Sunday, July 29, 2018

This Is The Happiest Day Of My Life

Charging at 15.70 volts!!!  YIKES!
Coming out of a deep sleep in the cool morning with the boat gently rocking beneath our bed... each of us knew that the other was awake, yet neither of us spoke.  It was that moment when you lie there remembering the events of the previous day and the tone has yet to be set for the day ahead.  Bruce was the first to break the silence:  This is the happiest day of my life.  

Tone set!!

We began cruising with a mismatched trio of size 4D batteries and seemed to do OK.  We noticed that we were having to run our generator more and more by about St. Martin, so we purchased a new set of off-brand 4Ds after being convinced by the salesman at the chandlery that the cruising lifestyle is just brutal on batteries - so why spend the money on the high priced brands when you were still going to have to change them out every couple of years give-or-take.  These batteries cost less than 1/3 the price of the Lifelines Bruce wanted, and none were available.  We figured it was worth a try...

By the time we reached St. Lucia, we were forced to bite the bullet and install the new generator just so Bruce didn't have to spend his entire life hauling the portable Yamaha generator in and out to charge us up - which was becoming more and more often and lengthy once again...  With the new generator things were good again for a while.  At least we only had to push a button to charge the house back up, and we could do it regardless of weather conditions.  But soon we realized that our batteries just weren't holding a charge and would need replaced again!!!  We had gambled and we had lost.

Approaching Grenada, we ordered a trio of the expensive Lifeline 4Ds and installed them while we were in Carriacou.  They were wonderful.  The length of charging time was reduced and the charge levels were healthy once again.  We could make it through the night without Bruce having to turn off the refrigeration at 2am.  We didn't have to run the generator before 5am.  Our travails were over!

Until they weren't.  It happened so gradually we hardly noticed.  We began having to run the generator more often and for longer periods of time.  The battery levels were down to 12.5 as soon as the solar panels quit producing and even after running the generator for two hours before going to bed, we never saw more than 12.5... and by morning it was down to 12.2.  WTF???  We bought the expensive kind!  Why was this happening to us?

We turned to the internet for answers and found more conflicting information than solutions.  Most people warn against "Equalizing" AGM batteries.  But when we dug deeper we found that was not true exactly.  While the "off brand" or cheaper AGM batteries could not withstand the high voltage required to convert the sulphate back to lead acid, the Lifeline brand endorsed the procedure - although they called it "Conditioning" instead of Equalizing.

I narrowed my search but couldn't find precise instructions or advice anywhere... not on the Lifeline Website or in their pdf owner's manual...  While conditioning was mentioned and endorsed, there were no instructions for performing the procedure.  I found a couple of other sources of information here and there... but nothing definitive!  Why is this information not readily available???

Our frustration grew when I submitted a request for information to the Lifeline company and finally got a response that was, again, vague.

Tammy,

I apologize for the delay as I have been away on business for quite some time. I must have missed this somehow. Please see below. This should help get you started and then if you have questions I am happy to help

Every battery manufacture requires charging back to 100% every time to avoid damage. Even though you can compare a battery to a fuel tank for energy there are some adverse side effects that start happening. I know and understand why you do not want to fully recharge every time. It takes time to run the generator that long every day. If you only recharge back to 85% then you are down 15%. The problem is that top 15% will start sulfating. Then what will happen is next week you will only be able to get them back to 84%, then 83% then 82% etc…. When you have a lead acid battery (Wet, AGM or GEL) every time you discharge the plates change to lead sulfate. When you recharge it converts back to lead acid. If you do not convert the lead sulfate back to lead acid the sulfate will start to crystallize. It then becomes hard to remove and it starts growing blocking your capacity. Equalizing at a high voltage removes this sulfate and converts it back to lead acid. No matter what battery you choose you have two options

  1. Recharge back to 100% every time
  2. Recharge back to 85% every day and equalize at 15.5 volts for 8 hours once a month while cruising. John Harries from Morgans cloud was only getting 18 months out of his battery bank. He was frustrated. I worked with him for months and finally convinced him that he needed to put our batteries back in and follow option 2 above. He got 6 years out of his new batteries and we just replaced them for him. He is a believer now but the reality is these are the only two options you have otherwise you will be replacing batteries every 18-30 months. Wet Cells sulfate much quicker and also keep in mind that GEL batteries cannot be equalized and many overseas manufacturers of AGM’s cannot be equalized either. They do not build their batteries robust enough to handle high voltage charging. Switching batteries will not mend the situation unfortunately. We have to follow the rules of chemistry and keep the batteries healthy by using one of these two options.

I wish there was a better solution for cruisers but these are the only options for now.

