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


Ford C-Max Energi Part 4

First Fill Up Life Time Summary 01/07/13
First Fill Up Life Time Summary 01/07/13
On Monday January 7 of this last week, we put our first fill-up in the car. The odometer was reading 574 miles, subtract the 59 miles we started with (presumably on a full tank at the dealer) and that’s 515 miles on 12.45 gallons of fuel. We averaged 41.36mpg. Remember, Ford states not to judge mileage for at least the first 1000 miles.

A few thoughts come to mind:

1. The car says 230 miles have been driven on electricity, the balance of 344 miles driven on fuel. I’m a little confused here. Did we only go 344 miles on our 12.45 gallons of fuel. Yikes, that would be terrible mileage?? I need to dig in to the displays to see make sure the 574 is overall mileage as I am presuming and not just the fuel driven miles. Is my presumption wrong here?

2. Remember, midway through the tank, I changed the calculation from MPGe to MPG. It would be interesting to know if that effected anything or if there was a recalculation of the entire fuel/electric consumption so it reflected accurately at the time of the change.

3. I have not reset anything as of yet. I will perhaps do that when we get to 1, 2 or 3k so as not to have the break in miles figured into our average. Many cars don’t really give you a “since reset” average but rather a rolling average of only the last 300 miles or so. I’ll be interested to see how this car calculates that.

4. It’s notable the MPG calculator @ 40.7mpg is very close to my calculation of 41.36.

5. I hope I am not boring any readers. Writing along as I learn about the car. I’ll try to keep it down to 1 post a week on this subject. Expect them on Sunday’s. From here up was written on Jan 7th.


01/08/13 Notes: Bev actually reset the mileage computer when we filled it up, her habit with the Civic Hybrid. I discovered this when she returned from work today and I noticed the reading slightly over 50mpg.


Lipo Battery Disposal

Lipo Discharging
Warren Behymer asks and interesting question:

I need to know how to dispose of LiPo battery that has swollen due to an overcurrent.

There are two issues.

1. We want to discharge the battery in such a way as there is minimal risk of fire during the discharge and later when the battery is in the recycle or trash bin.

2. We want to dispose of the depleted pack in a recycling container.

The first thing to do is remove all potential from the battery. We do this with an 1157 light bulb (Brake/Marker type bulb). It’s handy to use because it gives an indication of ongoing discharge by emmitting light and doesn’t tie up one of my ever working chargers. We have our bulb wired with alligator clips and a switch to choose between one or both filaments. I don’t remember what the draw is per filament, but we considered that a small cell would be more safely discharged at a lower rate than a larger cell. When discharging a large cell, we set the switch so both filaments burn. We use an ammo box as an oxygen poor fire safe to do this, since we are indoors and we’re working with a suspect pack in the first place.

Lipo Discharged

This is allowed to burn until the bulb is out, then allowed to set connected to the bulb until the following day. This way we are 100% certain the pack is completely exhausted.

Lipo Leads Soldered Together

Next we solder together the leads on the pack. Just in case any recovery or bounce back of capacity in the pack were possible, it is constantly discharged through the short. There should now be no chance of any kind of arc or spark starting a fire in the recycling container. Being that the pack is completely empty, there should not be any energy present of any kind.

Battery Recycling Box
It’s now okay to discard /recycle the pack properly. We won’t have to worry about the pack accidentally being shorted and causing a fire in any container. It’s electronically inert.

Federal law (49 CFR 173.185) states lithium type batteries must be individually packaged in non-conductive material and transported to a “permitted” recycler. In our shop, we use Call2Recycle (also known as RBRC 1-877-723-1297). They provide free recycling materials and processing. A bag is provided for each pack, we wrap the back in the pack, seal it, drop it in the box. When the box is full, we contact UPS for a free pickup and delivery to the recycling station. Any local battery seller should have this capability on site. We accept lipos for recycling at Radical RC.

Help finding a Call2Recycle RBRC Recycling Location near you.

There may be other safe and accepted ways of doing this, the above is how we handle it at Radical RC.


Converting A Model From Lipo to A123 (LIFE) Cells

Chris from Michigan Asks;

Hello Dave,
I would like to power my Ryan with A123 cells. I have been using a 9s 4p 6000mah Lipo pack to power a Hacker C50 motor.
If I understand things correctly, I believe that I need 4packs 6s 2300mah to equal the same watts and flight duration as the Thunder Power packs that I have been running.
Because of the cost of these A123’s, I want to be sure that what I am ordering is correct!


