BU-502: Discharging at High and Low Temperatures

Explore the limitations when operating a battery at adverse temperatures and learn how to minimize the effects.

Like humans, batteries function best at room temperature, and any deviation from the comfort zone changes performance and/or longevity. While operating a battery at elevated temperatures momentarily improves performance by lowering the internal resistance and speeding up the chemical metabolism, such a condition shortens service life. Some manufacturers of lead acid batteries make use of improved performance at warmer temperatures and specify the batteries at a toasty 27°C (80°F).

Cold temperature increases the internal resistance and lowers the capacity. Batteries that would provide 100 percent capacity at 27°C (80°F) will typically deliver only 50 percent at –18°C (0°F). The capacity decrease is momentary and the level of decline is related to the battery chemistry.

Li-ion also performs better when warm. Heat lowers the internal resistance but this stresses the battery. Warming a dying flashlight or cellular phone battery in your jeans might provide additional runtime due to better energy delivery. As all drivers in cold countries know, a warm battery cranks the car engine easier than a cold one.

The dry solid-polymer battery requires a temperature of 60–100°C (140– 212°F) to promote ion flow and get conductive. This type of battery has found a niche market for stationary power applications in hot climates where heat serves as a catalyst rather than a disadvantage. Built-in heating elements keep the battery operational at all times. High battery cost and safety concerns have limited the application of this system. The more common lithium-polymer uses moist electrolyte to enhance conductivity.

All batteries achieve optimum service life if used at 20°C (68°F) or slightly below. If, for example, a battery operates at 30°C (86°F) instead of a more moderate room temperature, the cycle life is reduced by 20 percent. At 40°C (104°F), the loss jumps to a whopping 40 percent, and if charged and discharged at 45°C (113°F), the cycle life is only half of what can be expected if used at 20°C (68°F). (See also BU-808: How to Prolong Lithium-based Batteries.)

The performance of all battery chemistries drops drastically at low temperatures. At –20°C (–4°F) most nickel-, lead- and lithium-based batteries stop functioning. Although NiCd can go down to –40°C (-40°F), the permissible discharge is only 0.2C (5-hour rate). Specialty Li- ion can operate to a temperature of –40°C, but only at a reduced discharge; charging at this temperature is out of question. With lead acid there is the danger of the electrolyte freezing, which can crack the enclosure. Lead acid freezes more easily with a low charge when the specific gravity of the electrolyte is more like water than when fully charged.

Cell matching by using cells of similar capacity plays an important role when discharging at low temperature under heavy load. Since the cells in a battery pack can never be perfectly matched, a negative voltage potential can occur across a weaker cell on a multi-cell pack if the discharge is allowed to continue beyond a safe cut-off point. Known as cell reversal, the weak cell will get damaged to the point of developing a permanent electrical short. The larger the cell-count, the greater the likelihood of cell-reversal is under load. Over-discharge at a heavy load at a low temperature is also a large contributor to battery failure of cordless power tools, especially nickel-based packs. (See BU-803: Can Batteries be Restored? Go to Cell Mismatch, Balancing.)

Users of electric vehicles must understand that the driving distance between charges is calculated under normal temperature; frigid cold temperatures will reduce the available mileage. Using battery electricity to heat the cabin is not the only reason for reduced driving distance; the battery does not perform well when cold but it will recuperate when warm.

Last updated 3/30/2015

*** Please Read Regarding Comments ***

Comments are intended for "commenting," an open discussion amongst site visitors. Battery University monitors the comments and understands the importance of expressing perspectives and opinions in a shared forum. However, all communication must be done with the use of appropriate language and the avoidance of spam and discrimination.

If you have a question, require further information, have a suggestion or would like to report an error, use the "contact us" form or email us at: answers@cadex.com. While we make all efforts to answer your questions accurately, we cannot guarantee results. Neither can we take responsibility for any damages or injuries that may result as a consequence of the information provided. Please accept our advice as a free public support rather than an engineering or professional service.


