Life Cycle of a Battery
Battery life cycle is defined as the number of complete charge/ discharge cycles a battery can perform before its normal charge capacity falls below 80 percent of its initial rated capacity. Battery life can vary anywhere from 500 to 1,300 cycles. Various factors can cause deterioration of a battery and shorten its service life. The first is over-discharging, which causes excess sulfation; second, too-rapid charging or discharging that results in overheating of the plates and shedding of active material. The accumulation of shed material, in turn, causes shorting of the plates and results in internal discharge. A battery that remains in a low or discharged condition for a long period of time may be permanently damaged. The deterioration can continue to a point where cell capacity can drop to 80 percent after 1,000 cycles. In many cases, the cell can continue working to nearly 2,000 cycles but with a diminished capacity of 60 percent of its original state.
Lead-Acid Battery Testing Methods
The state of charge of a storage battery depends upon the condition of its active materials, primarily the plates. However, the state of charge of a battery is indicated by the density of the electrolyte and is checked by a hydrometer, an instrument that measures the specific gravity (weight as compared with water) of liquids.
The most commonly used hydrometer consists of a small sealed glass tube weighted at its lower end so it floats upright. [Figure 12-195] Within the narrow stem of the tube is a paper scale with a range of 1.100 to 1.300.
When a hydrometer is used, a quantity of electrolyte sufficient to float the hydrometer is drawn up into the syringe. The depth to which the hydrometer sinks into the electrolyte is determined by the density of the electrolyte, and the scale value indicated at the level of the electrolyte is its specific gravity. The more dense the electrolyte, the higher the hydrometer floats; therefore, the highest number on the scale (1.300) is at the lower end of the hydrometer scale.
In a new, fully-charged aircraft storage battery, the electrolyte is approximately 30 percent acid and 70 percent water (by volume) and is 1.300 times as heavy as pure water. During discharge, the solution (electrolyte) becomes less dense and its specific gravity drops below 1.300. A specific gravity reading between 1.300 and 1.275 indicates a high state of charge; between 1.275 and 1.240, a medium state of charge; and between 1.240 and 1.200, a low state of charge. Aircraft batteries are generally of small capacity but are subject to heavy loads. The values specified for state of charge are therefore rather high. Hydrometer tests are made periodically on all storage batteries installed in aircraft. An aircraft battery in a low state of charge may have perhaps 50 percent charge remaining, but is nevertheless considered low in the face of heavy demands that would soon exhaust it. A battery in such a state of charge is considered in need of immediate recharging.
When a battery is tested using a hydrometer, the temperature of the electrolyte must be taken into consideration. The specific gravity readings on the hydrometer vary from the actual specific gravity as the temperature changes. No correction is necessary when the temperature is between 70 °F and 90 °F, since the variation is not great enough to consider. When temperatures are greater than 90 °F or less than 70 °F, it is necessary to apply a correction factor. Some hydrometers are equipped with a correction scale inside the tube. With other hydrometers, it is necessary to refer to a chart provided by the manufacturer. In both cases, the corrections should be added to, or subtracted from the reading shown on the hydrometer.
The specific gravity of a cell is reliable only if nothing has been added to the electrolyte except occasional small amounts of distilled water to replace that lost as a result of normal evaporation. Always take hydrometer readings before adding distilled water, never after. This is necessary to allow time for the water to mix thoroughly with the electrolyte and to avoid drawing up into the hydrometer syringe a sample that does not represent the true strength of the solution.
Exercise extreme care when making the hydrometer test of a lead-acid cell. Handle the electrolyte carefully because sulfuric acid burns clothing and skin. If the acid does contact the skin, wash the area thoroughly with water and then apply bicarbonate of soda.
Lead-Acid Battery Charging Methods
Passing direct current through the battery in a direction opposite to that of the discharge current may charge a storage battery. Because of the internal resistance (IR) in the battery, the voltage of the external charging source must be greater than the open circuit voltage. For example, the open circuit voltage of a fully charged 12 cell, lead-acid battery is approximately 26.4 volts (12 × 2.2 volts), but approximately 28 volts are required to charge it. This larger voltage is needed for charging because of the voltage drop in the battery caused by the internal resistance. Hence, the charging voltage of a lead-acid battery must equal the open circuit voltage plus the IR drop within the battery (product of the charging current and the internal resistance).
Batteries are charged by either the constant voltage or constant current method. In the constant voltage method [Figure 12-196A], a motor generator set with a constant, regulated voltage forces the current through the battery. In this method, the current at the start of the process is high but automatically tapers off, reaching a value of approximately 1 ampere when the battery is fully charged. The constant voltage method requires less time and supervision than does the constant current method.
In the constant current method [Figure 12-196B], the current remains almost constant during the entire charging process. This method requires a longer time to charge a battery fully and, toward the end of the process, presents the danger of overcharging, if care is not exercised.
In the aircraft, the storage battery is charged by direct current from the aircraft generator system. This method of charging is the constant voltage method, since the generator voltage is held constant by use of a voltage regulator.
When a storage battery is being charged, it generates a certain amount of hydrogen and oxygen. Since this is an explosive mixture, it is important to take steps to prevent ignition of the gas mixture. Loosen the vent caps and leave in place. Do not permit open flames, sparks, or other sources of ignition in the vicinity. Before disconnecting or connecting a battery to the charge, always turn off the power by means of a remote switch. Figure 12-197 shows battery charging equipment.