Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Using LiPo batteries

In Hardware on May 29, 2010 at 00:01

The latest revision of the JeeNode USB includes a LiPo battery charge circuit:

Screen Shot 2010 05 22 at 13.45.15

The “+5V” pin is the incoming pwoer from the USB bus, it goes directly to the MAX1555 LiPo charger. From there, the PWR line is fed, so this will normally be at 4.2V when no battery is attached. That PWR voltage in turn is fed to the on-board 3.3V regulator for the ATmega and RFM12B.

This design was chosen because it lets you very easily add a LiPo battery: simply attach it between PWR and GND. There are no switches or switch-over issues: plug-in to charge, then use unplugged as needed.

I’m going to use the Carrier Board as example, and I’m going to use a LiPo battery from SparkFun, which comes with a polarized JST plug already attached. Here is the matching socket:

Dsc 1486

What we need is a spot where this socket can be soldered on. Ah, here it is, on the PWR/SER/I2C connector:

Dsc 1487

The trouble is that the pins are not 0.1″ apart as needed here, and that the socket won’t be usable if mounted sideways. So I cut off the plastic tabs and bent the wires a bit differently (taking care not to bend too much, because they break very easily):

Dsc 1484

The result fits perfectly on the Carrier Board, with the whole setup in turn fitting very nicely in the ABS box:

Dsc 1485

I’m using an 850 mAh LiPo cell.

One point to note is that the charge current from the MAX1555 is fixed at 280 mA. The rule for LiPo battery is to charge them at no more than 1C, i.e. a 850 mAh cell shouldn’t be charged with more than 850 mA. So in this case, we’re fine, with an estimated charge time of 3..4 hours for a fully discharged battery.

IOW, don’t use this setup with LiPo batteries smaller than 300 mAh or so.

Another thing to avoid with LiPo batteries is to discharge them below about 3V. You can check rf12_lowBat() from the RF12 library once in a while. It reports when the voltage at the RFM12B drops below 3.1V, i.e. around 3.2 .. 3.3V on the LiPo. Once this happens, power down the ATmega + radio to avoid draining the battery any further.

Why all the fuss? Because LiPo batteries can burn and explode, when improperly handled. There’s a lot of energy in there, and at some point things can exceed the design limits. Search for “lipo explode” on YouTube…

There are really only two issues: 1) the short-circuit discharge current can be extremely high (20C, i.e. 17 Amps with the above unit!), so short circuits and polarity reversals must be avoided at all times. And 2), charging should be done with the proper circuitry, such as the one in the JeeNode USB.

Why use LiPo’s? Well, they are very compact for the amount of energy they store, they can be recharged over and over again, and they have a very low self-discharge rate (i.e. long shelf life when not used).

When used properly, LiPo batteries are a great way to power JeeNodes, etc.

  1. Very neat… I can’t help noticing that the space to the right of the JeeNode USB is right near the power socket… Is there any plan to make a separate LiPo charging circuit to go in here for units which aren’t using the JeeNode USB, or that are run from a wallwart via DC power socket?

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