overpotential that built up during Mode 1 and Mode 3.
charging followed by five cycles with float charging and then Fig. 11 shows the initial discharge at 50 A. The average
five cycles with TCICC charging. The distribution of voltage voltages after the initial charge are 330 V (13.75 V × 24)

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The authors would like to thank the engineers at Convertec
Ltd., particularly E. Hinterleitner and T. Whelan.
William Gerard Hurley (M’77–SM’90–F’07) was
born in Cork, Ireland. He received the B.E. de-
R EFERENCES gree (with first-class honors) in electrical engineer-
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[3] Y. S. Wong, W. G. Hurley, and H. Wölfle, “Temperature compensation He was with Honeywell Controls in Canada as
algorithm for interrupted charge control regime for a VRLA battery in a Product Engineer from 1977 to 1979. He was a
standby applications,” in Proc. 23rd IEEE APEC, Austin, TX, 2008, Development Engineer in transmission lines with Ontario Hydro from 1979
pp. 1278–1283. to 1983. He lectured in electronic engineering at the University of Limerick,
[4] L.-R. Chen, “Design of duty-varied voltage pulse charger for improving Limerick, Ireland, from 1983 to 1991. He is currently a Professor of electrical
Li-ion battery-charging response,” IEEE Trans. Ind. Electron., vol. 56, engineering with the National University of Ireland, Galway, where he is the
no. 2, pp. 480–487, Feb. 2009. Director of the Power Electronics Research Centre. He was a Visiting Profes-
[5] K. Kutluay, Y. Cadirci, Y. S. Ozkazanc, and I. Cadirci, “A new online state- sor of electrical engineering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
of-charge estimation and monitoring system for sealed lead-acid batteries Cambridge, from 1997 to 1998. His research interests include high-frequency
in telecommunication power supplies,” IEEE Trans. Ind. Electron., vol. 2, magnetics, power quality, and renewable energy systems.
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case for stopping float charging,” in Proc. IEEE INTELEC, 1999, pp. 1–8. Committee of the IEEE Power Electronics Society and was General Chair of
[7] J. Disosway, “Comparison of service test results with analytical predic- the IEEE Power Electronics Specialists Conference in 2000. He received a
tions for a lead acid battery,” IEEE Trans. Energy Convers., vol. 7, no. 3, Best Paper Prize from the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER ELECTRONICS
pp. 391–395, Sep. 1992. in 2000.

Yuk Sum Wong (M’04) received the B.Eng., Werner Hugo Wölfle was born in Bad Schussen-
M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical and elec- ried, Germany. He received the Diplom-Ingenieur
tronic engineering from the University of Hong degree in electronics from the University of Stuttgart,
Kong, Hong Kong, in 1997, 2000, and 2008, Stuttgart, Germany, in 1981, and the Ph.D. degree in
respectively. electrical engineering from the National University
He was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with of Ireland, Galway, Ireland, in 2003.
the Power Electronics Research Centre, National From 1982 to 1985, he was a Development Engi-
University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland, from 2007 neer for power converters in space craft applications
to 2008. He is currently a Research Fellow with with Dornier Systems GmbH, where he was a Re-
the Energy Studies Institute, National University of search and Development Manager for industrial ac
Singapore, Singapore. His research interests include and dc power from 1986 to 1988. Since 1989, he has
system optimizations of hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and opti- been a Managing Director of Convertec Ltd., Wexford, Ireland, a company
mizations of charge regimes for batteries in cyclic and standby applications. that develops high-reliability power converters for industrial applications. He
is an Adjunct Professor of electrical engineering at the National University of
Ireland, Galway.