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By Dav id Gu n d e r s o n • M i c r o P ow e r Elec tro ni c s

Available battery-fuel-gauge products bring challenges
and limitations, especially when you apply them to the
battery-management function. Here are some guidelines for
engineers who are designing both portable devices and the
batteries to power them.

attery-fuel-gauge ICs, or A range of fuel-gauge ICs is available serial/two parallel), 1S3P (one serial/
gas gauges, are at the heart and targets use in a number of appli- three parallel), and so forth. Examples
of modern battery-man- cations. These ICs include single-cell of these gauges include the TI bq275xx,
agement systems. They batteries, multicell batteries with as the O2Micro OZ8805, and the Maxim
not only maintain accu- many as 13 cells in series, system-side DS278x series. Although some single-
rate estimates of the ca- fuel gauges, and gauges with and with- cell gauges have built-in protection
pacity remaining in the battery but also out built-in primary protection. Gauge logic, most require the use of a separate
can serve as the host’s battery-data- ICs are available from a number of large protection IC (for example, the Seiko
acquisition and -management system, semiconductor vendors, including At- Instruments S-8211 or S-8241, Refer-
primary battery-protection device, mel, Intersil, Maxim Integrated Prod- ence 6). The low core voltages in ultra-
and cell-balancing system, as well as ucts, O2Micro, and Texas Instruments portable devices and the high voltage
maintain records of battery-use histo- (references 1 through 5). and energy density of lithium-ion cells
ry. Some gas-gauge systems comprise Single-cell gauges usually have small combine to produce an effective porta-
an analog-front-end IC that provides PCB (printed-circuit-board) footprints ble power system. Linear Technology’s
the high-speed protection and volt- for tight circuit-layout situations. These LTC2941 and LTC2942 single-cell gas
age-measurement capabilities and the tiny cell gauges target use with batteries gauges implement a coulomb counter,
gas-gauge IC that maintains the capac- with only one cell in series, or 1S (one- which integrates the current into and
ity estimate and other more complex serial) batteries in battery terminology. out of the cell array, with a fast analog
functions. Increasingly, one IC com- The battery may have as many paral- integrator (Reference 7). This tech-
bines the analog-front-end and gas- lel cells as necessary, such as the 1S1P nique may allow accurate tracking of
gauge functions. (one serial/one parallel), 1S2P (one pulsed load current, which is a chal-

P3 P3

Figure 1 This battery has four cells in parallel connection and four cells in serial connection (4S4P).

40 EDN | JANUARY 6, 2011

lenge for sample-data-system coulomb circuits. It’s essential that no single-
counters. component fault causes a short circuit
A wide selection exists for gauge ICs across one or more of the cells. For ex-
for multicell batteries of 2 to 4S (two to ample, if a capacitor is necessary across
four serial). They include the TI 20zxx a cell for bypassing EM (electromagnet-
series and the O2Micro OZ9310. The 3 ic) noise, you should use two capacitors
or 4S (three or four serial) battery con- in series to minimize the chance that
figuration is popular for portable de- component failure will short-circuit the
vices because you can derive most core cell. Modern lithium-ion cells can de-
voltages for complex portable electron- liver large currents for long times and
ics devices from the minimum voltage cause “energetic events” on a PCB if a
available from a 3 or 4S lithium-ion component fault short-circuits the cell.
battery using simple point-of-load buck Do not depend on the cell’s embedded
or linear regulators—approximately 9V overcurrent protection for this protec-
for a 3S battery and approximately 12V tion. Some cells lack such elements; on
for a 4S battery. others, the current trip point is so high
Once the series cell configuration that it can damage the PCB before the
in the battery exceeds 4S, fuel-gauge- cell opens. This consideration is espe-
IC choices become limited. The rela- cially important on high-parallel-cell-
tively new TI bq78PL114 and several count batteries in which the maximum
O2Micro offerings can handle high-S- current from each cell can add to a
count batteries. Some gauges support large maximum battery current.
high-S-count batteries using external Do not strike an electrical arc when
extension ICs. High-S-count batteries assembling the cell array to the battery-
find use in electric vehicles and other protection electronics. Such an arc can
high-energy motor-drive applications. generate high-voltage transients that
In these applications, high battery volt- can damage the gas-gauge and protec-
age is necessary to avoid excessive cur- tion-circuit elements. This damage
rent in the motor-control circuits, and may allow the device to work properly
batteries of several hundred volts are during factory test and then fail in field
common. Many of these applications use. Protection circuits may not always
use full-custom microcomputer-based be failsafe and thus can cause the pro-
battery-management-system circuits to tection circuit to fail when an actual
handle the highly complex manage- fault occurs. For this reason, you should
ment and protection tasks. Figure 1 design multiple layers of protection in-
shows a typical 4S4P (four-serial/four- to the battery.
parallel) battery.
Hosts and batteries
Safety first Most fuel gauges support either a
Battery safety must be a primary de- two-wire SMbus (system-management
sign consideration. Always design multi- bus), such as an I2C (inter-integrated
ple layers of overvoltage, undervoltage, circuit), or a one-wire HDQ (high-
overcurrent, and overtemperature pro- speed-DQ) interface for communica-
tection into all lithium-ion batteries, tion with the host device, which can be
no matter how small. This protection a portable device or a charger. Several
should include PTC (positive-temper- Maxim gauge ICs support the proprie-
ature-coefficient) devices for overcur- tary Maxim 1-Wire interface. You can
rent conditions and TCO (thermal- use this interface to program the gauge
cutoff) devices for overtemperature IC during manufacturing and commu-
conditions in series with the cells. You nicate many parameters with the porta-
should also use active secondary- and ble host device and charger. Most gaug-
primary-protection circuits. Fuel-gauge es that support SMbus communication
ICs can provide primary protection, but also support the SBS (Smart Battery
that protection alone is not enough. System) 1.1 list of standard battery pa-
Secondary active protection that opens rameters (Reference 9).
an electronically controlled fuse, such The low signal reference for these
as a Sony Chemical self-control protec- digital-communication interfaces car-
tor, is often necessary (Reference 8). ries the return current for the battery.
Carefully analyze all circuit elements Be careful that the voltage drop be-
on the cell-array side of the protection tween the gas-gauge reference to signal

