Battery Assessment

Intermediate

Inside this Article

Filthy battery bank.
Take stock of your battery bank’s health with this step-by-step assessment guide.
Using a battery room for storage
Using a battery room for storage can lead to poor accessibility to the batteries for maintenance, and can be a safety hazard.
Class C fire extinguisher
Besides eye protection, acid-proof gloves, baking soda, and distilled water, a Class C fire extinguisher and an eyewash station are important to have near the batteries.
An eyewash station
Besides eye protection, acid-proof gloves, baking soda, and distilled water, a Class C fire extinguisher and an eyewash station are important to have near the batteries.
Battery terminal corrosion
Battery terminal corrosion can lead to poor system performance and/or reduced battery life.
Improperly installed temperature sensor
Only properly installed temperature sensors can adjust the charge regime correctly. This one should have been installed two-thirds of the way up on the side of the battery, and between two batteries.
Testing the battery voltage
Testing the voltage of each battery is a quick way to identify a weak or failing cell.
Checking electrolyte level
The electrolyte level in this battery is very low, exposing the plates to air, which causes permanent damage.
Testing specific gravity of the electrolyte
The specific gravity of the electrolyte can be tested with a hydrometer.
Testing specific gravity of the electrolyte
The specific gravity of the electrolyte can also be tested with a refractometer.
Checking cell temperatures
Cell temperatures that are too high can impact the number of available cycles.
Battery Temperature Sensor
The BTS communicates the battery cell temperature to the inverter/charger and the charge controller to adjust the charging setpoints.
Filthy battery bank.
Using a battery room for storage
Class C fire extinguisher
An eyewash station
Battery terminal corrosion
Improperly installed temperature sensor
Testing the battery voltage
Checking electrolyte level
Testing specific gravity of the electrolyte
Testing specific gravity of the electrolyte
Checking cell temperatures
Battery Temperature Sensor

This article outlines the steps to evaluate a battery bank’s health, which starts with a visual inspection of the battery bank’s location, its enclosure, and the condition of the batteries themselves. Next, specific measurements are made, including testing battery voltages and checking the electrolyte in each cell for its level, specific gravity, temperature, and color.

The information collected during a battery assessment can be used to track the changes in a battery over time; analyze the impact of charging setpoint adjustments; or review the performance of a battery with the manufacturer or supplier. This data is particularly useful when replacement is necessary, and when you need to determine what changes should be made in the system’s settings and operation to achieve better performance and longer battery life.

Visual Inspection

The first step of a visual inspection involves making general observations about the battery bank and its enclosure or room. This includes checking if the batteries are protected from the weather; if there is good airflow to keep the batteries cool and to dissipate hydrogen gases; and verifying that necessary safety equipment is accessible. Each battery must be checked for problems such as bulging cases, cracks, leaks, and corrosion. Next, the system’s setpoints need to be reviewed and recorded. Finally, the condition of the charging system’s battery temperature sensor is evaluated.

Battery bank location is important, as it can affect the amount of ventilation available to dissipate heat and hydrogen/fumes produced by the battery. The location should also provide protection from weather extremes—such as shading from the sun or insulation from cold. The bank also needs to be isolated from any sources of flame or spark (such as a gas-fired water heater), which could ignite hydrogen produced by the batteries.

Workspace clearances and safety. There needs to be easy and safe access for maintenance. Live parts of the battery (terminal posts and cable connections) should be guarded against accidental contact. Clearance and equipment accessibility are important to safe system maintenance and are required by the NEC (see “Code Corner” in HP156). The battery room should not be used as a storage space—impeded access to the battery bank can discourage maintenance and can also affect airflow.

Adequate safety gear should be available for maintenance and repair. This includes goggles, chemical-rated gloves, insulated tools, and a nonmetallic flashlight. A supply of baking soda and distilled water should be kept with the batteries. A Class C-rated fire extinguisher should also be located at the entrance of the room in case of an emergency.

The condition of the battery enclosure and rack needs to be evaluated, since corrosion from a metal enclosure or rack to a battery terminal can result in ground faults or shock hazard. The enclosure or rack should include spill containment trays or liners to handle spills from overfilling or leaks. There should be air vents in a battery enclosure (bottom and top) to allow air to enter and exit. All metal enclosures or racking should also be connected to the grounding system.

Assess the battery’s overall condition. Bulging battery cases may be caused by swollen plates, which have been damaged from overcharging. Dirt- or debris-covered battery tops can increase the battery’s self-discharge and result in contamination of the electrolyte. Melted battery terminals may be evidence of arcing from loose connections, or from a direct short-circuit during maintenance. Corrosion on the terminals can reduce performance and lead to imbalanced charging between paralleled strings of batteries. The battery makes and models must all be the same and the same age; mixing different battery manufacturers or models will result in uneven charging and reduce the batteries’ performance and life.

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Comments (8)

Brian Ellul's picture

Hello

Good article!

Regarding the load testing, can you give an indication of what should be the voltage under load for a 2v Cell. I would like to test a set of brand new (however left unattended) forklift batteries before purchasing them however I'm finding it difficult to arrive at a definate conclusion as to their actual state/capacity.

