Shipboard UPS Battery life discussion
Premium battery. Our standard battery is rated for 3-5 years with a normal temperature and cycling life.
Note: Powerstar offers multiple grades of Sealed Lead Acid batteries for our UPS units. You have a choice with Powerstar on any unit you buy of either our standard battery or our
Our Premium battery is rated for 8-10 years and can handle more temperature extremes. We usually will recommend our Premium battery on mission critical applications. The premium will age more slowly, giving you more runtime throughout its life. It also can be expected to give better performance both in cold and hot extremes. It is manufactured with thicker plates and more purification steps used in producing the materials inside. We designate our premium units with an H at the end of the part number.
Beware of low cost replacement batteries with an unknown source. A UPS is only as good as its battery. Using an extremely low cost battery usually will get you extremely poor performance and poor life.
Battery Life and Death
That batteries have a finite life is due to occurrence of the unwanted chemical or physical changes to, or the loss of, the active materials of which they are made. Otherwise they would last indefinitely. These changes are usually irreversible and they affect the electrical performance of the cell. Battery life can usually only be extended by preventing or reducing the cause of the unwanted parasitic chemical effects which occur in the cells. Some ways of improving battery life and hence reliability are considered below.
Battery cycle life
is defined as the number of cycles a battery can perform before its nominal capacity falls below 80% of its initial rated capacity. Lifetimes of 500 to 1200 cycles are typical. The actual ageing process results in a gradual reduction in capacity over time. When a cell reaches its specified lifetime it does not stop working suddenly. The ageing process continues at the same rate as before so that a cell whose capacity had fallen to 80% after 1000 cycles will probably continue working to perhaps 2000 cycles when its effective capacity will have fallen to 60% of its original capacity. There is therefore no need to fear a sudden death when a cell reaches the end of its specified life. See also Performance Characteristics.
Battery shelf life is the time an inactive battery can be stored before it becomes unusable, usually considered as having only 80% of its initial capacity as above. See also Battery Storage
Battery calendar life is the elapsed time before a battery becomes unusable whether it is in active use or inactive as above.
Chemical Changes Batteries are electrochemical devices which convert chemical energy into electrical energy or vice versa by means of controlled chemical reactions between a set of active chemicals. Unfortunately the desired chemical reactions on which the battery depends are usually accompanied by unwanted chemical reactions which consume some of the active chemicals or impede their reactions. Even if the cell's active chemicals remain unaffected over time, cells can fail because unwanted chemical or physical changes to the seals keeping the electrolyte in place. For product designers, an understanding of the factors affecting battery life is vitally important for managing both product performance and warranty liabilities particularly with high cost, high power batteries. Offer too low a warranty period and you won't sell any batteries/products. Overestimate the battery lifetime and you could lose a fortune.
Temperature effects Chemical reactions internal to the battery are driven either by voltage or temperature. The hotter the battery, the faster chemical reactions will occur. High temperatures can thus provide increased performance, but at the same time the rate of the unwanted chemical reactions will increase resulting in a corresponding loss of battery life. The shelf life and charge retention depend on the self discharge rate and self discharge is the result of an unwanted chemical reaction in the cell. Similarly adverse chemical reactions such as passivation of the electrodes, corrosion and gassing are common causes of reduced cycle life. Temperature therefore affects both the shelf life and the cycle life as well as charge retention since they are all due to chemical reactions. Even batteries which are specifically designed around high temperature chemical reactions, (such as Zebra batteries) are not immune to heat induced failures which are the result of parasitic reactions within the cells. The Arrhenius equation defines the relationship between temperature and the rate at which a chemical action proceeds. It shows that the rate increases exponentially as temperature rises. As a rule of thumb, for every 10 °C increase in temperature the reaction rate doubles. Thus, an hour at 35 °C is equivalent in battery life to two hours at 25 °C. Heat is the enemy of the battery and as Arrhenius shows, even small increases in temperature will have a major influence on battery performance affecting both the desired and undesired chemical reactions. As an example of the importance of storage temperature conditions - Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) chemistry in particular is very sensitive to high temperatures. Testing has shown that continuous exposure to 45°C will reduce the cycle life of a I-MH battery by 60 percent and as with all batteries, the self discharge rate doubles with each 10°C increase in temperature. Apart from the gradual deterioration of the cell over time, under conditions of abuse, temperature effects can lead to premature failure of the cell. This can happen even under normal operating conditions if the rate of heat generated in the battery exceeds the rate of heat loss to the environment. In this situation the battery temperature will continue to rise leading to a condition known as thermal runaway which ultimately results in disastrous consequences. The conclusion is that elevated temperatures during storage or use seriously affect the battery life. See further information in the Thermal Management section.
