Mechanisms of pulse current charging for stabilizing the cycling performance of commercial NMC/graphite LIBs. (Credit: Jia Guo et al., 2024)

Why Pulse Current Charging Lithium-Ion Batteries Extends Their Useful Lifespan

For as much capacity lithium-ion batteries have, their useful lifespan is generally measured in the hundreds of cycles. This degradation is caused by the electrodes themselves degrading, including the graphite anode in certain battery configurations fracturing. For a few years it’s been known that pulsed current (PC) charging can prevent much of this damage compared to constant current (CC) charging. The mechanism behind this was the subject of a recent research article by [Jia Guo] and colleagues as published in Advanced Energy Materials.

Raman spectra of a) as-cycled and b) surface-removed graphite anodes aged under CC and Pulse-2000 charging. FE-SEM images of the cross-sections of graphite electrodes aged with CC (c,d) and Pulse-2000 (e,f) charging. d,f) are edge-magnified images of (c,e). g) shows the micrograph and O and C element mapping of the surface of CC-aged graphite electrode. TEM images of h) fresh, i) CC, and j) Pulse-2000 aged graphite anodes. (Credit: Jia Guo et al., 2024)
Raman spectra of a) as-cycled and b) surface-removed graphite anodes aged under CC and Pulse-2000 charging. FE-SEM images of the cross-sections of graphite electrodes aged with CC (c,d) and Pulse-2000 (e,f) charging. d,f) are edge-magnified images of (c,e). g) shows the micrograph and O and C element mapping of the surface of CC-aged graphite electrode. TEM images of h) fresh, i) CC, and j) Pulse-2000 aged graphite anodes. (Credit: Jia Guo et al., 2024)

The authors examined the damage to the electrodes after multiple CC and PC cycles using Raman and X-ray absorption spectroscopy along with lifecycle measurements for CC and PC charging at 100 Hz (Pulse-100) and 2 kHz (Pulse-2000). Matching the results from the lifecycle measurements, the electrodes in the Pulse-2000 sample were in a much better state, indicating that the mechanical stress from pulse current charging is far less than that from constant current charging. A higher frequency with the PC shows increased improvements, though as noted by the authors, it’s not known yet at which frequencies diminishing returns will be observed.

The use of PC vs CC is not a new thing, with the state-of-the-art in electric vehicle battery charging technology being covered in a 2020 review article by [Xinrong Huang] and colleagues as published in Energies. A big question with the many different EV PC charging modes is what the optimum charging method is to maximize the useful lifespan of the battery pack. This also applies to lithium-metal batteries, with a 2017 research article by [Zi Li] and colleagues in Science Advances providing a molecular basis for how PC charging suppresses the formation of dendrites .

What this demonstrates quite well is that the battery chemistry itself is an important part, but the way that the cells are charged and discharged can be just as influential, with the 2 kHz PC charging in the research by [Jia Guo] and colleagues demonstrating a doubling of its cycle life over CC charging. Considering the amount of Li-ion batteries being installed in everything from smartphones and toys to cars, having these last double as long would be very beneficial.

Thanks to [Thomas Yoon] for the tip.

Lithium-Ion Batteries Power Your Devboards Easily

Last summer, I was hanging out with a friend from Netherlands for a week, and in the middle of that week, we decided to go on a 20 km bike trip to a nearby beach. Problem? We wanted to chat throughout the trip, but the wind noise was loud, and screaming at each other while cycling wouldn’t have been fun. I had some walkie-talkie software in mind, but only a single battery-powered Pi in my possession. So, I went into my workshop room, and half an hour later, walked out with a Pi Zero wrapped in a few cables.

I wish I could tell you that it worked out wonders. The Zero didn’t have enough CPU power, I only had single-core ones spare, and the software I had in mind would start to badly stutter every time we tried to run it in bidirectional mode. But the battery power solution was fantastic. If you need your hack to go mobile, read on.

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Copy And Paste Lithium Battery Protection

Lithium batteries have, nearly single-handedly, ushered in the era of the electric car, as well as battery energy storage of grid power and plenty of other technological advances not possible with older battery chemistries. There’s just one major downside: these lithium cells can be extremely finicky. If you’re adding one to your own project you’ll have to be extremely careful to treat them exactly how they are designed to be treated using something like this boilerplate battery protection circuit created by [DIY GUY Chris].

The circuit is based around the TP4056 integrated circuit, which handles the charging of a single lithium cell — in this design using supplied power from a USB port. The circuit is able to charge a cell based on the cell’s current charge state, temperature, and a model of the cell. It’s also paired with a DW01A chip which protects the cell from various undesirable conditions such as over-current, overcharge, and over-voltage.

The best thing about this design isn’t the design itself, but that [DIY GUY Chris] built the circuit schematic specifically to be easily copied into PCB designs for other projects, which means that lithium batteries can more easily be integrated directly into his other builds. Be sure to check out our primer on how to deal with lithium batteries before trying one of your own designs, though.

