During the nickel-cadmium years in the 1970s and 1980s,most battery ills were blamed on “memory.” Memory is derived from “cyclic memory,” meaning that a nickel-cadmium batteries could remember how much energy was drawn on previous discharges and would not deliver more than was demanded before.On a discharge beyond regular duty,the voltage would abruptly drop as if to rebel against pending overtime.Improvements in battery packs technology have virtually eliminated the phenomenon of cycling memory.Figure 1 illustrates the stages of crystalline formation that occur on a nickel-cadmium cell if overcharged and not maintained with periodic deep discharges.
The modern nickel-cadmium battery is no longer affected by cyclic memory but suffers from crystalline formation.The active cadmium material is applied on the negative electrode plate,and with incorrect use a crystalline formation occurs that reduces the surface area of the active material.This lowers battery performance.In advanced stages,the sharp edges of the forming crystals can penetrate the separator,causing high self-discharge that can lead to an electrical short.The term “memory” on the modern NiCd refers to crystalline formation rather than the cycling memory of old.When nickel-metal-hydride or ni-mh rechargeable battery was introduced in the early 1990s,this chemistry was promoted as being memory-free but this claim is only partially true.
NiMH is also subject to memory but to a lesser degree than NiCd.While NiMH has only the nickel plate to worry about,NiCd also includes the memory-prone cadmium negative electrode.This is a non-scientific explanation of why nickel-cadmium is more susceptible to memory than nickel-metal-hydride.Crystalline formation occurs if a nickel-based battery is left in the charger for days or repeatedly recharged without a periodic full discharge.Since most applications fall into this user pattern,NiCd requires a periodic discharge to one volt per cell to prolong service life.A discharge/charge cycle as part of maintenance,known as exercise, should be done every one to three months.
If regular exercise is omitted for six months and longer, the crystals ingrain themselves and a full restoration with a discharge to one volt per cell may no longer be sufficient. However, a restoration is often still possible by applying a secondary discharge called “recondition.” Recondition is a slow discharge that drains the battery to a voltage cut-off point of about 0.4V/cell and lower. Tests done by the US Army indicate that a NiCd cell needs to be discharged to at least 0.6V to effectively break up the more resistant crystalline formations. Figure 2 illustrates the battery voltage during a discharge to 1V/cell, followed by the secondary discharge to 0.4V/cell.
Recondition is most effective with healthy batteries and the remedy is also known to improve new packs.Similar to a medical treatment,however,the service should only be applied when so needed because over-use will stress the battery.Recondition is only effective on working batteries.Best results in recovery are possible when applying a full discharge every 1–3 months.If exercise has been withheld for 6–12 months,the capacity may not recover fully,and if it does the pack might suffer from high self-discharge caused by a marred separator.When this happens, the battery is a ripe candidate for retirement.
Results of Battery Maintenance
After the Balkan War in the 1990s,the Dutch Army began servicing its arsenal of nickel-cadmium batteries that had been used for the two-way radios.The army knew that allowing the batteries to sit in the chargers with only two to three hours of use per day during the war was not ideal,and the tests showed that the capacity on some packs had dropped to a low 30 percent.At time of service the nickel-cadmium batteries were two to three years old.To analyze the effectiveness of battery maintenance further,the US Navy carried out a study to find out how user pattern affects the life of nickel-cadmium batteries.For this, the research team responsible for the program established three battery groups. The 2,600 batteries studied were used for Motorola two-way radios deployed on three US aircraft carriers.Table 3 summarizes the test results, including the cost factor.
GTE Government Systems,the organization that conducted the test,learned that with charge-and-use the annual percentage of battery failure was 45 percent; with exercise the failure rate was reduced to 15 percent; and with recondition only 5 percent failed.The GTE report concludes that a battery analyzer featuring exercise and recondition costing US$2,500 would return the investment in less than one month on battery savings alone.