These problems relate to sealed cells only. Increased internal pressure within a cell is usually the consequence of increased temperature. Several factors can play a part in causing the temperature and pressure rise. Excessive currents or a high ambient temperature will cause the cell temperature to rise and the resulting expansion of the active chemicals will in turn cause the internal pressure in the cell to rise. Overcharging also causes a rise in temperature, but more seriously, overcharging can also cause the release of gases resulting in an even greater build up in the internal pressure. Unfortunately increased pressure tends to magnify the effects of high temperature by increasing the rate of the chemical actions in the cell, not just the desired galvanic reaction but also other factors such as the self discharge rate or in extreme cases contributing to thermal runaway. Excessive pressures can also cause mechanical failures within the cells such as short circuits between parts, interruptions in the current path, distortion or swelling of the cell case or in the worst case actual rupture of the cell casing. All of these factors tend to reduce the potential battery life. We should normally expect such problems to occur only in situations of abuse. However manufacturers have no control over how the user treats the cells once they have left the factory and for safety reasons, pressure release vents are built into the cells to provide a controlled release of pressure if there is the possibility that it could reach dangerous levels. See also Protection / Venting and Loss of Electrolyte
Depth Of Discharge The relation between the cycle life and the depth of discharge (DOD) is also logarithmic as shown in the graph below. In other words, the number of cycles yielded by a battery goes up exponentially the lower the DOD. This holds for most cell chemistries. There are important lessons here both for designers and users. By restricting the possible DOD in the application, the designer can dramatically improve the cycle life of the product. Similarly the user can get a much longer life out of the battery by using cells with a capacity slightly more than required or by topping the battery up before it becomes completely discharged. For cells used for “microcycle" applications (small current discharge and charging pulses) a cycle life of 300,000 to 500,000 cycles is common. Mobile phone users typically recharge their batteries when the DOD is only about 25 to 30 percent. At this low DOD a lithium-ion battery can be expected to achieve between 5 and 6 times the
Cycle Life Depth Of Discharge (DOD) % specified cycle life of the battery which assumes complete discharge every cycle. Thus the cycle life improves dramatically if the DOD is reduced. Nickel Cadmium batteries are somewhat of an exception to this. Subjecting the battery to only partial discharges gives rise to the so called memory effect (see below) which can only be reversed by deep discharging. Some applications such as electric vehicles or marine use may require the maximum capacity to be extracted from the battery which means discharging the battery to a very high DOD. Special "deep cycle" battery constructions must be used for such applications since deep discharging may damage general purpose batteries. In particular, typical automotive SLI batteries are only designed to work down to 50% DOD, whereas traction batteries may work down to 80% to 100% DOD.
