How Long Will My Battery Last?

Most rechargeable batteries have a charge-discharge cycle that ranges between 300-500 cycles (for lithium based chemistries – NIMH can have up to 800 charge-discharge cycles and NICD chemistries can have up to 1200). A charge-discharge cycle means that a battery once at 100% draws power down to 0%. Then after recharge it will be back at 100%. This can be done 300-500 times on the same lithium based battery. Now most battery users recharge their batteries before the battery reaches 0%, this is perfectly acceptable, but still the same principles of the charge-discharge cycle limitations are in effect.

One common mistake is to assume that a battery that has a 1 year warranty will last for 365 days and when it does not last 1 year the assumption is is that the battery must be bad. This is a fallacy and an erroneous belief – in essence incorrect!

Here is why!

As I have written in other articles a battery is a device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. Batteries have two electrodes, an anode (the negative end) and a cathode (the positive end). Collectively the anode and the cathode are called the electrodes. In between the battery’s two electrodes runs an electrical current caused primarily from a voltage differential between the anode and cathode. The voltage runs through a chemical called an electrolyte (which can be either be in a liquid, solid, or gel state). This battery consisting of two electrodes is called a voltaic cell. Most batteries today are advance forms of the voltaic cells and have additional technology packed into the battery casing to support the overall system and its connected  device. These controls include the connector, fuse, charge and discharge FETs, the cell pack, the sense resistor (RSENSE), the primary and secondary protection ICs, the fuel-gauge IC thermistor, pc board, and the EEPROM or firmware for the fuel-gauge IC.

How Does a Battery Work and What Does It Produce?

We know that the result of a battery converting chemical energy into electrical energy allows us to turn on our laptop, PDA, MP3 or even a cell-phone. But how does the conversion process take place? As stated above the batteries we use today are variable changes of the voltaic pile. In addition to the controls I listed above today’s batteries are made up of plates of reactive chemicals (Li-ion, Li-po, NIMH, NICD) separated by an electrolyte barrier (which can be either be in a liquid, solid, or gel state), and subsequently polarized so all the electrons gather on one side. The system was designed to separate both positive and negative electrons. Then after separation an electron exchange occurs and a current of electron flow moves electrons to and from the anode and cathode. Simultaneously an electrochemical reaction takes place inside the battery to replenish the electrons. The effect is a chemical process that creates electrochemical energy.

Now the electrochemical reaction that is taking place is a chemical change that is necessary in order to create electricity. One factor that needs to be understood is that electricity is the flow of electrons. Specifically, electricity is a property of subatomic particles which couples to electromagnetic fields and causes attractive and repulsive forces between them. This repulsive force between the subatomic particles creates an electric current; the flow of electric charge transports energy from one atom to another. This electrical current is measured in amperes, where 1 ampere is the flow of 62,000,000,000,000,000,000 electrons per second!

Electricity therefore is a created energy source. All electricity in fact is a created source made or converted from coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear power, wind, heat, sun, water, biomass and or other chemicals. In batteries today electricity is created by two chemicals in a solution for example: {a Solution of Lithium hexaflourophosphate (LiPF6) – a mixture of Organic Solvents: [Ethylene Carbonate (EC) + DiEthyl Carbonate (DMC) + DiEthyl Carbonate (DEC) + Ethyl Acetate (EA)]}

To create electricity within a battery first and foremost the battery's chemistry must be charged. Charging lithium can be thought of as the introduction of ions or movement of chemistry. To move the lithium chemistry (lithium-ion, lithium polymer, lithium iron phosphate, etc) you have to have a minimum voltage applied to the lithium. Most battery cells are charged to 4.2 volts with relative safe workings at about 3.8 volts. Anything less than 3.3 volts will not be enough to charge or move the chemistry. One thing to note here is that volts are an algorithmic measurement of current. So in a sense to create current through your battery you have to introduce current into your battery’s lithium .

Introducing current into your lithium is called intercalation. Intercalation is the joining of a molecule (or molecule group) between two other molecules (or groups). When it comes to charging your battery you are in effect pushing ions in and out of solid lithium compounds. These compounds have minuscule spaces between the crystallized planes for small ions, such as lithium, to insert themselves from a force of current. In effect ionizing the lithium loads the crystal planes to the point where they are forced into a current flow. The current flow is then channeled back and forth from anode to cathode and thereby creating an electrical flow to power on your device. Again this can done 300-500 times before all the ions are pushed out of the lithium and you will no longer be able to charge your device.

One final thought and that is runtime (time between charges). After each charge-discharge cycle the runtime (time between charges) is reduced by intercalation as discussed above. For example you may notice in the first 3-4 months you are getting between 3-5 hours of runtime on your battery. Then in months 5-12 (after your purchase) you notice that you are slowly getting less and less runtime in between charges until you might be getting less than 5 minutes of runtime. This is the normal use of the chemistry inside your battery and DOES NOT mean that the battery is bad, but simply has been used by you.

Until next time – Dan Hagopian,
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