JANUARY 6, 2011 | EDN 41

ground and the host-system ground is the lowest to the highest voltage—dur- needs for a chemical-capacity update.
not excessive at high battery current. ing manufacturing to prevent damage Some battery-use patterns do not al-
Digital signals may be unable to achieve to the IC. low the Impedance Track algorithm
a valid low at either the gas gauge or the When designing the battery, ensure to operate properly. One of these pat-
host system during high-battery-current that little current flows in the voltage- terns is the backup-battery-use mod-
situations. This inability can be due to sense connections between the gauge el in which the battery almost always
battery-to-host system-contact resis- IC and the core pack. This requirement remains at 100% charge, rarely under-
tance, wire resistance, shunt resistors, usually calls for a separate sense wire, or goes shallow discharges, and recharges
or even PCB-trace resistance. Watch Kelvin connection, between the cell’s immediately after a discharge. TI offers
out for pulse-current situations, such as positive connection and the gauge IC. some white papers on its Web site about
inrush current during battery connec- Also, be sure to follow the layout guide- adapting the algorithm to this use mod-
tion, start-up current for host devices, lines for the gauge IC you use, especial- el, but it’s a complex process.
or high charger current. These condi- ly between the current shunt and the Maxim has developed the Model
tions may cause communication drop- gauge IC. Gauge algorithm, which uses a carefully
outs due to signal-ground lift. designed model of the voltage-versus-
Capacity estimates temperature-versus-capacity character-
Cell balancing To remain accurate, coulomb count- istics of cell types to update the cell’s
Manufacturers recommend cell bal- ing requires a known capacity start- chemical capacity during normal bat-
ancing, either in the fuel gauge or in ing point and precise current measure- tery use. Maxim is working with a small
the protection IC, for 3 and 4S lithium- ments. Most gas gauges reset their ca- group of battery integrators on the first
ion batteries and require it for 5S and pacity estimate to the actual capacity applications of this technique.
larger batteries, and many gauge ICs of the cell array, or chemical capacity, O2Micro uses high-resolution cell-
have this feature built in. Cell balanc- when the battery is fully charged. How- voltage measurements and a model of
ing is necessary because the capacity of ever, the chemical capacity changes as the voltage versus capacity to estimate
the individual cells can diverge as the the battery ages, so the battery must cell capacity. The flat voltage-versus-
battery cycles through charge and dis- support some capacity-updating meth- capacity characteristics of high-capaci-
charge. This situation is especially true od. You can update a battery’s chemical ty lithium-ion cells limit this technique,
if the battery often deeply discharges. capacity by continuously discharging it especially in extremely flat LiFe (lithi-
The simplest cell-balancing meth- from full charge to a low “training” volt- um-iron) PO4 cells, in which a 1-mV
od, passive balancing, shunts current age. This method, called conditioning voltage change can equal a 1% change
around each fully charged cell in the the battery, is inconvenient for most in the state of charge. Fuel-gauge-IC
series stack until all cells in the stack battery users because it can take several companies are working on improved
have the same capacity. Fuel gauges hours and is usually a manual process. voltage-measurement capabilities be-
that keep track of the relative capaci- You can use conditioning chargers, but cause of this limitation.
ty of each cell in the stack perform this the controls and discharge circuits add
task on each charge cycle. The Lin- significant cost to the charger. Runtime estimation
ear Technology LTC6802-1 is a cell- A few years ago, TI developed the Estimating remaining portable-de-
monitoring IC that implements this Impedance Track algorithm, which us- vice runtime is among the most com-
technique. es a model of cell-impedance change plex and error-prone aspects of battery
TI’s bq78PL114 and some O2Micro to update the cell’s chemical capacity use. The gauge must know how much
products implement a more complex during normal battery use. The compa- power to source from the battery and
cell-balancing technique, active bal- ny has improved this algorithm several the true chemical capacity of the cell
ancing. This method controls small times, and it works for many battery-use array to report remaining runtime. The
switching power supplies at each cell. models. Correct operation of the Im- amount of power the portable device
These circuits pump current into the pedance Track algorithm requires that pulls from the battery may be inconsis-
cell to balance it with the others in the during the battery’s charge or discharge, tent or unpredictable.
stack. Control and circuit design for two “relaxation” points occur at which For portable devices requiring main-
this method is fairly complex, but it op- the battery current is low and the bat- tenance of accurate estimates of re-
timizes charger energy and minimizes tery voltage is in the flat portion of the maining capacity, you should set up a
charge time. discharge curve—that is, neither at full reserve capacity. When you program a
charge nor close to full discharge. You reserve-capacity value into a gas gauge,
Connecting the gauge must space these two relaxation points it offsets the reported capacity by that
The cell array, or core pack, of a high- more than approximately 40% apart in amount. So, the gauge would always re-
S- and P-count battery can be complex. battery capacity. For example, if you port a lower remaining capacity than is
To ensure that the fuel gauge maintains fully charge your laptop computer’s bat- actually available from the cell array.
an accurate available-capacity measure- tery, use the computer on battery for a This technique allows portable devices
ment, you must carefully wire the gauge while, close the lid for a while, use it for to safely complete whatever transac-
voltage and current sense to the core a while longer, and then close the lid tions they are doing before powering
pack. Also, many gas gauges require a again. The Impedance Track algorithm down due to a low-battery indication
first-connection order—usually from will then likely have the information it from the gas gauge. This approach is

