Skip to the main content.

Genset Starting Education Module #2

Engine Start Battery Performance  Characteristics  

William F Kaewert | SENS – Stored Energy Systems LLC 

Battery: definition and concepts  

Batteries are chemical devices that behave differently from, and less predictably than, the electrical,  electronic and mechanical systems most common in a genset. 

An electric storage battery is a group of electrochemical cells interconnected to supply DC current. The  nominal1 voltage rating of the battery is determined by the number of cells connected in series. Lead-acid  cells have a nominal voltage of 2.0 volts. Nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) cells have a nominal voltage of 1.2 volts.  Thus, six lead-acid cells must be connected in series to create a 12-volt battery. Similarly, ten Ni-Cd cells  are typically connected in series to create a 12-volt battery. 

Electrochemical reaction kinetics2 and diffusion characteristics3 cause a battery to deliver less total  energy as discharge power rate increases. This means that the battery can deliver its total rated ampere  hour (AH) capacity only if discharged slowly. When discharged quickly as during an engine start a battery  can deliver only a fraction of its total capacity before the end voltage drops below a useful value. Typical  minimum allowable battery voltages in engine starting applications are as shown in Table 1 below. It is  essential that the battery be sized such that even under worst-case conditions its voltage stays above  these values so the engine’s control computer remains powered. 

Table 1: Typical minimum allowable DC voltages during engine cranking

Break-away period (first second during crank) Rolling current
12-volt lead-acid
6.0 volts
9.0 volts
24-volt lead-acid
12.0 volts
18.0 volts

Battery performance degrades at cold temperatures

Performance of all batteries degrades at cold temperatures because of slower chemical reactions within  the battery. For example, a lead-acid starting battery rated to deliver 1,805 CCA at 32 degrees F (0C)  delivers only 1,444 CCA at 0 degrees F (-18C). Derating of a typical lead-acid battery is 1.1% per degree C  or 0.6% per degree F.5 Practical solutions to compensate for cold temperature battery performance loss  include oversizing and/or heating the battery. Although they also suffer performance loss when cold, Ni Cd batteries remain operational at very low temperatures and derate less than lead-acid types as shown  in Illustration  below. 

“Nominal” voltage is the open-circuit voltage of a battery that is in a charged condition. During charging the  charging source’s voltage must be higher than nominal to enable current to flow from the charger into the battery. 

The rate of an electrochemical process. Many things determine this rate, including temperature, specific gravity of  electrolyte and quality of the interface between the battery’s electrode and electrolyte. 

The rate at which electrons move through the battery’s materials and across boundaries between materials.

EGSA 100b, Recommended Practice for Engine Cranking Batteries Used with Engine Generator Sets. 5 Rolls Surrette Battery.

  1. Oversizing the battery. Lead-acid starting batteries are relatively inexpensive, so oversizing the  battery is simple and cost-effective. Ni-Cd batteries derate less at cold temperatures than lead-acid  types do, but still need to be derated for cold. Consult the battery supplier for guidance on the  correct battery to use for your starting duty and worst-case expected cold temperature. 
  2. Using battery heaters. Heating the battery with thermostatically controlled, AC-powered blanket  heaters can reduce or eliminate the need to derate the battery for cold temperatures. Blanket  heaters are available for most standard sizes of lead-acid starting battery. Heating the batteries,  however, places special demands on the charging system that can, unless applied properly, significantly accelerate battery failure. If battery blanket heaters are used, the battery charger must  be equipped with a remote temperature compensation system, and the remote temperature  compensation probe must be attached to the heated battery. Failing to use a remote temperature  probe risks significant battery overcharge. Without a remote temperature probe charger, voltage  would be elevated by a locally temperature-compensated charger to a level suited only for a cold  battery, not a heated one. Applying elevated voltage to a warm battery would overcharge it enough  to shorten its life by as much as 75%, giving only a few months’ life.6 Remote battery temperature  compensation must be used whenever a battery heater is used.  Battery heating systems are only available for standard sizes of lead-acid battery. Battery heaters not  specifically fitted for the battery should never be used. As of this writing no purpose-built, UL-listed  battery heating systems are available for Ni-Cd batteries. Heating systems not specifically intended  for battery heating and not sized for the specific battery container are known to have caused  premature battery failures, so homemade battery heating systems should not be attempted. 
  1. Using a Ni-Cd battery. As shown in Illustration 1 below, pocket plate, PBE and fiber electrode type Ni Cd batteries derate less with cold temperature than do lead-acid batteries. Although the derating  curve of Ni-Cd batteries is shallower than for lead-acid, Ni-Cd batteries also suffer performance loss  when cold. 

 Refer to Illustration 3 in SENS Genset Starting Education Module #3: Solutions to Leading Causes of Battery Failure  in Gensets. At 0 degrees C the output of a temperature compensated battery without remote temperature probe  could be as high as 2.36 volts. Although this would be the correct charging value for the battery shown in the  illustration, it would be 0.16 volts higher than the correct voltage of 2.20 volts/cell for a battery heated to 30  degrees C, or 86 F. Using a remote temperature compensation probe is essential to prevent overcharging when  using a battery heater.

Illustration 1: Different derating with temperature of different types of batteries


Battery life reduction at high temperatures 

Battery life decreases as the battery’s average yearly temperature increases above room temperature.  Each eight degree C (14.4F) temperature increase above 25 degrees C (77F) cuts lead-acid battery life in  half. Corresponding loss of Ni-Cd life is 18%. The chart below compares battery typical initial expected life  to life expectations at different temperatures.  

Table 2: Life derating versus temperature lead-acid and Ni-Cd batteries 

Avg. Temp (degrees F) Lead-acid battery life Ni-Cd battery life
4 years
20 years
2 years
16.4 years
1 years 
13.5 years
Six months 
11 years
< 3 months 
9 years

Ni-Cd batteries are obviously a better choice for very high and very cold temperature applications. 

There is no life “credit” for operation at cold temperatures. Batteries exposed to extreme heat in summer  and extreme cold in winter will lose life when hot, but not regain it when cold.  

EGSA Electrical Start Systems training course. 

Typical life under ideal conditions of temperature, charging, use, etc. Actual in-service life will be shorter under  real-world conditions.

Summary of key points 

1. Batteries are chemical devices that behave differently from, and less predictably than, the  electrical, electronic and mechanical systems most common in a genset.  

2. Battery performance degrades at cold temperatures. Lead-acid batteries suffer a steeper fall-off  in performance with temperature than do nickel-cadmium batteries. 

3. When battery blanket heaters are used in cold climates, the battery charger must be equipped  with a remote temperature compensation system, and the remote temperature compensation  probe must be attached to the heated battery.  

4. Battery life is reduced at high temperatures. Lead-acid technology suffers worse life loss with  temperature than does nickel-cadmium.