A charger designed to service NiMH batteries can also accommodate NiCd’s, but not the other way around. A charger only made for the NiCd batteries could overcharge the NiMH battery.
While many charge methods exist for nickel-based batteries, chargers for lithium-based batteries are more defined in terms of charge method and charge time. This is, in part, due to the tight charge regime and voltage requirements demanded by these batteries. There is only one way to charge Li-ion/Polymer batteries and the so-called ‘miracle chargers’, which claim to restore and prolong battery life, do not exist for these chemistries. Neither does a super-fast charging solution apply.
The pulse charge method for Li-ion has no major advantages and the voltage peaks wreak havoc with the voltage limiting circuits. While charge times can be reduced, some manufacturers suggest that pulse charging may shorten the cycle life of Li-ion batteries.
Fast charge methods do not significantly decrease the charge time. A charge rate over 1C should be avoided because such high current can induce lithium plating. With most packs, a charge above 1C is not possible. The protection circuit limits the amount of current the battery can accept. The lithium-based battery has a slow metabolism and must take its time to absorb the energy.
Lead acid chargers serve industrial markets such as hospitals and health care units. Charge times are very long and cannot be shortened. Most lead acid chargers charge the battery in 14 hours. Because of its low energy density, this battery type is not used for small portable devices.
In the following sections various charging needs and charging methods are studied. The charging techniques of different chargers are examined to determine why some perform better than others. Since fast charging rather than slow charging is the norm today, we look at well-designed, closed loop systems, which communicate with the battery and terminate the fast charge when certain responses from the battery are received.
4.2 Charging the Nickel Cadmium Battery
Battery manufacturers recommend that new batteries be slow-charged for 24 hours before use. A slow charge helps to bring the cells within a battery pack to an equal charge level because each cell self-discharges to different capacity levels. During long storage, the electrolyte tends to gravitate to the bottom of the cell. The initial trickle charge helps redistribute the electrolyte to remedy dry spots on the separator that may have developed.
Some battery manufacturers do not fully form their batteries before shipment. These batteries reach their full potential only after the customer has primed them through several charge/discharge cycles, either with a battery analyzer or through normal use. In many cases, 50 to 100 discharge/charge cycles are needed to fully form a nickel-based battery. Quality cells, such as those made by Sanyo and Panasonic, are known to perform to full specification after as few as 5 to 7 discharge/charge cycles. Early readings may be inconsistent, but the capacity levels become very steady once fully primed. A slight capacity peak is observed between 100 and 300 cycles.
Most rechargeable cells are equipped with a safety vent to release excess pressure if incorrectly charged. The safety vent on a NiCd cell opens at 1034 to 1379 kPa (150 to 200 psi). In comparison, the pressure of a car tire is typically 240 kPa (35 psi). With a resealable vent, no damage occurs on venting but some electrolyte is lost and the seal may leak afterwards. When this happens, a white powder will accumulate over time at the vent opening.
Commercial fast-chargers are often not designed in the best interests of the battery. This is especially true of NiCd chargers that measure the battery’s charge state solely through temperature sensing. Although simple and inexpensive in design, charge termination by temperature sensing is not accurate. The thermistors used commonly exhibit broad tolerances; their positioning with respect to the cells are not consistent. Ambient temperatures and exposure to the sun while charging also affect the accuracy of full-charge detection. To prevent the risk of premature cut-off and assure full charge under most conditions, charger manufacturers use 50°C (122°F) as the recommended temperature cut-off. Although a prolonged temperature above 45°C (113°F) is harmful to the battery, a brief temperature peak above that level is often unavoidable.