To match duration of a 6000mah Lipo, you’ll need at least 6000mah in A123 which will be 3P. You’ll actually be a little over as the 2300mah A123 cells actually test most of the time around 2200, at 3P you’ll have 6600mah which should result in slightly more flying time.

I assume your 6000mah lipo is made up of 1500mah Parallel packs. So, 4 1500’s in parallel = 6000mah.

If what you really meant was your running 6000mah cells, 4 in parallel, then your pack size is 24000mah which would be about 11P or 11 A123 in parallel. I am not thinking you meant you had a 24000mah pack.

If your running 6000mah total in the airplane, and are thinking of running A123 in 2P for about 4400mah real world, this may be just fine. I generally only use the top 60% of a Lipo (70% max) on a routine basis. 60% of 6000 3600mah, 70% is 4200mah. I’m more comfortable running A123 cells a little deeper than Lipo’s as the risk of hitting BEC cut off cause me less worry. (Hitting BEC cut off is hard on Lipo’s) So, running a 4400 A123 down 80% is 3200mah. So, a 2P A123 should get close to the Lipo in actual use. However, your not running as much cushion between a solid end of flight habit and the bottom of the battery.

For matching running voltage, you’ll need 10 to 11S A123. I’d probably go to 11. At 12S, you’ll definitely have 3-4 more running volts. It will be like 9.8 Lipo or something like that.

To do conversion at nominal voltage, (# Lipos * 3.7) / 3.3 nominal of A123 = cell count.
To do conversion at full voltage: (# Lipos * 4.2) / 3.6 full voltage of A123 = cell count.

Nominal conversion is: 9 Lipo = 10.09 A123 cells

Full voltage Conversion is: 9 Lipo = 10.5 A123 cells.

Since you do most of your flying between full and nominal voltage I lean towards the full number for this estimation. 11 is the best choice. 10 you might notice a slight decrease in performance by your motors KV * volt reduction of the 10S pack. Right in the front of the pack, the 9S Lipo is 37.8v. Right in the front of a 10S A123 your full voltage will be 36v. So, KV X 1.8 = drop in top rpm. If your running a 500kv motor, that’s 900 rpm.

If you go with 11 cells, you’ll be starting out at 40.4v meaning your over the Lipo voltage by about 2.6v. So, you pick up (with 500kv motor) 1300 prop rpm.

Either choice means to get back to exact performance you had on Lipo you may need to alter the prop slightly, maybe an inch more pitch for the 10S A123 and an Inch less pitch for the 11S A123 or something similar to re balance things back out.

So, on balance, not knowing everything about the model and power system, I’d lean towards 11S. If you go 12S as your proposing, you’ll likely end up way over on RPM and Watts from where you were with the 9S Lipo pack. Important considerations here are if you mind a little more or a little less power (if the ESC minds more amps/voltage) and if you would need to change props, is there a convenient prop up or down that would suit the model and flying preferences. For example, if your running right at the edge of the ESC at this time and didn’t want to upgrade it, a slight decrease in power is acceptable, 10S becomes the obvious choice.

Another consideration not taken into account above is there can be a wide variation in quality of Lipo’s people are using out there. (not picking on Thunder Power, remarks for general readers of this post) Your current pack which may be performing just fine for the application may be worn and not really up to snuff compared to the original new condition. Thus if the current lipo has more voltage depression than it should, an A123 10S pack depressing less by some significant amount, could end up taching and watt metering out higher than the battery you are now using.


Checking A123 RX Packs For Recharge Point

Radical RC A123 2300 2S RX Pack Example
Radical RC A123 2300 2S RX Pack Example

A123 RX Packs can be tricky to deturming how much is left in the pack by checking voltage alone. Variations in connectors and length of wire can have a big impact on actual volt readings when loaded. Using an RRC1000 digital voltmeter with load capability of 0.0A, .5A, 1A and 1.5A we get the following results measuring a 2300 2S RX pack with 6″ 20 g silicone JR pigtail and the included 22 guage battery checker pigail with the meter. Note: the meter (which ever you are using) is reading the voltage on it’s board, not at the pack. The voltage at the pack will actually be higher by the voltage drop across your checkers connector, pigtail, checker/pack connector and the pigtail on the pack. Here are the results we measured at varous loads. Room temperature was 74 degrees F, each load held aproximately 5 seconds before reading taken.

