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BATTERY MONITORING

As the sophistication of battery monitoring systems evolves, one


German company has taken things a step further. Its equalization
technology actively monitors and adjusts lead-acid batteries used in
UPS systems to make them perform better and last longer.
Wyn Jenkins reports.

Equalization
and the next
UPS revolution
Using battery monitoring systems to used with lithium-ion batteries for Not widely known
assess the performance of batteries in some time but it was first developed Generex is arguably one of the most
real-time is nothing new. In critical as a commercial platform for lead- advanced manufacturers of battery
backup scenarios such as UPS plat- acid batteries some seven years ago monitoring equipment globally and
forms where battery failure can have by Generex, a UPS and battery moni- its patented Battery Management and
direct consequences, many companies toring specialist based in Hamburg, Care System (BACS) is widely used in
invest millions in implementing such Germany. UPS systems. Because Generex only
technologies. Following several years of trials sells its equipment through original
Providers of this technology have with customers, the technology is be- equipment manufacturers (OEMs),
responded in what has been a growth ing adopted by some of the biggest which brand its technology as their
market with an increasingly sophisti- and most sophisticated users of UPS own, the name Generex is not widely
cated armoury of techniques able to systems while battery manufacturers known among end users.
better predict battery failure earlier themselves are looking to work with That is starting to change, however,
allowing the cells to be changed Generex directly. as end users have discovered the ben-
and a systems integrity protected.
Such technology can even monitor
batteries performance remotely us- We want to set
ing an internet connection.
But one German company has de-
a standard for
veloped a system that both warns stationary battery
of a batterys impending failure and
makes real-time adjustments to its
management and
performance to prevent failure and make battery
extend its life.
The concept, known as equaliza- management a part
tion, is a process by which the charg- of the IT management
ing voltage of each individual accu-
mulator is automatically adjusted products like UPS are
electronically to ensure maximum
performance. This means that where
today. To create the
a string of battery cells is used, any link between IT and
variable performance between the
cells is almost entirely extinguished.
facility management
The batteries last longer and also with our products
performs for a consistent amount of
time.
Frank Blettenberger, chief
The technology has been widely executive of Generex

