Balancing Severely Out of Balance A123 Pack

The following is a recent exchange discussing some charging logic that is impacted often by time-out settings in chargers. Not a bad thing all in all. The same logic can be applied to Lipo packs as well.

Hi, Dave:
Here’s my situation: All of my A123 batteries came from you and I’ve got several. All of them (except 1) work perfectly and I enjoy being able to take advantage of all that A123 batteries have to offer. My one that doesn’t work properly is a 2300mah, 2S receiver battery that I can’t get to balance. I charge it on a Turnigy Accucell-6 with the cutoff voltage set at 7.2 volts. My charger timed out at 120 minutes with one cell at 3.6 volts and the other at 3.25 volts. When I first started using these batteries, I was negligent about balance charging and would as often as not, just quick charge them and go fly. So, this is not a warranty question at all, but one as much for my knowledge as anything. First of all, is this battery safe to use (as a receiver battery), and second, is there anyway to get the second cell back up to voltage? I’ve cycled and balance charged it probably 3 times trying to get it to respond, but nothing I know to do has worked. I guess I could used it on an electronic ignition where sudden failure wouldn’t likely be as catastrophic as losing receiver power. What is your recommendation?

When balance charging, the first cell getting up to 3.6V causes the charger to start stepping down the charge rate. Ultimately, the charger cannot go over the maximum dissipation rate of your balancer. In other words, if it can only dissipate 100 mah, then the charger will drop back to 100 mah. It’s charging the pack at 100 mah but at the same time discharging the full cell at 100 mah to keep it from going over 3.6v. If the low cell is 1000 mah behind, in the two hours of the time out, it will only be able to bring the lagging cell up about 200 mah. It will still be lagging by 800 mah and some measurable voltage difference will be the evidence. Because the charger times out and stops working, your still out of balance.

Procedure options:

A. You could just keep repeating a 100 mah charge rate and let it time out 4 or 5 times.

B. You could also go into the setup and disable the time out.

C. There are some safety concerns with both “A” and “B” above. The best and quickest method that we use at our shop is to connect the charger through the balance port to only the low cell. You can do this through the standard XH balance connector by taking a JR or Futaba RX charge cord, crack off the outer shroud exposing the two pins. These two pins will be .100″ apart, just like those in the balance harness. Plug the bullet end of the cord into a volt meter, plug the business end into the balance harness, probing the different combinations. In the case of a 2 cell RX pack, you’ll only find 2 combinations. Offset to the black wire and offset to the red wire. One of these will read about 3.6v (the full cell) the other will read 3.25v (in your example, it’s the low cell). When you find the low voltage position, carefully pull the banana plugs out of your volt meter and plug into your charger. Set the charger to charge 1 LIFE cell. Set the rate (for a 2300 A123) to something between 1 and 2 amps (we don’t want to overheat the delicate balance connector) and let it charge that individual cell through the balance harness until it’s full.

When it’s done, both cells should be at similar voltage.

If you want to get really fine, there could be a slight calibration difference between your charger charging a single and a two cell pack. To really refine it, reconnect the pack to the charger as a 2 cell pack in the conventional way. Put the charger in discharge mode set at 2 amps. Let it take our 100 mah or so out of the pack. Then, switch back to Balance Charge mode and charge at 2 amps. Now the charger will put the 100 mah or so back in and at the same time balance both cells to each other. Since the pack is almost full, it won’t actually charge at 2 amps, it will read something lower. When complete, if the cells are good and the charger is working properly both cells should be very close.

It is possible the cell is bad. If this is the case, the above procedures and logic won’t result in a balanced pack. (presuming the charger is working correctly) It’s OK to repeat the procedure if you want to try again however, it’s likely your results will be the same.

If you are able to balance it successfully, do a discharge on the pack at capacity/2 or near. This is the standard for testing lithium type cells. So, a discharge rate of about 1.1 amps would be correct. Realistically the A123 2300’s should test within 50 mah of 2200 if they are in perfect condition. If the pack tests below 80% of 2200 (below 1760 mah) it should be replaced.

As to safety, I hesitate to ever say any battery is “safe”. I would say that if I could not get the pack behaving properly, I’d replace it. The cost of any pack is always a tiny fraction of the value of a model. It never makes you feel like a winner to put one in the dirt over saving a few bucks on a simple part, especially if you were suspect of it before you flew. Get it right, get confident or replace it.

Another safety warning here is you should be extra diligent when working with any battery where it’s condition is suspect. Do it outside and/or supervise closely. Never charge unattended inside a structure or vehicle. Always use a fireproof container for charging, especially when dealing with anything suspect.

If you follow through those procedures and that logic, you should be able to rule the pack in or out and have good confidence in your decision. Hope this helps you sleuth out the pack. Dave


High Cell Count Packs

Sonny P. Writes:

What is the proper way to charge a 14 cell A123 battery?

I take from your question that your concerned about the large cell count and not the rules of charging this particular chemistry of pack.

Since you need to balance it from time to time, it should be charged as multiple lower cell count packs from time to time. All rules must be observed regardless of cell count or type of lithium chemistry. So, were I building a 14 cell aircraft pack for myself, I’d build it probably as two 5 cell and one 4 cell packs. In this way I could hook up to my balance charger and balance it. If you have a charger capable of balancing 8 cells, you could do two sevens. I am un-aware of any chargers capable of balancing more than 8 cells even though there probably are chargers that could manage a non-balance charge of 14 cells. Even if you owned one, you’d still want to be able to break the pack down (electronically) and charge it in shorter segments from time to time to maintain balance.

In the case of two 5 cell and one 4 cell packs for example, The pack could be literally 3 packs that are put in series in the model. You might use Anderson Power poles to do this to minimize the number of connectors needed. Each pack would of course have it’s own balance harness for plugging into the node port (balance port) of you charger.

It would also be possible to build the pack as one 14 cell block with one set of output wires for the ESC. However, you could put tap wires in that are heavy enough for charging at the union between the 5th/6th cells and 10th/11th cells. You would build in balance harness respecting this same cell spacing. So that “electronically” (if not physically) you have 3 battery packs, two 5’s and one 4. NOTE! This type of pack bould, the central tap wires would be positive or negative depending on which segment you were charging.

With a 14 cell charger you might be charging through the main output leads while your at the flying field. Yet, when your prepping the model for a trip to the field, you would be able to charge the pack in 3 steps (one step for each pack division 5 cell, 5 cell, 4 cell) with balance harnesses connected to your charger. In this way you’d be getting regular balance charges to keep all cells equalized.

Happy Flying!