RRC1001 Voltmeter Image
RRC1001 Voltmeter Image
State Of Charge No Load Resting Voltage .5 Amp Load 1.0 Amp Load 1.5 Amp Load
40% 6.58v 6.37v 6.18v 6.09v
30% 6.52v 6.38v 6.17v 6.06v
20% 6.45v 6.32v 6.19v 6.08v
10% 6.38v 6.25v 6.14v 6.04v
0% 5.43v 5.19v 5.08v 4.98v

As can be seen from the data above, at some loads, the pack actually increased slightly in voltage as we went down even though the overall trend was lower in voltage. Note this test was not over a multitude of packs which would be more accurate and likely nuetralize the unexpected results mentioned.

Notice how little the pack is falling off in voltage and that the biggest consistant drop is in the resting voltage column, not a result I expected.

Notice the results at 0% capacity remaining as measured by my charger/discharger. As it is important to understand the context of the data and how I was checking the voltages, it is also important to understand the context of the data and how I was discharging the pack in 10% steps until empty (more explanined below) All discharges to make this chart after the initial 60% discharge were at 1.1A and in 230mah steps. The discharge harness was made from 22guage wire, 24″ long and plugged only into the JR output lead on the pack. Even though after 5 seconds of holding the load, I got the voltages above on the 0% line, putting the pack back on the discharger and trying to discahrge it some more resulted in the pack falling off to the 4V cut off (the empty point) in only about 10 to 15 seconds. Yet, I was still able to measure almost 1.5 higher than that when the pack had come off the first discharge to empty and been allowed to set for only 10 minutes before I measured anything. We can see that a wide range of voltages over 5 to 15 seconds with differing loads were all the same thing – EMPTY! Pay attention to the context of everything or you’ll get fooled! Because the context of how you are checking the voltage has such an impact on the reading, you should check your packs the same way every time with religious zeal.

A123 Systems cells ability to hold a strong voltage under load all the way until they are empty is one of the primary reasons they are so popular as RX packs, yet it is the very reason they are somewhat more challenging to voltmeter check from flight to flight.

To devise your own chart, cycle the pack to deturmine it’s actual value (ours was 2250), recharge, then set your chargers limiter to 60% of the actual value (ours was set to 1350) and discharge at capacity/2 (we used 1.1amp for our pack). After you’ve discharged it to this point, take the reading with the equipment and through the switches or whatever you have installed in your ship. Now you will know the readings at the 60% discharged (40% remaining) point. This is where you should be recharging any mission critical pack such as a TX or RX pack. To arrive at another row of data aproximately 10% further down in the pack, we simply set the limiter to 230mah and repeated the discharge. Repeat for each line of data you’d like to collect. You could start from full and discharge in 230mah steps generating data for 100%,90%,80% & etc….. Science, don’t you love it!

It would be my advice to think about making your own chart so you can learn something and become firmiliar with the voltage drop across all the gear in your model. You’ll be measuring the pack across a switch harness in most cases which will give you lower voltage readings than these.

General practice should be to taxi the model back to the pits, and before you’ve turned it off, plug your loaded volt meter in, turn off the model and take your reading immeadiately. Note your own chart for the correct cut off voltage and always recharge at the 40% remaining point. Flying below 40% is dipping into your reserves and should be avoided for any mission critical pack.


The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

I wrote previously on the subject of “Confirmation Bias”. Sometimes it is difficult to discover the answer to a technical problem because the person bringing you the problem has a hitch, assumption, or faulty logic step in their diagnostic process. Often people draw conclusions from spotty evidence. For instance a customer shows me a receiver and say’s “This receiver is bad.” I ask: “Why do you think it is bad? The answer almost always comes back something like “I plugged it in and it does not work.” The person is saying from that one test or measurement they have drawn a conclusion. It seems reasonable doesn’t it? But, really it’s pretty silly when you think about all the things that can cause an RX not to respond to a TX. You see, the real and only conclusion you can draw from the customers test is this. “In one trial, the RX produced no apparent response.” That is quite a bit different from “This receiver is bad.” Understanding the difference in those two conclusions is why some people are good at diagnostics and others are not. To be good at figuring out a problem, you are greatly advantaged by not making any assumptions or broad conclusions.

In the case of a receiver, lets go over many measurements and tests that you might perform to decide if it is in fact “Bad”.

