The Mystery of the Boiled Batteries

While debugging a strange battery failure in a manufacturing process, [Josh] discovered a new (to us) LiPo battery failure mode.

Different battery chemistries react differently to temperature. We’ve used lithium exclusively in high-altitude ballooning, for instance, because of their decent performance when cold. Lithium batteries generally don’t like high temperatures, on the other hand, but besides the risk of bursting into flames, we had no idea that heat could kill them. When the battery’s voltage is already low, though, it turns out it can.

[Josh]’s process required molding plastic with the battery inside, and this meant heating the batteries up. After the fact, he noticed an unreasonably high failure rate in the batteries, and decided to test them out. He put the batteries, each in a different initial charge, into a plastic bag and tortured them all with ice and fire. (OK, boiling water.)

When the batteries got hot, their voltage sagged a little bit, but they recovered afterwards. And while the voltage sagged a little bit more for the batteries with lower initial charge, that’s nothing compared to the complete failure of the battery that entered the hot water with under 1V on it — see they yellow line in the graphs.


There’s a million ways to kill a battery, and lithium batteries are known not to like being completely discharged, but it looks like the combination of deep discharge and heat is entirely deadly. Now you know.

Battery Basics – Choosing a Battery for Your Project

If choosing a rechargeable battery for your project intimidates you, [Afroman] has prepared a primer video that should put you at ease. In this tutorial for battery basics he not only walks you through a choice of 5 rechargeable chemistries and their respective tradeoffs, but gives a procedure that will allow you to navigate through the specs of real-world batteries for sale – something that can be the most intimidating part of the process.

You cannot learn everything about batteries in 9 minutes, but watching this should get you from zero to the important 80% of the way there. Even if your project does not give you the specs you need to begin buying, [Afroman] tells you what to measure and how to shop for it. In particular, the information he gives is framed in the context you care about, hopefully ensuring you are not waylaid by all the details that were safe to ignore. If this is not enough, [Afroman]’s prequel video on battery terminology has more detail.

Much like your high school English teacher told you, you need to know the rules before you can choose to break them. Many of battery absolute Dos or Don’ts are written for the manufacturer, who provides for the consumer, not the hacker. Hackaday has published hundreds of battery articles over the years; search our archives when you are ready for more.

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Upgrading Cordless Drill Batteries to Lithium

Cordless power tool battery replacements are expensive: you can easily spend $100 for a NiCd pack. [henal] decided to skip nickle-based cells and cut out the middleman by converting his old cordless battery packs to inexpensive hobby lithium cells. These batteries appear to be Turnigy 3S 1300mAh’s from Hobbyking, which for around $10 is a great bargain. As we’ve explained before, lithium batteries offer several advantages over NiMH and NiCd cells, but such a high energy density has drawbacks that should be feared and respected, despite some dismissive commenters. Please educate yourself if you’ve never worked with lithium cells.

[henal] gutted his dead battery packs and then proceeded to prepare the lithium replacements by soldering them to the cordless pack’s power connectors. To keep charging simple, he also branched off a deans connector from power and ground. After cutting some holes in the pack for access to the balancing connector and deans connector, [helan] went the extra mile by soldering on a DIN connector to the balancing wires, which he then securely glued to the side of the case.

We’ve featured lithium power tool replacements before, and these Turnigy packs pose the same problem: they don’t appear to have any low voltage cut-off protection. Check out some of the comments for a good solution.

LiPo internal resistance measurement tool


This is a scratch-build meter for measuring the internal resistance of Lithium Polymer cells. [Bleuer Csaba] uses the LiPo cells for RC vehicles and thet take quite a beating from the motors  they’re supplying. This means that he only gets about 100-200 cycles out of each cell. To figure out where one is in its life cycle you can measure the internal resistance where a rising resistance indicates greater age. [Bleuer] mentions that you can buy a meter to do this for you, but what fun is that?

Since he’s rolling his own tool he defined his own parameters for the readings. After experimenting with different loads driven for different test periods he was able to extrapolate an equation that estimates the resistance measurement. As you can see in the clip after the break, this happens very fast. All he has to do is connect the cell and press one button. The measurements are made and various data points are displayed on the quartet of 7-segment displays.

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LiPo battery tester for solar vehicle battery array

If you’re building solar vehicles at a competitive level you’ve got to know exactly how the storage batteries will perform. To that end [Matthew] built a Lithium Polymer battery tester for use by the McMaster University Solar Car Project. It worked well, but could only test one battery at a time. He just finished up a second version, which can test battery specifications on up to eight units at once. It saves a lot of time, but still takes fifteen hours to test just one set of the units used by the vehicle.

The most important aspect being measured is the discharge curve. Sure, there’s a datasheet that includes this information, but how can be sure that what you received will perform at spec? Each of the eight channels can be disconnected from the system using a relay. This is just one of the safety features which watch for things like over-voltage and over-current conditions. Remember, Lithium batteries can heat up fast if there’s a problem. Data is sampled on a 12-bit ADC and can be pushed to a computer via USB for graphing.

From the readers: low battery cutoff solutions

We got a lot of really great feedback about low battery cutoff options in the comments section of Monday’s replacement battery post. To refresh your memory, some power tool batteries were replaced by Lithium Polymer units which can be damaged if drained too low before recharging. We had thought that many Lithium cells had cutoff circuitry these days. The consensus is that these batteries didn’t because they’re for RC applications where weight is an issue. But we did get a ton of people sending in commercially available drop-in solutions, mostly from RC hobby outlets, so search around for those if you’re interested.

[Christopher] sent us a link to the cutoff circuit he built for his bike light. You can see the schematic for it above (direct link). He sourced an ATtiny45 to drive a MOSFET which disconnects the battery when it gets too low. This would be easy to adapt to other uses, but note that there’s a voltage regulator involved as well as a few other passives… not a difficult solution but also not all that simple.

This same concept can be adapted. A few commentors mentioned using a transistor (or MOSFET) with the base driven by a voltage divider including a zener diode. This way the voltage rating of the diode would effectively shut off the gate when that threshold was reached.

We also enjoyed reading about [Bill’s] human-controlled cutoff circuit. It also uses a zener diode, but this time in series with a resistor and and LED patched into the trigger of the tool. The LED will shine brightly when the battery is in good shape. It will dim near the end, and fail to light when the critical limit has been reached. Just make sure you’re paying attention and you’re in good shape.

Pros and cons of replacing tool batteries with Lithium Polymer

[HammyDude] was tired of buying replacement batteries for his power tools. He had some Lithium Polymer batteries on hand and decided to take one of his dead drills and swap out the dead power pack.

The orange battery pack you see above has a deans connector on it for use with RC vehicles. By opening up the drill housing, [HammyDude] was able to add the mating deans connector. Now the replacement easily plugs into the drill, and it even fits inside the handle body.

This battery is made up of several cells, and an inexpensive charger is capable of topping off each individually for a balanced charge. In the video after the break [HammyDude] points out that the Makita charger applies voltage to all of the cells in series. It’s incapable of balance charging so when one cell dies the battery is toast. We’ve encountered this problem with Makita tools before.

One drawback to take note of in the end of the video: this replacement doesn’t have any low voltage cut-off. Running this battery pack down too low will permanently damage it. There must be a simple circuit that could be added as a safety measure. If you know of one, drop us a tip.

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