Yes, technically, you can charge a Lithium battery with any charger. However, it’s important to note that the charger type significantly impacts the battery’s condition and lifespan. Normal Lead-Acid chargers tend to undercharge Lithium batteries due to mismatching voltage values. This causes batteries to degrade faster and even results in other issues.
I will go into more detail below.
Charging Lithium Batteries with a Normal Lead-Acid Battery
Technically, it’s possible to use normal Lead-Acid chargers for Lithium batteries, but doing so causes issues, possibly even damage, to the batteries and the charger itself.
Lithium batteries have different internal components and voltage capacities than Lead-Acid ones.
Lithium batteries generally have higher voltage per cell, strict voltage tolerance, and built-in functions that prevent overcharging.
Recognizing these differences is important because chargers are tailored to fit each battery’s specifications.
Lithium batteries are more robust than we think they are. Using a typical Lead-Acid charger once or twice will have minor effects, but continuously doing so may result in long-term issues.
Long-term Effects of Using Normal Chargers for Lithium Batteries
Effects on the Charging Cycle
Your Lithium batteries will be able to handle a few charges using a normal charger without issue, however, expect them to only partially charge.
When a charger reaches its complete cycle (when it reaches full capacity), it will change to the float stage and monitor the battery voltage. Once the voltage drops from full capacity, the charging cycle will restart.
A Lithium charger will immediately restart its cycle once the voltage drops. In contrast, a Lead-Acid charger will only restart its cycle if the voltage drops to a certain threshold.
For example, your Lead-Acid charger will only restart the charging cycle if the voltage drops to 80% of its full capacity. The Lead-Acid charger will treat battery voltages ranging from 81% to 99% as fully charged and remain at the float stage.
Effects on Battery Capacity
Regularly using Lead-Acid chargers causes lower battery capacity due to constant undercharging.
As we said before, a Lead-Acid charger will end the charging cycle once the voltage threshold is reached. For example, if the threshold is 80%, the charger will treat the battery as fully charged once 80% of the max voltage is reached. However, your battery is undercharged since it’s still missing 20% of its max voltage.
Yes, undercharging is a real thing. It happens when you don’t allow the battery to reach its full capacity after usage. Undercharging affects the battery capacity and will slowly cause sulfating (when the battery bloats due to built-up sulfate crystals).
Sulfating is one of the common reasons why battery capacities degrade over time. Sulfate crystals build-up prevents batteries from effectively absorbing electricity. This causes issues like:
- Longer Charging Cycles
- Shorter Battery Life
- Faster Heat Build-Up (Compared to the first few usages)
- Battery Bloating
- Eventual Battery Failure
Don’t immediately toss away your batteries if you notice some of the mentioned issues. Sulfating is a slow process, so unless you’ve been charging your Lithium batteries with Lead-Acid chargers for months, chances are they’re still salvable.
If your batteries are still operational and haven’t bloated, you can reduce the effects of sulfating and extend their lifespan.
All you need to do is return the Lithium batteries to their regular cycle and let them charge to full capacity. Regularly using a Lithium charger is the easiest way to do so.
Does the Type of Charger Matter?
Ultimately, your Lithium batteries will recharge no matter which charger is used. The major impact of the charger type is how it affects the lifespan of the batteries.
All batteries slowly degrade over time until they’re no longer usable. It’s merely a matter of which one lasts longer. The chargers can prolong or shorten battery lifespan depending on the voltage and charging cycles it provides.
Lead-Acid Chargers for Lithium Batteries
The maximum voltage threshold is the main issue with using normal Lead-Acid chargers for Lithium Batteries.
In general, Lithium batteries can’t overcharge since they’re self-maintaining. However, they can undercharge if the charger’s voltage threshold exceeds the battery’s max voltage capacity. As we said before, this will cause the battery capacity to degrade, causing longer charging time but lower usage time.
On another note, this is avoidable if you can manually set or change the max voltage of the charger. Just set the Lead-Acid charger’s max voltage to the same value as the Lithium batteries’ max capacity.
Equalization charging is another thing to watch out for when using Lead-Acid chargers for Lithium batteries.
In some cases, the charger is automatically set to equalization charging mode – basically, it will overcharge the battery and then let the voltage drop naturally until the threshold is reached.
Lead-Acid batteries are prone to Sulfating, so equalization charging prevents this by balancing out the voltages of the battery cells to remove sulfate built-up. Lithium batteries, conversely, don’t normally experience sulfating due to their self-maintaining battery cycles.
Excessive voltage from equalization charging can damage Lithium batteries. However, you can minimize this risk by disconnecting the charger when the battery is fully charged. The main downside is that you’ll have to monitor the battery yourself.
Lithium Chargers for Lithium Batteries
When it comes down to it, Lithium chargers are still the best options for your Lithium Batteries.
Lithium chargers don’t have parameters for max voltage or voltage tolerance. Instead, their charging cycle will keep going as long as possible. While a charger that endlessly provides voltage seems bad, this is better for your batteries.
Lithium batteries have self-maintaining systems that use lithium chargers to recharge them effectively.
These self-maintaining systems are why most Lithium batteries are “fast-charging.” The Lithium charger provides a short but constant supply of voltage to the charger, which only slows down when the battery hits full capacity. At full capacity, the batteries’ internal system cuts off the excess supply and automatically restarts the charging cycle once it detects any voltage drops.
The battery manages most of the voltage monitoring and regulation, so you must sit back and let the batteries and charger do the work.
Extending the Lifespan of Lithium Batteries
Aside from using the proper charger, there are other ways to extend the lifespan of your batteries. Don’t worry; these tips are easy and don’t require much electrical know-how.
Shorten Your Charging and Discharging Cycles
Contrary to popular belief, charging lithium batteries after every use is better than waiting until it completely discharges.
Batteries work like any other device. The heavier they’re used, the faster they wear out. Lithium batteries have a set number of charging cycles – the exact number of cycles is determined by the Depth of Discharge (DoD). More charging cycles are needed to recharge a battery at 100% DoD compared to 10% DoD.
By immediately recharging your batteries after use, you’re allowing them to recharge at shorter charging cycles, allowing the batteries to extend their lifespan.
Keep the Battery Temperature Low
Have you ever noticed that your phone discharges faster but charges slower when hot?
Batteries naturally heat up when used, but this becomes a problem once they overheat. High temperatures cause cell batteries to expand, which stresses the battery during its charging cycle.
Fortunately, there are easy ways to keep your batteries from overheating:
- Store the batteries away from direct sunlight
- Charge them in a cool and dry environment
- Immediately disconnect them from the charger if they get too hot
The Li-Ion Rechargeable Battery: A Perspective – ACS Publications. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/ja3091438
How Lithium-Ion Batteries Work – Energy Saver. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/how-lithium-ion-batteries-work
Vocademy – Electronics Technology
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