Voltage effects Rechargeable batteries each have a characteristic working voltage range associated with the particular cell chemistry employed. The practical voltage limits are a consequence of the onset of undesirable chemical reactions which take place beyond the safe working range. Once all the active chemicals have been transformed into the composition associated with a fully charged cell, forcing more electrical energy into the cell will cause it to heat up and to initiate further unwanted reactions between the chemical components breaking them down into forms which can not be recombined. Thus attempting to charge a cell above its upper voltage limit can produce irreversible chemical reactions which can damage the cell. The increase in temperature and pressure which accompanies these events if uncontrolled could lead to rupture or explosion of the cell and the release of dangerous chemicals or fire. Similarly, discharging a cell below its recommended lower voltage limit can also result in permanent, though less dangerous, damage due to adverse chemical reactions between the active chemicals. Protection circuits are designed to keep the cell well within its recommended working range with limits set to include a safety margin. This is discussed in more detail in the section on Protection. Cycle life estimations normally assume that the cells will only be used within their specified operating limits, however this is not always the case in practice and while straying over the limits for short periods or by a minor margin will not generally cause the immediate destruction of the cell, its cycle life will most likely be affected. For example continuously over-discharging NiMH cells by 0.2 V can result in a 40 percent loss of cycle life; and 0.3 V over-discharge of lithium-ion chemistry can result in 66 percent loss of capacity. Testing has shown that overcharging lithium cells by 0.1 V or 0.25 volts will not result in safety issues but can reduce cycle life by up to 80 percent. Charge and discharge control are essential for preserving the life of the battery.
Cell Ageing Charge conditioning or Formation Cell formation is the process of transforming the active materials of a new cell into their usable form. The initial crystal structure of the electrolyte or the electrodes is determined by the manufacturing process by which these components were made and the process of coating the electrodes. This may not be the optimum structure for minimizing the internal impedance of the cell and it may not give optimum contact between the electrolyte and the electrodes. The passage of current through the cell and the heating and cooling the cell is subjected to will cause small changes in the microstructure or morphology of the active chemicals. Formation is essentially the first charge carried out at the cell manufacturer's plant under very carefully controlled conditions of current, temperature and duration to create the desired microstructure of the components and the contact between them. With some chemical formulations it may take ten charge-discharge cycles or more before the battery is able to deliver its full power or capacity.
Growing old Once in use however the usage profile of the cell is determined by the user. During the lifetime of the cell, even if there is no undesirable change in the chemical composition of the materials, the morphology of the active components will continue to change, usually for the worse. The result is that the performance of the cell gradually deteriorates until eventually the cell becomes unserviceable. As the cell ages, both the chemical composition and the crystalline structure of the materials changes, larger crystals tend to form and metallic dendrites may be formed on the electrodes. There are several consequences of these changes:- As the smaller crystals created during formation of the cell grow to a larger size the internal impedance of the cell increases and the cell capacity is reduced. The crystal and dendritic growth cause a swelling of the electrodes which in turn exerts pressure on the electrolyte and the separator. As the electrodes press closer to each other the self discharge of the cell tends to increase. In extreme cases, the separator may be penetrated by dendritic or crystal growth resulting in even higher self discharge or a short circuit. Once a battery exhibits high self discharge, no remedy is available to reverse its effect.
Memory Effect The so called "Memory Effect" is another manifestation of the changing morphology of the cell components with age. It appears that Nicad cells could "remember" how much discharge was required on previous discharges and would only accept that amount of charge in subsequent charges. Nickel metal hydride cells suffer from the same problem but to a lesser extent. What happens in fact is that repeated shallow charges cause the crystalline structure of the electrodes to change as noted above and this causes the internal impedance of the cell to increase and its capacity to be reduced. Long slow charges such as trickle charging tend to promote this undesirable crystal growth, as does high temperatures and so should be avoided.
Reconditioning or Restoration It is often possible to restore a cell to, or near to, its full capacity essentially by repeating the formation process to break down the larger crystals into their previous smaller size. One or more deep discharges below 1.0 V/cell with a very low controlled current is enough to cause a change to the molecular structure of the cell to rebuild of its original chemical composition. Thus giving the cell electric shock treatment can make it lose its memory. This cure doesn't necessarily work with older cells, set in their ways, whose crystal structure has become ingrained and could actually make them worse by increasing the self discharge rate. These older cells nearing the end of their useful life should be retired.