42 EDN | JANUARY 6, 2011

4.5 CHARGE=4.18V 1.4
3.9 1
3.7 VOLTAGE=4.19V
(B) 0.6 (A)
3.1 HOURS 0.4
2.5 0
0 2000 4000 6000 8000 10,000 12,000 14,000 16,000



Figure 2 In a typical voltage-and-current profile for charging a single-cell lithium-ion

battery, the battery voltage was measured inside the charger, and the cell-voltage
value comes from the gas gauge.

similar to having a reserve gas tank on imity to the cells. Another issue with
an airplane, providing just enough ca- system-side gas gauges is that the dis-
pacity to land when the main tank is tance between the thermistor and the
empty. thermistor’s input is greater. Hence, the
thermistor’s reading at the system-side
System, battery gauges gas gauge can be inaccurate.
System-side gauges reside in the por- Because battery-side gauges travel
table host and must adapt to each bat- with the cell array, they can refine their
tery as you connect it. Battery-side chemical capacity estimate over time.
gauges reside in the battery and carry They can also preserve capacity meas-
the battery characteristics as the battery urements that they completed during a
moves. System-side gauges are more use- conditioning cycle. However, the bat-
ful in applications in which the battery tery must have one or two additional
usually stays with the host—for exam- contacts to support the battery-to-host
ple, laptop computers, PDAs (personal communication interface.
digital assistants), and cell phones. If
you replace the battery in a device with Chargers and gas gauges
a system-side gas gauge, that gas gauge Battery chargers can be as simple as
will report erroneous information until an ac-powered device, such as a cell-
you recalibrate it. Battery-side gauges phone charger, or as complex as a multi-
work better in applications in which bay device with a display and communi-
the battery is removed from the por- cation with the batteries, such as those
table device for charging or moved be- users might employ to charge a bank of
tween portable host devices. portable military radios. Chargers gen-
System-side gauges must support a ca- erally come in two flavors: Smart char-
pacity-estimate-update algorithm that gers interact with the gas gauge in the
runs during normal battery use. Oth- battery during charge, and dumb char-
erwise, the gauge would not know the gers use only battery-terminal volt-
chemical capacity of the battery unless age and internally measured current to
you run a conditioning cycle. Portable control the charge cycle.
hosts integrate system-side gauges, min- Lithium-ion battery chargers main-
imizing battery-electronics costs and tain a specific current and voltage pro-
eliminating the need for battery con- file on the battery as a charge progress-
tacts for the communication interface. es. During the initial portion of the
Battery-side gas gauges integrate an- charge cycle, when the battery voltage
alog thermistor inputs to get accurate is below the float voltage—that is, be-
temperature readings from close prox- low the maximum for the type of cell