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BATTERY MONITORING
efits of equalization a concept sim-
The evidence ple in principle yet underpinned by
cutting edge science and technology.
Several pieces of research have The charge profile did not provide It could mean substantial cost savings
been conducted into this field by the overcharge time (which for users of batteries especially in
universities and the findings of largely involves equalization time) the UPS world and represents a
such projects back up Generexs specified by the manufacturer. fundamental shift in what customers
claims concerning the capability This report concludes: might expect of their battery moni-
of Equalization as a concept. Effective use of series strings toring system.
In a paper entitled Life Exten- of battery cells requires cell by Frank Blettenberger, the techni-
sion Through Charge Equaliza- cell state of charge matching cal director and owner of Generex,
tion of Lead-Acid Batteries writ- to maintain performance. In which employs 32 people at its head-
ten by academics Philip Krein general, state of charge matching quarters, says he believes the technol-
and Robert Balog from IEEE (the can be assured through precise ogy will save users substantial sums
University of Illinois) the research voltage matching, although the of money because it will allow them
looks to establish the extent to matching must be excellent (10 to use racks of expensive batteries for
which an equalization process can mV in the case of lead-acid cells) longer.
extend the life of a battery used in for success. When we first developed this tech-
a string. nology we saw it as a bit of a gim-
Batteries are nearly always used mick, says Blettenberger.
in series combinations of multiple
cells, the report said. When a Equalization has a We wanted to illustrate that our
BMS had more to offer than com-
series string of cells is charged as a dramatic effect on petitors. But we gradually realized its
group, a single current is imposed value. Equalization has a dramatic ef-
on all the cells. the performance of fect on the performance of batteries
However, if the voltages begin batteries and and extends the lifetime of batteries
to differ, the result is a charge used in strings. The more batteries in
imbalance that can lead ultimately extends the lifetime the string, the higher the positive ef-
to battery failure. In any useful
series battery charge process, some
of batteries used in fect with an increase of at least 30%
seen in most cases.
type of charge balancing or strings. The more
equalization must take place to
restore balance or at least prevent
batteries in the Real-time testing
Seven years ago, as a kind of real-time
it from growing. string, the higher trial, Generex installed this technology
They explain that this need for
equalization may be addressed
the positive effect on 3,000 batteries worth some 2 mil-
lion used by one of the worlds biggest
either by driving the charge to a with an increase of suppliers of enterprise software appli-
sufficient potential to assure some
degree of overcharge for all cells, at least 30% seen cations.
The batteries used by this company
or with a separate higher-voltage in most cases. in this scenario would traditionally
charging step intended to reach be replaced after five years well
the weakest cells. short of their design life the dura-
They concluded: Modern Conventional passive equal- tion recommended by manufacturers
rechargeable battery cells of all ization works for short series because of the problems caused by
chemistries are specified by the strings (six cells, and perhaps creating a string of many cells.
manufacturer for hundreds or up to twelve), but puts stress The experiment is still running af-
even thousands of cycles. Series on strong cells and loses ter seven years and there is still no
strings of cells in general do not effectiveness rapidly as the technological reason to replace them.
perform up to this level. series string becomes longer. If They may eventually make a judge-
The only difference between equalization can be assured, it ment call and replace them but the
a single-cell and series-cell provides substantial benefits difference this technology has made
applications is management such as longer cycle life, fewer
of individual cell voltages. In failure modes, and simpler
principle, a perfect equalization maintenance. Generex has
process would ensure that a series These translate into major
string performs just like a single cost savings for large scale developed a system
cell over time. rechargeable battery applications. that both warns of a
The need for equalization of The technology provides
VRLA batteries is clarified in perfect voltage matching without batterys impending
other ways. For example, in one
test, several strings of 12 lead-
any sensing or control, and is the
lowest-cost active equalization
failure and makes
acid batteries were cycled without method known. All results to date real-time adjustments
equalization. The cells were rated
for at least 400 cycles, but instead
indicate that it can successfully
deliver on the promises of
to its performance to
the strings provided only 25 to 30 performance improvements under prevent failure and
cycles before reaching end of life. equalization.
extend its life.

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BATTERY MONITORING
is incredible, says Blettenberger.
Generex has recently signed an ex-
clusive and potentially ground-
breaking agreement with a
multinational industrial battery man-
ufacturer which is also a market lead-
er in the supply of UPS products. The
deal will mean the manufacturers
batteries will be sold with the battery
monitoring system built by Generex
as standard.
The agreement is believed to be the
first cooperation where an IT special-
ist such as Generex has cooperated
with a battery maker towards devel-
oping a smart battery of this type.
It represents a shift in emphasis for
the companys long-term corporate
strategy towards becoming a supplier
of battery systems instead of stand-
alone batteries.

North America targeted


Second, it has also used the technol-
ogy as springboard from which it will Denny: battery and IT veteran brought in to target international business
target the US market. Spearheading
the assault will be Alan Denny who in Brazil and China under licence. to make battery management a part
has joined as the companys interna- With global expansion at the fore- of the IT management products like
tional business development manager. front of its strategy now, Blettenberg- UPS are today, he says. We want to
Denny has more than 30 years expe- er believes its BACS product and the create the link between IT and facility
rience in the electronics and IT indus- equalization technology it contains management with our products.
tries including in the UPS and battery can revolutionize the battery moni- Ultimately, we know that if we
monitoring fields. toring industry. And long term, he continue to produce cutting-edge sys-
He was previously chief executive wants Generex to help such technol- tems and technology, customers will
of PK Electronics Europe for four ogy become a mainstream addition to come to see their value and want to
years and the head of NDSL, a lead- any IT infrastructure. use them.
ing market player in the accumula- We want to set a standard for sta-
tor monitoring systems. He was also tionary battery management and want
more recently the business develop-
ment manager for the battery moni-
toring group at LEM. With global expansion at the forefront of its
Generex has also recently won regula-
tory approval to manufacture its BACS
strategy now, Blettenberger believes its BACS
system in the US and Canada an im- product and the equalization technology it
portant green light for the company. It
has also issued permission for its prod-
contains can revolutionize the battery
ucts to be made and sold by third parties monitoring industry.