The batteries are brand Fulmen 680AH - 20cm width x 12cm depth x 46cm tall, I've charged one cell, voltage reached 2.11v and SG=1.28.
I discharged this cell with a small load. Discharged for 85 hours at 3.3 amps (not easy to find loads at such a low voltage). At the end of the discharge test, the voltage came down to 2.01 and SG=1.19.
During discharge, the voltage read 1.95v. Is this OK since I'm finding it a bit low? How can I determine the battery capacity based on my tests?

Thanks a lot for your help.

Regards
Brian

Christopher Freitas's picture

Yes - that was my error. I had changed the text during editing to show the watts (which decrease by a factor of 4 when the voltage is halved) and then switched it to amps (which only halves when the voltage is halved) and forgot to switch the values. I apologize for this oversight and appreciate you bringing it up.

Christopher

Richard Bosse's picture

Christopher,
I believe there is a mistake in your calculations under the heading "load testing." For the 12 Volt battery, R=E/I. R=12V/500A, R=0.024 Ohms. For the 6 Volt battery, I=6V/0.024 Ohms, I=250 Amps not 125 Amps as stated in the article. For the 2 Volt battery, I=2/0.024, I=83 Amps not 30 Amps as stated in the article.
Rich

Marty Rosenzweig's picture

Hi Christopher,
Thanks for the quick reply! The setpoints are 29.6 v, absorb (2 hours), 26.4 float and 31.0, EQ. I believe those are pretty standard for this application but I could be wrong. The batteries were using a bit of water, about normal, I'd say, and I was aware that the Outback is set up for AGM out of the factory as to not inadvertently overcharge them if the default was FLA.
It's true that I could no doubt make the RTS work, but what would be the point? I'd really like to understand the chemistry more and know what I should expect from using the BTS.
Maybe the reduced SpG at elevated temperatures is what results in longer battery life, albeit at a reduced SOC. Or maybe the BTS really provides the most benefit at reduced temperatures where the setpoints would increase to drive the SpG. higher than w/o the BTS. The Trojan tech was not impressed with my particular results!

The house location experiences very little temperature fluctuation during the year.

Although I can't imagine what I could be doing wrong it would be interesting to have others verify (or refute) my findings!

Thanks for your time. This battery technology still seem like a trial and error implementation, even after all these years of experience with it.

Marty
PS: If this tread is getting a bit "over the top" for the 'Comments" section, let me know!!

Christopher Freitas's picture

Hello Marty - Interesting problem. You didn't mention what the setpoints are that you are using for the Trojan T105s. I've found that with PV systems that the settings may need to be different than what is recommended by the manufacturers since they are typically thinking of applications which are charging 24 hours a day continuously (such as the utility grid) and not a source which floats the battery for only 6 or so hours a day.

The bottom line is what you are observing - the specific gravity is better with the higher setpoint - by defeating the RTS you are essentially raising the setpoint up a couple of tenths. This could be done also by having the RTS connected and just adjusting the float (and absorb probably as well) a couple of tenths. This way the setting will be compensated for the change in temperatures better over the year.

BTW - the default settings in the OutBack products are intended for sealed type batteries - which are always lower setpoints then recommended for flooded type batteries.

You also didn't mention if your batteries are using any water - all flooded deep cycle batteries should use some - if they don't then they most likely are not being charged fully and may become sulfated.

Let me know what your setpoints are currently and how much water you've been adding.

Christopher

Marty Rosenzweig's picture

After many posts and phone calls, I've never been able to find the answer to a BTS (Outback calls theirs RTS) problem I had. Never having used an RTS before, I properly placed and connected a new one via an Outback MX60 to a new bank of 4X2 Trojan T-105s. I noted that it was operating correctly and reducing the Absorb set point a few tenths to compensate for a slightly elevated ambient temperature in accordance with a table of values I had, temp vs change in voltage.
Everything was looking fine until I measured the temperature compensated specific gravity (at Float) which showed a consistent under charge at about 1.230 (SOC 80%). Nothing I could do (e.g., lengthen absorb time) would bring these new batteries up to 100% SOC or 1.27 SpG. An EQ worked but the RTS is not used during equalization.
Trojan couldn't explain it but was adamant that the SpG be brought up to 1.27, whatever it took. So, my new RTS is disconnected and the batteries happily float at 1.26+ after 3 years of use.
I'd like to find out how to implement the RTS correctly but have yet to discover what to expect from the RTS implementation.
Ideas? Next issue?

robert wimberly's picture

Good article and focuses on some of the most important checks. I would only add that when checking specific gravity you may be slightly mislead if you do not correct for the electrolytes temperature. The normal correction factor is 0.004 points of gravity for every 10 degrees above or below 80F. For example if you are outside in a cool area at 40F then a reading of 1.265 g/ml is really approximately 1.249 g/ml.

Justine Sanchez's picture

Hi Robert,
Good point! And timely as our next issue of Home Power includes an article specifically focused on checking specific gravity, where we do touch on the need to adjust for the electrolyte temperature. Thanks for posting!
Cheers,
Justine Sanchez
Home Power Magazine

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