1. Has it ever functioned successfully?
2. Does it really match the Transmitter? (is it talking the right language DSMII vs DSMX or PCM vs FM vs AM and etc…)
3. Is it on the same channel? (in the case of non-2.4ghz gear)
4. Besides looking at the stickers, did you actually look at the tags on the TX and RX xtal?
5. Is the shift the same? For example, a positive shift JR TX is never going to drive a negative shift Hitec or Futaba RX.
6. Have you driven the servo you used on the tested RX with a servo tester to make sure it actually wiggles?
7. Have you load tested the battery your driving the RX with to see that it is high enough to actually turn on an RX?
8. Are you using a switch between the battery and RX? Plug the battery in directly so your not actually testing if the switch is good.
9. Can you demonstrate the TX driving another RX to establish that your testing with a working TX? One might complain, “I flew it a week ago!” However, we’re not testing the troubled RX a week ago, we’re testing it now. 😉
10. Have you plugged a voltmeter into an empty servo port to see if there really is voltage finding it’s way to the RX?
11. Is the crystal really fitting tightly in the socket or is it loose and wobbly?
12. Does the TX have the capability of being on for programming without broadcasting?
13. Is the meter on the TX a voltmeter or RF Output indicator? What does it say?

I’m sure a sharp thinker can come up with some more things to consider. Many of the things above we’ve found at one time or another to be the cause of a non-responsive RX. Assume nothing.

Recently we had an A123 RX pack returned by a customer. He said it tested poorly, only a few hundred mah. The customer appeared to be correct, it was testing bad after several charge/discharge cycles on our bench. And, the charger would increase in voltage rapidly when we applied charge current. Strange. However, even after several trials, a good mechanic still hasn’t drawn any conclusion. He may be moving towards condemning the battery but all tests were not complete. He cut the shrink off the pack. The tabs all looked fine. He re soldered the tabs anyway just in case there was an unseen cold joint. Note: He had originally built the pack, but without emotion, he redid his original work anyway. Many people fail at this step because “they couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong.” (yea right!). The pack was cycled again with the same poor result. Now, finding a bad battery pack is rare, exceedingly rare. We know this to be true from many years of experience. So, we keep looking. I examined the pack under magnification (even though it had been re soldered by a respected pro) and all looked good. I looked at the plug under magnification and found a thin transparent film on the plastic shell. The more I looked, the more I saw this film all over the shell. Is this paint? We decided to solder a second lead onto the pack and test again. The pack tested good. What was the problem you wonder? We can only conclude the film on the plug was thin CA the customer had somehow accidentally allowed to come into contact with the plug. It had a high resistance because one or more connector pins was evidently coated in glue. After replacing this plug, the apparently bad battery pack was proven that it was always as good as new.

So, if a battery pack fails a discharge test or an RX fails to respond, is it bad?

To read about The Texas Sharp Shooter Fallacy, check out this wiki link. Reading it is what inspired me to write today’s article. It describes in somewhat technical language a common way to foul up a test.
“Texas Sharpshooter Fallicy” Wiki Link.


RadicalCast #003

Topics discussed include: Using Lipo’s & A123’s as Receiver Packs, Choosing a Soldering Iron & Lost Watts – Why Efficientcy Matters.


“Dave, Re: Lipo 3S 1250 batteries

“All I’ve got to say about those batteries is they ROCK!!!! I now have about 5:1 power to weight …and when I do full 3d the batteries don’t even heat up at all!!!! Joey and I were dumbfounded by these things.

Toby Silhavy
Silhavy Aerosports
Peebles, OH”

October 2004


“Dave, I wanted to thank Chris for a great soldering job on my Nippy motor and Phoenix 10 speed control. I had originally taken the components to a local hobby shop to get the soldering done. I decided to back out and send them to you instead.

Thanks again.

Tom Steinhoff
Columbus, OH”

August 2004


“Good Evening Mr. Dave: My Name is Stephen Hamilton; I’m one of the Flying Hamiltons; which is my brother Jordan, and my dad. We have using your products for years now, and you are our exclusive supplier of batteries, switches, custom harness, and extensions. We are also flying electrics, and foamies… We also as a family travel to all of the IMAC meets in the south-east region. I’m currently in 2nd place points wise for my region, and took 3rd at the USA NATS this summer in Muncie…Enclosed are two pictures of my Velox 35%. All Radical RC battery packs, switches, and custom wire ext.

Stephen Hamilton
Flying Hamiltons”

August 2004