Lead-acid batteries are not the same as lithium batteries, and not all battery chargers are created equal. The question of whether a lithium battery can be charged using a standard charger may arise as a result. No, you cannot use a standard charger to charge a lithium battery. This is due to trickle charging, which is a feature of standard chargers. Lithium batteries cannot, however, be trickle charged. Charging must stop once a lithium battery reaches its nominal voltage.
However, it does get into a very technical discussion, which is outlined below if you want more information. There is much more to it than what has just been outlined above.
A Deeper Look At A Lithium Battery
Within the world of Lithium batteries, there exist many variations, with the most common of them being the Lithium- Ion variety. This article will focus on this specific type in order to determine whether it can be charged using a standard charger.
Batteries are named for the type of chemical composition they are made of in the majority of cases if not all of them. In this case, the battery uses Lithium Ions. During the discharge cycle, the lithium ions move from the negative terminal (cathode), through an electrolyte to the positive terminal (anode).
Different Types Of Lithium-ion Batteries
Lithium Ion batteries come in a variety of shapes for different applications which include;
- Small cylindrical (single cell with, a solid body, with no terminals)
- Large cylindrical (single cell, solid body, with threaded terminals)
- Flat or pouch (soft, flat body)
- The rigid plastic case (large threaded terminals)
How Do Normal Chargers Charge A Battery?
Batteries can be classed into two major categories; Primary and Secondary.
Primary batteries are one-offs and cannot be used once they run out of charge. Whereas, secondary batteries are rechargeable. Accordingly, they can be repeatedly recharged using a battery charger once they run out of juice.
Although most other batteries use standard chargers with a similar structure and operation, lithium batteries require a special charger (as we will see later).
Charging a battery involves reversing the chemical reactions that take place when the battery is ‘discharging’. Simplest chargers accomplish this by dispensing either a constant voltage or constant current. Older chargers, however, needed to be manually turned off in order to stop charging.
The problem with this is that the batteries will overcharge if you forget to turn off the charging. Or, if you stop charging too early they will not be fully charged (undercharged)
Undercharging is preferable to overcharging in both of the aforementioned scenarios. This is due to the batteries’ inability to accept additional energy when they are fully charged.
However, something needs to be done with the extra energy. When a battery is overcharged, the extra energy is released as heat, which increases pressure inside the battery and can cause it to rupture (sometimes explosively).
To address this issue, a fresh approach was created and is now present in more recent chargers. This technique is known as Trickle Charging.
Trickle charging is when a battery charger is able to charge a fully charged battery at a rate equal to its self-discharge rate, which allows the battery to maintain its full charge level.
By doing this, you can avoid manually checking the battery’s charge level. The proper voltage level will be kept by trickle charging.
Can I Charge A Lithium Battery With A Normal Charger?
You can, without a doubt. Do you have to? This query merits a thorough response. Lithium batteries can be charged when you try to use a standard charger on them. Lithium batteries, however, charge more slowly. This is so that they can use a lower voltage than the chargers that are typically used.
Please take note that batteries will overheat, which will cause a fire or an explosion if the operating voltage range is not significantly reduced. A more thorough explanation outline is provided here, though.
Knowing the voltage range that standard batteries like lead-acid batteries and lithium batteries operate in is important. A 12v lithium battery will typically have an estimated voltage of 13.3V to 13.4V when fully charged.
A lead-acid battery, on the other hand, can reportedly hold a voltage of between 12.6 and 12.8 volts when fully charged. A lead-acid battery will have an estimated voltage of 11.8V at the same 20% capacity as a lithium battery, which has a voltage of 13V at 20% capacity.
You can see that the voltage range we are discussing is quite small, only about 0.5V from a fully charged lithium battery at 100% to 20% capacity. A lead-acid battery holds about 11.7V with a voltage range of 1.1V, compared to a lithium battery’s estimated voltage at 25% charging capacity of 12.8V.
A typical charger can only fully charge a lithium battery up to 80% of its intended capacity because a regular lead-acid charger uses a voltage that is relatively lower. Since it alters the chemistry of the lithium battery and shortens its lifespan, this is not acceptable for a lithium battery. With a standard battery charger, you will consequently need to charge your lithium battery for longer periods of time and risk damaging it.
Additionally, a typical Lithium battery charger restricts the battery’s charging voltage to 14.6V. This maintains a 3.65V voltage across each series-connected cell.
Consequently, a standard battery charger will typically charge a lithium battery above its maximum voltage of 14.6V. This could lead to the serially connected lithium battery’s individual cells being overcharged, which would significantly shorten their lifespans or damage the battery permanently.
What Kind Of Charger Do Lithium Batteries Require?
Compared to other batteries of various chemistries, the lithium-ion battery is a unique type of battery. Strict guidelines must be followed when charging this particular battery type. The battery charger differs significantly from other chargers in that it limits voltage.
The key differences include;
- Higher voltage per cell
- Tighter voltage tolerances
- Absence of trickle or float charging
Because a lithium-ion battery cannot tolerate an overcharge, a charger does not support trickle charging. If the battery is charged above its nominal voltage, it may become unstable and sustain permanent damage.
An explosion is one form of damage that could happen! The charger comes with strict settings that adhere to the restrictions that come with charging this type of battery which will include features such as an end-of-charge detection circuit to monitor when the battery is fully charged.