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Home  >  Articles  >  LiFePO4 battery

Discharging at high and low temperature (A)

Discharging at high and low temperature

Batteries function best at room temperature. Operating batteries at an elevated temperature dramatically shortens their life. Although a lead-acid battery may deliver the highest capacity at temperatures above 30°C (86°F), prolonged use under such conditions decreases the life of the battery. Similarly, a lithium-ion performs better at high temperatures. Elevated temperatures temporarily counteract the battery's internal resistance, which may have advanced as a result of aging. The energy gain is short-lived because elevated temperature promotes aging by further increasing the internal resistance.

There is one exception to running a battery at high temperature - it is the lithium-polymer with dry solid polymer electrolyte, the true 'plastic battery'. While the commercial lithium-ion polymer uses some moist electrolyte to enhance conductivity, the dry solid polymer version depends on heat to enable sufficient ion flow. This requires that the battery core be kept at an operation temperature of 60°C to 100°C (140°F to 212°F).

The dry solid polymer battery has found a niche market as backup power in warm climates. The battery is kept at the operating temperature with built-in heating elements that is fed by the utility grid during normal operation. On a power outage, the battery would need to provide its own power to maintain the temperature. Although said to be long lasting, price is an obstacle.

Nickel-metal-hydride degrades rapidly if cycled at higher ambient temperatures. For example, if operated at 30°C (86°F), the cycle life is reduced by 20%. At 40°C (104°F), the loss jumps to a whopping 40%. If charged and discharged at 45°C (113°F), the cycle life is only half of what can be expected if used at moderate room temperature. The nickel-cadmium is also affected by high temperature operation, but to a lesser degree.

At low temperatures, the performance of all battery chemistries drops drastically. While -20°C (-4°F) is threshold at which the nickel-metal-hydride, sealed lead-acid and lithium-ion battery cease to function, the nickel-cadmium can go down to -40°C (-40°F). At that frigid temperature, the nickel-cadmium is limited to a discharge rate of 0.2C (5 hour rate). There are new types of Li?ion batteries that are said to operate down to -40°C.

It is important to remember that although a battery may be capable of operating at cold temperatures, this does not automatically allow charging under those conditions. The charge acceptance for most batteries at very low temperatures is extremely confined. Most batteries need to be brought up to temperatures above the freezing point for charging. Nickel-cadmium can be recharged at below freezing provided the charge rate is reduced to 0.1C.

Lithium-ion works within the discharge temperature limits of -20°C to 60°C (-4°F to 140°F). The performance is temperature based, meaning that the rate capability at or below -20°C is reduced due to the increased impedance of the electrolyte. Discharging at low temperatures does not harm the battery. Lithium-ion may be used down to -30°C (-22°F) with acceptable results. Larger packs will be necessary to compensate for the reduced capacity at these temperatures.

It is not recommended to discharge lithium-ion at temperatures above 60°C. A high discharge rates combined with elevated temperatures can cause self-heating, an effect that could permanently damage the separator and electrodes of the cells.

Pulse discharge

Battery chemistries react differently to specific loading requirements. Discharge loads range from a low and steady current used in a flashlight, to sharp current pulses for digital communications equipment, to intermittent high current bursts in a power tool and to a prolonged high current load for an electric vehicle traveling at highway speed. Because batteries are chemical devices that must convert higher-level active materials into an alternate state during discharge, the speed of such transaction determines the load characteristics of a battery. Also referred to as concentration polarization, the nickel and lithium-based batteries are superior to lead-based batteries in reaction speed.

Although lithium-ion battery packs are equipped with a current limiter for safety reasons, the cell is capable of delivering high current pulses of one second and less in duration. On applications with high current spikes, a special protection circuit will be needed that allows high-current pulses but provides protection on a continuous overload condition.

A lithium-ion battery manufacturer claims that their cells perform better on a pulse rather than DC load. The DC resistance of their 18650 cylindrical cell is ~110 mOhm. At 1 KHz AC, the impedance goes down to ~36 mOhm. As the pulses increase in frequency, the cell's effective impedance goes down. This results in better performance and lower heat build-up. These two effects increase the life of the lithium-ion cell.

The internal resistance of the cobalt-based lithium-ion will increase with age and cause a problem when drawing heavy pulse currents. The manganese-based cell, on the other hand, will maintain the resistance at a low level throughout its service life.

The cobalt-based lithium-ion cell provides a higher energy density but manganese is better suited for pulse load applications.