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Battery-backup converter uses one NiCd cell

David Bell, Linear Technology, Milpitas, CA

Notebook computers and other portable equipment often use a backup battery to retain memory
contents during replacement of the main battery. Such "bridge batteries" usually consist of five or
six series-connected NiCd coin cells. They're expected to keep the system alive for approximately
5 minutes—plenty of time to swap batteries. The circuit in Figure 1 reduces size, weight, and cost
by using one NiCd cell instead of five or six. A Saft VB4E 40-mAhr NiCd coin cell has enough
capacity to keep a typical notebook computer in suspend mode for approximately 10 minutes. All
components (excluding the coin cell) consume less than 1/2 in.2 of pc-board area, and the cost
savings from fewer cells help pay for the added circuitry.

When it's operational, the main battery provides power to the system's dc/dc converters. The
LT1304 boost converter constantly monitors the dc/dc-converter input via the feedback divider
comprising R3 and R4. Once the FB pin drops below 1.24V (corresponding to approximately 6V at
the dc/dc-converter input), boost converter IC1 begins switching. Current comes from B1, through
L1, and into the SW pin on IC1. When IC1's internal switch turns off, the SW pin goes high,
delivering current through D2 into the dc/dc converter's input capacitor, C4. C4 already exists for
the dc/dc converter, so you need no additional output capacitor.

The LT1304 switches at approximately 200 kHz; thus, L1 can be small. Switching occurs
automatically as needed to hold the dc/dc converter's input at approximately 6V. Power for IC1 is
"bootstrapped" from the 5V dc/dc converter's output, so it never needs to operate directly from the
1.2V NiCd coin cell. Should the backup battery ever fully discharge, the 5V output drops below
the LT1304's minimum operating voltage of 1.5V, and the entire system shuts down. At that point,
the NiCd cell becomes unloaded, thereby preventing overdischarge damage. Backup operation is
re-established only after the main power source (main battery or ac power) is restored to the

It is often necessary to generate a logic signal to indicate that the system is receiving its power
from the backup battery. This signal can serve to shed load (the backup converter cannot support
full system power) or to open a MOSFET switch that prevents current from flowing back into the
main battery. When the LT1304 is operating, the flyback pulse present at the SW pin turns on Q1,
thereby peak-charging C1 through D1. Once the voltage on pin 1 exceeds 1.17V (the LBI
comparator threshold), the LBO open-collector driver is released and pulled high by the resistors
within Q2.

You can connect the LBO signal to logic circuitry or to a microcontroller input. LBO also turns off
Q2 to disable charging during backup operation. During normal nonbackup operation, LBO is low,
keeping Q2 saturated. In this state, approximately 350 µA of charging current flows through R5
into the battery. You can scale R5 for different charge currents as appropriate. (DI#1985)

A dc/dc converter allows you to replace a five- or six-unit string of NiCd coin cells with
one cell, which has enough energy to supply backup power for about 10 minutes.