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Fool A Drone With A Fixed Battery

Lithium-ion and lithium-polymer rechargeable batteries have given us previously impossible heights of electronics power and miniaturization, but there’s a downside they have brought along with them. When a battery pack has to contain electronics for balancing cells, it’s very easy for a manufacturer to include extra functions such as locking down the battery. Repair a battery, replace cells, or use a third-party battery, and it won’t work. [Zolly] has this with a DJI Mavic Mini pack, and shares with us a method for bypassing it.

The pack talks to the multi-rotor with a serial line, and the hack involves interrupting that line at the opportune moment to stop it telling its host that things are amiss. Which is a good start — but we can’t help hacing some misgivings around the rest of the work. Disconnecting the balance line between the two cells and fooling the Battery Management System (BMS) with a resistive divider seems to us like a recipe of disaster, as does bypassing the protection MOSFETs with a piece of wire. It may work, and in theory the cells can be charged safely with an external balance charger, but we’re not sure we’d like to have a pack thus modified lying around the shop.

It does serve as a reminder that BMS boards can sometimes infuriatingly lock their owners out. We once encountered this with a second-generation iBook battery that came back to life after a BMS reset, but it’s still not something to go into unwarily. Read our guide to battery packs and BMS boards to know more.

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Lithium-Ion Battery Circuitry Is Simple

By now, we’ve gone through LiIon handling basics and mechanics. When it comes to designing your circuit around a LiIon battery, I believe you could benefit from a cookbook with direct suggestions, too. Here, I’d like to give you a collection of LiIon recipes that worked well for me over the years.

I will be talking about single-series (1sXp) cell configurations, for a simple reason – multiple-series configurations are not something I consider myself as having worked extensively with. The single-series configurations alone will result in a fairly extensive writeup, but for those savvy in LiIon handling, I invite you to share your tips, tricks and observations in the comment section – last time, we had a fair few interesting points brought up!

The Friendly Neighborhood Charger

There’s a whole bunch of ways to charge the cells you’ve just added to your device – a wide variety of charger ICs and other solutions are at your disposal. I’d like to focus on one specific module that I believe it’s important you know more about.

You likely have seen the blue TP4056 boards around – they’re cheap and you’re one Aliexpress order away from owning a bunch, with a dozen boards going for only a few bucks. The TP4056 is a LiIon charger IC able to top up your cells at rate of up to 1 A. Many TP4056 boards have a protection circuit built in, which means that such a board can protect your LiIon cell from the external world, too. This board itself can be treated as a module; for over half a decade now, the PCB footprint has stayed the same, to the point where you can add a TP4056 board footprint onto your own PCBs if you need LiIon charging and protection. I do that a lot – it’s way easier, and even cheaper, than soldering the TP4056 and all its support components. Here’s a KiCad footprint if you’d like to do that too.

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Lithium-Ion Batteries Are Easy To Find

In the first article, I’ve given you an overview of Lithium-Ion batteries and cells as building blocks for our projects, and described how hackers should treat their Lithium-Ion cells. But what if you don’t have any LiIon cells yet? Where do you get LiIon cells for your project?

Taking laptop batteries apart,  whether the regular 18650 or the modern pouch cell-based ones, remains a good avenue – many hackers take this road and the topic is extensively covered by a number of people. However, a 18650 cell might not fit your project size-wise, and thin batteries haven’t quite flooded the market yet. Let’s see what your options are beyond laptops. Continue reading “Lithium-Ion Batteries Are Easy To Find”

Lithium-Ion Batteries Are Your Friends

Need some kind of battery for a project? You can always find a few Lithium-Ion (LiIon) batteries around! They’re in our phones, laptops, and a myriad other battery-powered things of all forms – as hackers, we will find ourselves working with them more and more. Lithium-Ion batteries are unmatched when it comes to energy capacity, ease of charging, and all the shapes and sizes you can get one in.

There’s also misconceptions about these batteries – bad advice floating around, fearmongering videos of devices ablaze, as well as mundane lack of understanding. Today, I’d like to provide a general overview of how to treat your LiIon batteries properly, making sure they serve you well long-term.

What’s A Battery? A Malleable Pile Of Cells

Lithium-Ion batteries are our friends. Now, there can’t be a proper friendship if you two don’t understand each other. Lithium-Ion batteries are tailored for human needs by the factory that produced them. As for us hackers, we’ll want to learn some things.

First thing to learn – a single LiIon “unit” is called a cell. An average laptop contains three or six Li-Ion cells, a phone will have one, a tablet will have from one to three. What we refer to as “battery” is typically one or multiple cells, together with protection circuitry, casing and a separate connector – most of the time all three of these, but not always. The typical voltage is 3.6 V or 3.7 V, with maximum voltage being 4.2 V – these are chemistry-defined, the same for most kinds of cells and almost always written on the cell. Continue reading “Lithium-Ion Batteries Are Your Friends”