BU-104c: The Octagon Battery – What makes a Battery a Battery

Finding characteristics that best cover your job.

A battery has some of the most stringent requirements and is on par with complex pharmaceutical products for which one change can have multiple side effects. To make a battery viable as an electric storage device, eight basic requirements must be met and a battery is fittingly called the octagon battery (Figure 1). The eight key elements to a working battery are as follows.

Figure 1: Octagon battery.
So-called because of the eight critical requirements needed to achieve basic function. Many new arrivals claim to meet or exceed some prerequisites but fail in others, limiting market acceptance.
Courtesy of Cadex

1. High specific energy

A key feature in consumer products is long runtime and device manufacturers achieve this by building batteries with high ampere-hour (Ah). The term lithium-ion is synonymous with a high specific energy. This does not mean that all Li-ion batteries have high Ah ratings. While the Energy Cell in an 18650 package can have 250Ah/kg, the same chemistry in a Power Cell is 150Ah/kg or less, and a long-life Li-ion for the powertrain is as low as 60Ah/kg. Furthermore, consumer NiMH has about 90Ah/kg compared to a 45Ah/kg for long-life units in the electric powertrain, 45Ah/kg being almost par with lead acid.

2. High specific power

Batteries made for power tools and electric powertrains provide high load capabilities but the specific energy is low.

3. Affordable price

Materials, refining processes, manufacturing, quality control and cell matching add cost for battery manufacturing; volume production only assists in part to reduce costs. Single cell use in mobile phones when no cell matching is required also lowers costs.

4. Long life

Nowhere is longevity more important than in large, expensive battery packs. If the battery life of the electric car could be extended from the anticipated 8–10 years to 20 years, driving an EV could be justified even if the initial investment is high. Longevity does not depend on battery design alone but also on how the battery is used. Adverse temperature, fast charge times and harsh discharge conditions stress the battery.

5. Safety

Lithium-based batteries can be built with high specific energy, but these systems are often reactive and unstable. Nickel-based Li-ion is such an example, so is metallic lithium. Most manufacturers stopped production of these systems because of safety issues. When used correctly, brand-name Li-ion is very safe.

6. Wide operating range

Batteries perform best at room temperature as cold temperatures slow the electrochemical reaction of all batteries. Li-ion cannot be charged below freezing, and heating blankets are often added to facilitate charging. High heat shortens battery life and compromises safety.

7. Toxicity

Cadmium- and mercury-based batteries have been replaced with alternative metals for environmental reasons. Authorities in Europe are attempting to ban lead acid, but no economical replacement of similar performance is available. Nickel- and lithium-based batteries contain little toxic material, but they still pose a hazard if disposed carelessly.

8. Fast charging

Lithium- and nickel-based batteries should be charged at 1C or slower (See What Is C-Rate) At 1C, a nickel-based battery fully charges in about 90 minutes and Li-ion in 2–3 hours. Lead acid cannot be fast charged and the charge time is 8–16 hours. Fast charge times are possible for nickel and lithium, but the batteries must be built for it, be in good condition and be charged at room temperature. Aged and mismatched cells do not lend themselves to fast charging. Any charge above 1C causes undue stress, especially on the Energy Cell, and this should be avoided. (See BU-401a: Fast and Ultra-fast Chargers.) NiCd is the only battery that accepts ultra-fast charge with minimal stress.

In addition to the eight basic requirements of the octagon battery, a battery must have low self-discharge to allow long storage and provide an instant start-up when needed. All batteries have self-discharge, and the loss increases with temperature and age. Secondary batteries have a higher self-discharge rate than the primary equivalent. A further requirement is a long shelf-life with little performance degradation. A battery is perishable, and like a food product, it is only good for a time. While alkaline batteries can be stored for 10 years and still provide 70 percent of their original energy, secondary batteries permanently lose capacity with age, even if not used. (See How to store Batteries)

Last Updated 2017-04-09

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Comments (6)

On April 5, 2016 at 4:09pm
Mr Cesar MORENO (battery-power tool consume and u wrote:

I think that battery-powered tools should be directly connected to a battery, and should have a
connector that can accept a 12V DC input or   18Vdc input.  This way, the tool can be used from a
small battery or from a battery pack.  A few years down the road,  the tool may still be functional with 12Vdc,  but a slip-in replacement-battery may not be available.  Today,  the battery may be lead-acid, and in the future the battery may be Lithium Ion,  but still 12 Vdc.  The cable input to the tool from any of these two batteries would be acceptable.

On April 23, 2016 at 12:41am
SoakedKarma wrote:

Planned Obsolescence a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of nondurable materials. 

Without a high rate of consumerism bilking the gullible world economy would be in the trash bin.

“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”  ~ Victor Lebow Journal of Retailing 1955

On September 7, 2016 at 7:47pm
Ivan Perallon wrote:

In section 1, you switch from Ah/Kg to Wh/kg. Is this a typo or are you maybe taking into consideration the standard voltage of a Li-ion cell?

Other than that, thank you so much for putting such helpful information together.

On May 17, 2017 at 4:47pm
Jerry lapointe wrote:

I would like a simple battery tester to test octagon battery’s. What would you recommend.

On June 7, 2018 at 1:43am
Yann POISSON wrote:

I would like to say that in low-power or energy harvesting application, the Leakage or self-discharge is one of the main topics to look in battery choice. I ended up surprised with a global system only consuming 6µA with a battery that was leaking 18µA and this is without the protection circuit!!
So when designing extremely low power application, be aware that most batteries have a self discharge that could surprise you!!

On July 14, 2018 at 11:26am
Mike Hillis wrote:

I have 2 large 18 wheeler type batteries I bought about 3-4 years ago. My goal was to have back up power during hurricanes and/or during storms. Both of these batteries remained in my garage hooked up to a 15V solar pannel,  the entire time. They both are now dead. I don’t know what I did wrong but that’s a big waste of money. Can these batteries be restored? That’s my question. Thank you