Passivation Passivation is another secondary chemical action which may occur in a battery. A resistive layer forms on the electrodes in some cells due to cycling, or after prolonged storage. This may be in the form of a chemical deposit or simply a change in the crystalline structure of the electrode surface. This layer impedes the chemical reactions of the cell and its ability to deliver current as well as increasing the cell's internal resistance. This barrier must normally be removed to enable proper operation of the cell, however in some cases passivation can bring a benefit by reducing the cell’s self discharge. As with reconditioning above, applying controlled charge/discharge cycles often helps in recovering the battery for use.
Loss of Electrolyte Any reduction in the volume of the cell's active chemicals will of course directly reduce the cell's electrical capacity. At the same time the cell's potential cycle life will automatically be reduced since the cell's useful life is defined to be over when its capacity is reduced by 20%. Electrolyte may be lost from leakage due to the deterioration over time of the seals closing the cells. Even with good seals the solvents in the electrolyte may eventually permeate through the seal over a prolonged period causing the electrolyte to dry out particularly if the cells are stored in a dry atmosphere or if the cell contents are under pressure due to high temperatures. However the loss of electrolyte is not just due to the physical leakage of the electrolyte from the cell, the electrolyte may be effectively lost to the electrochemical system because it has been transformed or decomposed into another inactive compound which may or may not remain inside the cell casing. Corrosion is an example of this as are other compounds which may have been caused by overheating or abuse. Gassing and evaporation are two other mechanisms by which electrolyte may be lost thus causing an irreversible loss in the capacity of the cell.
Recombinant Systems In order to prevent the loss of electrolyte from secondary cells in which the electrochemical charging cycle produces gaseous products the cells must be sealed. Closed cycle systems in which the gases are made to recombine to recover the active chemicals are called recombinant systems. Nicads and SLA batteries use recombinant designs.
Venting Although most modern cells have a sealed construction to prevent loss of electrolyte, they usually have a vent to relieve pressure if there is a danger of the cell rupturing due to excessive pressure. Whenever a vent operates, it releases or expels some of the active chemicals to the atmosphere and hence reduces the cells capacity. Electrolyte loss through venting can be checked by weighing a suspect cell and comparing the weight with a known good cell of the same make and capacity.
Leakage Leakage used to be a major problem with Zinc Carbon cells. This was because the zinc casing took part in the electrochemical discharge reaction. During the lifetime of the cell, the cell walls become progressively thinner as the zinc is consumed until they become perforated allowing the electrolyte to escape. The escaping chemicals also create corrosion on the battery terminals compounding the problem. New cell constructions and modern materials have significantly diminished this problem. Nevertheless some cells may still leak due to poor sealing or corrosion problems.
Manufacturing Tolerances Battery life is also affected by variations in the materials and components used in manufacturing the cells and although manufacturers try to keep these variations to a minimum there will always be a spread in the properties of the materials used within the tolerances allowed. Ultimately the consequences of these tolerance spreads will be reflected in the lifetime of the cells. These factors also explain the wide disparity in performance of similar cells from different manufacturers.
Chemical Composition The quality of the active chemicals may vary, particularly if more than one source of supply is used. This may affect the concentration of the chemicals or the level of impurities present and these factors in turn affect the cell voltage, the internal impedance and the self discharge rates.
Dimensional Accuracy Variations in the dimensions of the components or in the placement of the parts making up the cell can also affect the cell performance and life expectancy. Burrs and slight misalignments can cause short circuits, maybe not immediately, but after repeated temperature cycling. The filling of the electrolyte may be incomplete resulting in a corresponding reduction in cell capacity. The granularity of the chemicals and the surface finish on the electrodes both affect the current carrying capacity of the cells.