BACS Generation 1 installation 2004-2007 running on Oer- BACS Generation 2 installation 2008-2010 running on
likon batteries Hoppecke batteries

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BATTERY MONITORING

How equalization works


In a typical UPS battery installation there will typically Unpredictable battery failures are no longer possible
be many accumulators connected in series to achieve when using this technology, says Blettenberger. There
a high voltage in the string. This increase in string can be no dry-out, gassing or sulfation because, as long
voltage also means an increase in the number of as the charger is set correctly, BACS keeps the batteries
accumulators required. It is not unusual to have 800V at 100% charge level. BACS can also show immediately
or more within a string of accumulators with the if the battery maker has delivered products out of one
equivalent number of batteries/cells. batch.
The more accumulators used, however, the more other
pieces of equipment such as cables and connectors are
used. These, combined with greater distances between
accumulators, leads to higher and lower potential
within different parts of the battery string. The more
resistive materials used, the longer the cabling, the
more the impedances differ within the accumulators
and the more the charging levels are different.
Given that not all accumulators are equal, within a
string of this type their individual accumulators/cells
will never get the correct amount of charge they need
to prevent sulfation and dry out as well as premature
aging and failure.
For years, this dynamic was accepted. There was
no technical solution and so UPS makers simply
recommended replacing accumulators earlier than BACS viewer screen shows the status of all batteries
after a discharge.
their designed lifetime to reduce the risk of battery
failures. Nowadays it is commonly accepted that in a
UPS application the lifetime of a 12V battery is just
50%-60% of its design life.
Some customers did not feel comfortable simply
changing the batteries more often. It still did not
gurantee no failure and a high string voltage UPS
cannot tolerate a missing accumulator the complete
system collapses at a single point of failure.
This lead to the widespread use of battery monitoring
systems in the industry the type of technology
produced by Generex. But while most systems monitor
batteries in a number of ways to show why they
might fail (voltage differences, rising impedance etc)
none can also regulate the system, constantly making
adjustements to avoid failure in the first place.
That was the case until, in 2004, Generex first Viewer screen shows the voltage of 64 batteries before
and after a discharge and how equalizing corrects the
implemented equalization technology into BACS voltages on every single battery to stay within the cor-
which itself pulls together two decades of constant rect charging level.
development in this field by the company. The BACS
system is arguably one of the most sophisticated on the
market. It also allows users to remotely monitor the
performance of batteries through a range of bespoke
software systems designed by Generex.
The equalization technology incorporated into the
BACS system harmonizes the voltages between different
batteries used in a string to within a very small window
of only 0.01V, regardless of interconnections or their
location. It keeps the accumulator at full charge and
within the stated manufacturing float voltages.
The constant regulation of batteries in their optimal
voltage window is the basis of why BACS can make
batteries reach their design life when operating in a
string application, says Blettenberger. Even minor
voltage differences are unacceptable to us.
Differences between the quality of individual
batteries are also compensated through equalization.
A weaker battery is now no longer ruining the others Status screen of the BACS seen through an internet
browser. Shows the actual values for voltage, tempera-
in the string. This saves time and money since a ture, impedance and equalizing power required to keep
replacement is not needed, he says. the cell at the optimal level.

58 Batteries International Summer 2012 www.batteriesinternational.com