44 EDN | JANUARY 6, 2011

and series arrangement—the char- conditioning components. Gas-gauge
ger sources a CCM (constant-current ICs use analog and digital noise filters
mode) and allows the battery voltage to reduce the problems this EM noise
to gradually increase. Once the char- causes, but it can still be an issue in
ger reaches the float voltage, the char- noisy environments. EM-noise spikes
ger maintains CVM (constant-voltage can cause spurious protection trips in
mode) and allows the current to taper the primary and secondary battery-pro-
off until it reaches a preset minimum tection circuits. These trips can be a
value, at which point the charge ter- nuisance or, in the case of a secondary
minates. Unlike with lead or nickel- protection trip, may disable the battery.
cadmium batteries, you cannot trickle- Battery designers should follow good
charge lithium-ion batteries—that is, EM-noise-reduction techniques when
once the battery achieves full charge, designing the battery-management-
you must turn off the charge current. system electronics. Careful PCB-trace
Trickle-charging can damage lithium- routing and extensive use of ground-
ion batteries. plane areas in the PCB are essential.
Chargers that interact with the bat- Carefully bypass power distribution
tery’s gas gauge have some advantages. for the gas gauge and associated ICs
The gas gauge measures the true voltage because they receive their power di-
across the cell array and can report that rectly from the cells. Proper connec-
voltage to the charger. The charger can tions between the gas-gauge IC and
measure the voltage only at the battery the current-measurement shunt are
connector, and that voltage is usually essential; consult vendor literature for
higher than the cell array’s voltage due recommendations.EDN
to contact, wire, and current-shunt re-
sistances. If the charger can control the References
gas gauge’s measured cell-array voltage, 1 “8- and 32-bit, low power high-per-

it can maintain CCM longer, reducing formance MCU,” Atmel,

charge time. Also, chargers that com- gxt8sH.
municate with the gas gauge can use the 2 “Battery Management: Cell Balanc-

precise current-measurement capability ing and Safety,” Intersil,

of the gas gauge, allowing the use of less fopJy1.
expensive circuits in the charger. 3 “Parametric Search: Battery Protec-

Figure 2 shows a typical voltage and tors, Selectors, and Monitors,” Maxim
current profile for charging a single- Integrated Products,
cell lithium-ion battery. In this case, 4 “Intelligent Battery,” O Micro, http://
the battery voltage was measured inside
the charger, and the cell-voltage value 5 “Battery Fuel Gauges,” Texas Instru-

comes from the gas gauge. Note the ments,

advantage of maintaining CCM until 6 “Parametric Search: Lithium-ion Bat-

the cell voltage reaches the 4.2V float tery Protection ICs,” Seiko Instruments
voltage. Inc,
7 “Battery Management,” Linear Tech-

EM noise nology,

Because battery-management sys- 8 “Self Control Protector,” Sony Chem-

tems contain high-impedance meas­ ical and Information Device Corp,

urement circuits, they’re susceptible to
EM-noise pickup. Battery-powered por- 9 “SBS 1.1 specs: current,” Smart Bat-

table systems, such as radio transmitters tery System Implementers Forum,

and motors in electronic vehicles, can
themselves generate EM noise, or they
can operate near an EM-noise source. Author’s biography
The metal cans around the cells and David Gunderson is a senior electronics
the cells’ interconnect strapping make engineer at Micro Power Electronics. He
efficient antennas for high-frequency is responsible for design electronics and
noise. embedded software for batteries and char-
Noise pickup in the cell array can gers. Gunderson holds a bachelor’s degree
cause reading noise in the gas-gauge in electrical engineering, and his interests
voltage- and current-measurement sys- include composing and performing music
tem comprising the ADC and signal- and playing with his grandchildren.

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