Interactions Between Cells This can occur in multi-cell batteries and is a consequence of the spread of operating characteristics of the individual cells in the pack. This may be due to manufacturing tolerances as noted above or uneven temperature conditions across the pack or non uniform ageing patterns which cause some cells to accept less charge than others. The result is that in a series chain, a weak cell with reduced capacity will reach its full charge before the rest of the cells in the chain and become overcharged as the charger attempts to charge the overall cell chain to its nominal voltage. As already noted, overcharging causes the cell to overheat resulting in expansion of the active chemicals as well as the possible gassing of the electrolyte. These factors in turn cause the internal pressure to rise, resulting in overstress and possible damage to the cell. This will be repeated with every charge-discharge cycle causing the cell to become more stressed and hence even weaker until it eventually fails. On the other hand, if for some reason the weak cell can not reach full charge, perhaps due to a very high self discharge, or in an extreme case, a short circuited cell, then the good cells, rather than the weaker cell, could possibly become overcharged. Damage to weaker cells can also continue during the discharge cycle. When discharged in a series configuration the capacity of the weakest cell in the chain will be depleted before the others. If the discharge is continued (to discharge the remaining good cells), the voltage on the low capacity cell will reach zero then reverse due to the IR voltage drop across the cell. Subsequent heat and pressure build up within the cell due to "cell reversal" can then cause catastrophic failure. The initial tolerance spread which caused these interactions may be very low but it can build up over time as the damage increases with every charge-discharge cycle until the weak cells eventually fail.
Improving Battery Life The simplest and most obvious way of getting the maximum life out of a battery is to ensure that it always works well within its designed operating limits. There are however some further actions which can be taken to increase the battery life. These are summarized below and in depth explanations and examples are available by following the links.
Charging As noted in the section on Charging most battery failures are due to inappropriate charging. The use of intelligent chargers and safety systems which prevent the connection of unapproved chargers to the battery may not extend battery life but at least they can prevent it from being cut short. Battery Management Battery management is essentially the method of keeping the cells within their desired operating limits during both charging and discharging either by controlling the load on the battery or by isolating the battery from the load if the load can not be controlled. See Battery Management
Cell Balancing As noted above, in multi-cell batteries problems could arise from interactions between the cells caused by small differences in the characteristics of the individual cells making up the battery. Cell balancing is designed to equalize the charge on every cell in the pack and prevent individual cells from becoming over stressed thus prolonging the life of the battery. See Cell Balancing
Load Sharing For pulsed applications the peak load on the battery can be reduced by placing a large value capacitor in parallel with the battery. Energy for large instantaneous loads is supplied by the capacitor effectively reducing the duty cycle and stress on the battery. The capacitor recharges during the quiescent periods. Claims of a sixty percent increase in cycle life are made for this technique. Another benefit of this arrangement is that since the battery supplies less of the instantaneous peak load current, the voltage drop across the battery will be lower. For high power pulses this voltage drop can be very significant. As noted above some cells suffering capacity loss can be restored by repeating the formation process thus extending their life. See Reformation/Reconditioning
Demand Management The "effective" life of a battery in a particular application can also be extended by controlling the load which the application places on the battery. This does not actually improve the battery performance, instead it reduces the load that the battery has to supply.
Premature Death (Murder) The most likely cause of premature failure of a battery is abuse, subjecting a battery to conditions for which it was never designed. Apart from obvious physical abuse, the following examples should also be considered abuse, whether deliberate, inadvertent or through poor maintenance disciplines. Drawing more current than the battery was designed for or short circuiting the battery. Using undersized batteries for the application. Circuit or system designs which subject the battery to repeated "coup de fouet" (whiplash) effects. This effect is a temporary, severe voltage drop which occurs when a heavy load is suddenly placed on the battery and is caused by the inability of the rate of the chemical action in the battery to accommodate the instantaneous demand for current. Operating or storing the battery in too high or too low ambient temperatures. Using chargers designed for charging batteries with different cell chemistry. Overcharging - either to too high a voltage or for too long a period.
Overdischarging - allowing the battery to become completely discharged. In aqueous batteries - allowing electrolyte level to fall below the recommended minimum. In aqueous batteries - topping up with tap water instead of distilled water (or inappropriate electrolyte). Subjecting the battery to excessive vibration or shock. Battery designers try to design out the possibility of abuse wherever possible but ultimately the life of the battery is in the user's hands.