You are on page 1of 6

Design Considerations for Engineers Current Draw The best way is to measure with a current meter and an adjustable

power supply (usually the current meter is built into the power supply). Set the power supply to the highest voltage that the system is rated at and measure the current, then set the power supply to the lowest voltage that the system is rated at and record that current. Adding a measurement half way between the two will give you an idea of where the lowest power consumption point is (power is voltage times current). The idea is that you want to design your pack so that the voltage swing of the batteries (see below) is adequate, and where the power consumption is the least. Some systems will show approximately constant power consumption no matter what the battery voltage is, and some will have a sweet spot where the power is lowest. If a variable power supply is not available, chart the current versu s the voltage of the battery during a discharge cycle. If making actual measurements is not possible, use the system data sheet or the "boilerplate" sticker on the back to find the rated wattage or input current. This will usually give you a high estimat e, or a peak value. Capacity Cell capacity is rated in amp-hours or milliamp hours. The symbol for capacity is C. This is amps times hours. Divide by hours and you get amps, divide by amps and you get hours. For example a 5 amp hour battery is the same as a 5000 milliamp-hour battery. If you want to discharge in 10 hours, you can get a current of 5/10 = 0.5 amps. If you need 100 milliamps current, then you can run for 5000/100 = 50 hours. Often a discharge or charge rate is given proportional to C. So a discharge rate of C/5 means C/(5 hours), or the constant current to fully discharge the battery in 5 hours. The calculation of run time versus current is a rough estimate, but is accurate under the right conditions. The faster you discharge, the lower the capacity of a battery. This trade -off depends on the battery chemistry and construction. Usually the capacity of a battery is quoted at a C/20 discharge rate. So an 12 amp hour battery sealed lead acid battery will actually put out a steady 0.6 amps for 20 hours. However, if you discharge the same battery at 12 amps, you would expect to run an hour, but you will only last for 22 minutes. Also, if you want to run at 10 milliampere you will get less than the expected 1200 days, since self-discharge of the battery will limit your run time. Different battery chemistries differ in this respect. Lead acid batteries are probably the worst at the rapid discharge end of the scale. NiCads and NiMH are much better. Lithium based batteries are the best.

Series and Parallel Generally batteries are best used in series, not in parallel. This is because keeping the battery pack equally yoked during repeated charge and discharge conditions can be a problem. So a good approach is to choose the cells that will give you the capacity and current that you need and put them in series to get the voltage you need. However, this is not always possible, and parallel and even series + parallel packs are made every day. Series The first question to answer is "how much voltage do I need?" The second is "how many cells in series do I need?" The voltage of any cell is a moving target. When fully charged the voltage will be higher than nominal, and at the end of capacity the voltage will be lower tha n nominal. Battery Size Calculation First lets review a little tutorial on measurements of charge. In freshman physics we all learned that the measure of charge is the coulomb and that a single electron has 1.602e-19 coulombs of charge. One amp flowing in a wire for one second will use one coulomb of charge. Q = I* t where Q is the charge in coulombs, I is the current in amps and t is the time in seconds.

The amount of charge passing through that wire in 60 seconds is 60 coulombs, and in one hour you would have had said hello and goodbye to 3600 coulombs of charge. Batteries were evidently developed by engineers who subscribed to the whatevers easiest system of measurement. They got tired of pulling out their slide rules to divide by 3600 every time they wanted to know how long 24000 coulombs would last them and came up with the unauthorized unit of amp-hours. Later, when smaller batteries were used they came up with milliamp-hours. Dont be confused by the hyphen. Amp-hours means amps times hours. Divide by amps and you get hours, divide by hours and you get amps. So it isnt amps, and it isnt amps per hour, it is amp -hours. And, by the way, I have even used the term amp-seconds because wh en you say coulombs everybody goes glassy-eyed on you. Amp hours indicates how much charge is stored in the battery. Since a battery changes voltage during the discharge, it isnt a p erfect measure of how much energy is stored, for this you would need watthours. Multiplying the average or nominal battery voltage times the battery capacity in amp -hours gives you an estimate of how many watt-hours the battery contains.

E = C*Vavg Where E is the energy stored in watt-hours, C is the capacity in amp-hours, and Vavg is the average voltage during discharge. Yes, watt-hours is a measure of energy. Multiply by 3600 and you get watt-seconds, which is also known as Joules.

