Monitoring Battery Temperature
Using an adapted temperature sensor with your charger
can increase the life of your house batteries.
ouse battery performance
continues to be a concern
for recreation vehicle
owners. As electrical systems become more complex, the chance for
battery problems increases.
The simplest electrical systems
use a convertor for battery charging.
Most of the time, these systems do
not have an inverter. As long as an
inverter is not present, extreme battery discharge is less likely, except
when the coach has been without
shore power for a prolonged period
of time. Under these circumstances,
convertors often are unable to satisfactorily recharge the batteries. When
a convertor is used, the most common problem is battery overcharging
while the coach is in storage. Although this does not usually result in
a dangerous battery temperature rise,
the battery can be over charged
enough to increase water consumption and significantly decrease the
electrolyte level. When an inverter is
also used, the potential for extreme
discharging increases, and the potential for significant overcharging is
Some newer inverter/chargers by
Trace Engineering, Heart Interface
Inc., and Statpower Technologies
Corp. now include temperature sensors that allow automatic temperature-compensated charging. However, many coaches equipped with
inverter/chargers utilize units that are
capable of temperature-compensated
charging but require manual adjustments. Several of the Trace units
feature a dial adjustment. The Heart
units have either dip switch adjustments or adjustments through an optional “Link” monitor/remote control.
The most common problems associated with battery charging are
under charging and overcharging.
Undercharging can be minimized by
charging to the maximum recommended voltage set points for an
adequate time period. As batteries
age, their ability to accept a charge
changes, and it becomes easier to
overcharge them. Two indicators of
overcharging are excess water consumption and excess heat during
charging. Information pertaining to
monitoring water consumption appeared in an article titled “Battery
Electrolyte Level Monitor” in the
October 1993 issue of FMC. This
article describes a monitor that can
be made for under $20. (For a photocopy of this article, send a stamped.,
self-addressed business-size envelope
to Assistant Editor, Clough Pike,
Cincinnati, OH 45244.)
Battery temperature can be
monitored by adapting an inexpensive temperature sensor available
from RadioShack (part #63-1019,
$15.99). This sensor, or probe, can be
used with a charger that features adjustable charge set points or manually controlled temperature regulation to alter charge characteristics.
While the sensor may be attached to
the battery at various sites, the positive or negative battery post may
provide the most reliable readings.
We prefer to use the positive post.
For a stud post battery, this can be
accomplished with a terminal that fits
a 3/8-inch stud and can accept a 6gauge wire.
The temperature sensor is inserted into the terminal where the
wire is normally attached and is held
in place with a little epoxy. A similar
configuration is used by Ample
Technology for the temperature sensor component of the Next Step Alternator Regulator and the EMON II
energy monitor. If the batteries are
all the same age, which is recommended, all will have similar charge
characteristics and temperature responses to charging.
Mount the terminal to the positive
stud post of a representative battery
underneath the cable attachment if
the battery has a lead post. Wedge
the temperature probe between the
open ends of the battery cable where
it is bolted to the positive post. If
there is not enough room in that part
of the cable, carefully remove lead
from the cable terminal with a small
drill to create an opening just large
enough to accommodate the probe.
Make sure the probe fits snugly, but
do not damage it or the cable.
If the battery does not have standard posts, gently compress the probe
between the base of the cable and the
top of the battery. Again, make snug
contact but be careful not to damage
the probe. Mount the sensor display
in an appropriate location for your
installation, if necessary; the wire
between the probe and the display
can be lengthened, but all connections should be soldered.
Once the probe is in place, note a
base temperature prior to charging.
For flooded batteries, the maximum
charge rate can be calculated by dividing the amp-hour capacity of the
batteries by five. This rate is usually
higher for gel batteries, but it’s critical to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. When a battery bank
used with an inverter is discharged to
approximately 50 percent, charge
rates often will be between 40 and
120 amps, depending upon the size
of the battery bank and whether adequate grid voltage is available.
During recharging, note the temperature rise, especially as you begin
to reach full-charge voltage. This
may be 14.2 volts to 14.6 volts for a
flooded battery. For gel batteries,
follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. The temperature of a
battery should not exceed 125 degrees Fahrenheit under any circumstances. It’s preferable for it to be
approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit (plus or minus 5 degrees) during
maximum recommended charge
rates, which will vary depending
upon the size of the battery bank. if
the temperature reaches 125 degrees,
charging should be discontinued until
the temperature drops back to approximately 100 degrees. Then, resume charging at a lower charge rate
to keep the temperature closer to
recommended levels.
Some chargers cause a greater
temperature rise at the same amperage than others. Also, as batteries
age, they tend to produce more heat.
especially when trying to charge to
maximum voltage set points. The
temperature rise usually can be diminished by reducing the maximum
charge voltage set point. During the
life of a battery, an elevated temperature can occur suddenly even
while charging to previously adequate parameters. if this temperature
rise is not detected, batteries can be
severely damaged in a relatively
short time by continued charging.
Because this temperature monitor
does not interface with the charger
and cannot automatically alter charge
rates, the owner must be observant
and able to make manual charge rate
adjustments. The adjustments are
most important with alternator and
grid charging, because these sources
can produce high amperage, which
can induce battery thermal elevations
or thermal runaway.
When batteries are deeply discharged, they often will accept a
charge at maximum rates for a longer
period of time before elevated temperatures are noted. When grid voltage is available for a prolonged period, the temperature-compensation
setting on the charger may be set to a
corresponding level as indicated by
the temperature display.
However, when grid voltage is
available for limited periods, as when
running the AC generator, we have
found a faster, yet safe, method of
recharging in our application. We
leave the charger temperature adjustment at Its baseline indication
(depending on the model, this may be
60, 70, or 77 degrees). At this maximum allowable setting, we charge
until the temperature sensor reads
105 degrees Fahrenheit in a new
battery or 110 degrees in a battery
that has been in service more than
two years. At this point. the charger
temperature adjustment is changed to
correspond to the temperature reading. In our installation, this technique
has produced the fastest charging
without causing excess water consumption.
We have been using temperature
compensated charging since 1993,
and it has doubled the useful life of
our house batteries. Although we
believe it’s better to buy a regulator
that can automatically vary charge
rates according to temperature and
that can control all charging sources
(alternator, solar, wind, and grid
charger), this simple temperature
sensor will help in adjusting chargers
that are not automatically temperature compensated. It also provides a
means of monitoring battery temperature in applications in which an
charger is not equipped with its own
temperature display.
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