On October 31, 2011 at 1:12pm
gohr then wrote:

good article

On February 7, 2012 at 10:43am
Allen Normand wrote:

Looking for engine starting batteries to be used in Dubai area where ambiant temp can get to 52 degrees C and the engine room can get to 60 degree C. Right now we have 4 - 8D batteries per engine X 6 engines (series and parallel for 24VDC) and we are having to change every year or so..
Any suggestions?
Gell cells?
New Technology??

On August 7, 2012 at 3:29am
Mehmet TURKER wrote:

Is 18650 li-ion battery can use at -40C? Thanks for informations.

On August 24, 2012 at 2:52am
Stijn wrote:

What is the maximum temperature before a lipo pouch cell is permanently damaged?

On August 30, 2012 at 4:12am
Yenya wrote:

I want to choose battery for my bicycle lights. I ride my bike also in winter (let’s say up to -12 degrees celsius). Which battery type can be used? I don’t need full capacity at that temperature, because in winter I only ride my bike for commuting and not for longer trips, but I would not like to damage the battery in that temperature.

I have found articles that Li-Pol can be damaged by low temperatures. How about LiFePo or others?  I would prefer not to carry lead-acid accumulator on my bike grin

On October 12, 2012 at 5:46am
Ayush Sugandhi wrote:

Great article

On November 17, 2012 at 4:24pm
BackBlast wrote:

Easy way to solve a bike light in cold weather is to keep it on your person or in your pocket until you need it.  The cell(s) will be much higher than ambient and you won’t have any trouble on a short ride.  High output lights will generate enough internal heat to compensate some thereafter, depending on the power consumption, efficiency, airflow, etc…

I believe that damage can occur if you discharge too fast at low temperatures, or attempt a charge at low temperatures with any Lithium variant.

I use LSD NiMH and more recently LiFePO4 for my bike lights, though I’m never riding at -12C.  I’ve been relatively pleased with NiMH low temp performance so far.  Especially with the newest cells when on a low cycle count.

On February 10, 2013 at 1:54pm
relyt wrote:

could any body use this as a science project?

On March 3, 2013 at 2:43pm

Can a new lithium-ion battery be discharged (ruined) if shipped via air with low temperature in cargo bay?

On March 28, 2013 at 11:10pm
Victor wrote:

well, at 27°C the li-ion battery has a maximum performance?

On August 4, 2013 at 2:49pm
Subutay wrote:

what is the max.working temperature for li-ion cell 18650

50 C ? / 80 C or any ?

On October 22, 2013 at 5:51pm
SON wrote:

What is better? Case 1 or Case 2
Case 1. Batteries shall be rated for the minimum ambient temperature of five Deg. C for discharge duty.
Case 2. Batteries shall be rated for the minimum ambient temperature of twenty-five Deg. C for discharge duty.

Thanks you in advance.

On January 8, 2014 at 9:28pm
shaym wrote:

i need a chemical name

      in which chemical react with copper its defuse the tungsten filament or leak the alkaline batterys.

On January 25, 2014 at 2:12am
Sara wrote:

what’s the relation between battery temperature and voltage ?  I mean the equation .

On May 13, 2014 at 10:50pm
mohammed nazeer wrote:

i want to know the name of the chemical which can be coated on copper and the coated chemical which reduce the life of battery or it may discharges the volt. can anyone help me to know about the product

On May 31, 2014 at 12:23am
kunnal kumaar wrote:

I want to know the name of the chemical which can be coated on copper and the coated chemical which reduce the life of battery or it may discharges the volt….pals answer.

On August 19, 2014 at 3:57am
nagaraju wrote:

  in which chemical react with copper its defuse the tungsten filamen

On October 18, 2014 at 11:23am
Dan78 wrote:

Regarless the range, what could be the minimum operation temperature for a lithium-ion EV. Freezing point of the battery.


On November 18, 2014 at 5:23am
jakub wrote:

why Lithium-Ion batteries have significant voltage drop when started discharging at low temperature? E.g. NCR18650B has it, also some batteries from Saft which I am testing

On December 15, 2014 at 10:13pm
Mahdy wrote:

I have bought sealed acid batteries with internal resistance 0.300 ohm (measured in 15 degree centigrade). Is it well made?