It also is important to mention that since the charge in a capacitor is Q=CV that a battery can be rated in farads as well. A 1.5 volt AA alkaline battery that stores 2 amp hours of charge (thats 7200 coulombs) has the equivalent capacitance of 4800 Farads. A battery is a strange capacitor because the voltage doesnt drop proportionally to the stored charge, it has a high equivalent resistance, and etc. The following method assumes that you know how many amps you need from the battery. If you know the watts go to Step A below. Step 1. Back of the envelope If the current drawn is x amps, the time is T hours then the capacity C in amp-hours is C = xT For example, if your pump is drawing 120 mA and you want it to run for 24 hours C = 0.12 Amps * 24 hours = 2.88 amp hours Step 2 . Cycle life considerations It isnt good to run a battery all the way down to zero du ring each charge cycle. For example, if you want to use a lead acid battery for many cycles you shouldnt run it past 80% of its charge, leaving 20% left in the battery. This not only extends the number of cycles you get, but lets the battery degrade by 20 % before you start getting less run time than the design calls for C = C/0.8 For the example above C = 2.88 AH / 0.8 = 3.6 AH Step 3 : Rate of discharge considerations Some battery chemistries give much fewer amp hours if you discharge them fast. This is a big effect in alkaline, carbon zinc, zinc-air and lead acid batteries. It is a small effect in NiCad, Lithium Ion, Lithium Polymer, and NiMH batteries. For lead acid batteries the rated capacity is typically given for a 20 hour d ischarge rate. If you are discharging at a slow rate you will get the rated number of amp-hours out of them. However, at high discharge rates the capacity falls steeply. A rule of thumb is that for a 1 hour discharge rate (i.e. drawing 10 amps from a 10 amp hour battery, or 1C) you will only get half of the rated capacity (or 5 amp -hours from a 10 amp-hour battery

For example, if your portable guitar amplifier is drawing a steady 20 amps and you want it to last 1 hour you would start out with Step 1: C=20 amps * 1 hour = 20 AH Then proceed to Step 2 C = 20 AH / 0.8 = 25 AH Then take the high rate into account C=25 /.5 = 50 AH Thus you would need a 50 amp hour sealed lead acid battery to run the amplifier for 1 hour at 20 amps average draw. Step 4. What if you dont have a constant load? The obvious thing to do is the thing to do. Figure out an average power drawn. Consider a repetitive cycle where each cycle is 1 hour. It consists of 20 amps for 1 second followed by 0.1 amps for the rest of the hour. The ave rage current would be calculated as follows. 20*1/3600 + 0.1(3559)/3600 = 0.1044 amps average current. (3600 is the number of seconds in an hour). In other words, figure out how many amps is drawn on average and use steps 1 and 2. Step 3 is very difficult to predict in the case where you have small periods of high current. The news is good, a steady draw of 1C will lower the capacity much more than short 1C pulses followed by a rest period. So if the average current drawn is about a 20 hour rate, then you will get closer to the capacity predicted by a 20 hour rate, even though you are drawing it in high current pulses. Actual test data is hard to come by without doing the test yourself.

If you know the watts instead of amps, follow the following procedure Step A: Convert watts to amps Actually, watts is the fundamental unit of power and watt-hours is the energy stored. The key is to use the watts you know to calculate the amps at the battery voltage. For example, say you want to run a 250 watt 110VAC light bulb from an inverter for 5 hours. Watt-hours = watts * hours = 250 watts * 5 hours = 1250 watt hours Account for the efficiency of the inverter, say 85% Watt-hours = watts * hours / efficiency = 1250 / 0.85 = 1470 watt-hours Since watts = amps * volts divide the watt hours by the voltage of the battery to get amp -hours of battery storage Amp-hours (at 12 volts) = watt-hours / 12 volts = 1470 / 12 = 122.5 amp-hours. If you are using a different voltage battery the amp-hours will change by dividing it by the battery voltage you are using. Now go back to Steps 2-4 above to refine your calculation.

Conversion Converting Watts to Amps The conversion of Watts to Amps is governed by the equation Amps = Watts/Volts For example 12 watts/12 volts = 1 amp Converting Amps to Watts The conversion of Amps to Watts is governed by the equation Watts = Amps x Volts For example 1 amp * 110 volts = 110 watts Converting Watts to Volts The conversion of Watts to Volts is governed by the equation Volts = Watts/Amps For example 100 watts/10 amps = 10 volts Converting Volts to Watts The conversion of Volts to Watts is governed by the equation Watts = Amps x Volts For example 1.5 amps * 12 volts = 18 watts Converting Volts to Amps at fixed wattage The conversion of Volts to Amps is governed by the equations Amps = Watts/Volts For example 120 watts/110 volts = 1.09 amps Converting Amps to Volts at fixed wattage The conversion of Amps to Volts is governed by the equation Volts = Watts/Amps For Example, 48 watts / 12 Amps = 4 Volts

Amps are how many electrons flow past a certain point per second. Volts is a measure of how much force that each electron is under. Think of water in a hose. A gallon a minute (think amps) just dribbles out if it is under low pressure (think low voltage). But if you restrict the end of the hose, letting the pressure build up, the water can have more power (like watts), even though it is still only one gallon a minute. In fact the power can grow enormous as the pressure builds, to the point that a water knife can cut a sheet of glass. In the same manner as the voltage is increased a small amount of current ca n turn into a lot of watts.