Every battery manufacture requires charging back to 100% every time to avoid damage. Even though you can compare a battery to a fuel tank for energy there are some adverse side effects that start happening. I know and understand why you do not want to fully recharge every time. It takes time to run the generator that long every day. If you only recharge back to 85% then you are down 15%. The problem is that top 15% will start sulfating. Then what will happen is next week you will only be able to get them back to 84%, then 83% then 82% etc…. When you have a lead acid battery (Wet, AGM or GEL) every time you discharge the plates change to lead sulfate. When you recharge it converts back to lead acid. If you do not convert the lead sulfate back to lead acid the sulfate will start to crystallize. It then becomes hard to remove and it starts growing blocking your capacity.


Some cruisers have added wind generators and/or solar panels to supply the remaining 15% but you need a pretty good size solar installation to accomplish this. Wind seems to be a great option for cruisers while under sail to help offset the generator run time but again it comes with a cost. Usually lower cruising speed.

I am happy to help you and work with you in the future but the guidelines above must be followed no matter what battery you choose and if you do choose a different battery, given your application, make sure you can equalize the battery you choose, otherwise you will see a very short life.


Justin Godber
Lifeline Batteries
292 E. Arrow Hwy
San Dimas, CA 91773

By this time we had already decided to try the process, come what may.  Our batteries were less than a year old and weren't achieving more than 12.5 volts, and they weren't getting better, only worse from here.  I fired off a barrage of questions to try to narrow the process down but never got a response...  I guess he got scared and clammed up  thinking he was obviously dealing with a kook!  

Long story short, the first try failed. A friend (thanks Ron) suggested that the battery type was the culprit, so I called Xantrex and finally got some answers.  Indeed, the battery type was the problem.  Xantrex has a manual function for "equalizing" batteries, but the settings are dependent upon the chosen battery type.  AGMs don't ALL withstand this process, so the Xantrex must be fooled into giving the higher voltages by changing to the flooded (or wet) cell setting.  Second day we tried it again... and Eureka it worked!

I've complained bitterly that there are no instructions for doing this so I'm going to give them to you.  Do not take my word for it.  Do your homework.  Make your own decision.  This is what worked for us with the Xantrex Freedom 20 charger/inverter and 3 4D Lifeline AGM batteries.  ANY OTHER COMBINATION OF EQUIPMENT COULD HAVE DIFFERENT RESULTS!!! 

1.  Charge the batteries up fully until they reach float stage. (We used our house 5.5kw generator)
2.  Turn off all the switches on the main panel (This disconnects all electrical devices from the bank.  You can consult the manufacturer's specifications to see if certain devices are able to withstand voltages of 16.5 or more, but we didn't want to take the chance of damaging anything, so we just disconnected it all.  This means the refrigeration, the bilge pumps, the fans, water pressure, lighting stove... everything was off for 8 hours.  Prepare for this by having food cooked and water stored.)
3.  Change the battery type from AGM to Wet Cell on the Xantrex remote panel. (You can only run the equalization function if you have the remote panel)
4.  Open panels to allow adequate air flow to the batteries.  (The process creates heat and since you can't use the blower, you need to make sure there is good ventilation around the battery compartment.)
5.  Switch the house from "ship power" to "shore power" and start the Yamaha portable generator and confirm adequate voltage input.
6.  Engage the Equalization function:  Enter Setup Mode>hold Setup and Charge until the Battery State LEDs start blinking. (Make sure you maintain the power source, you might have to add gas to the generator if using a portable. If the power is interrupted, you'll have to begin again. The process will take 6 to 8 hours.  You should monitor battery temperatures and voltage.  Consult your manufacturer's literature to determine max voltage and temperatures allowed.  If the voltage exceeds the max allowed or the batteries reach maximum allowable temperatures, stop the process immediately by pressing the "charge" button on your panel)
7.  The Xantrex will resume normal charging when the process is complete.  Ours took just over 7 hours.  The battery state LEDs should stop at "full".  Turn off the generator.
8.  Change the battery type selection back to AGM.  You're done!

Notes:  This can be done optimally at a dock with good shore power.  We left our solar panels engaged through our BLUE SKY controller.  During the process, they stopped inputting power and went to float. The charge voltage during this process for us was between 15.5 and 16.1.  The battery temperatures were between 85° and 96°.  We never reached anything close to maximum allowable temperature.  Depending upon the state of your batteries, you might have to perform this process more than once.  Also, see owner's manual for Deep Discharge Recovery.

Why has it taken us this long to get to where we are right now?  Looking back over our cruising career, we realized that in the beginning we were at a dock.  We had constant shore power hooked up which allowed us to achieve 100% battery charge.  

When we left to cruise, we were motoring in the ICW.  This also allowed us to charge our batteries up to 100% over long hours.  

When we reached Puerto Rico, again we were at a dock... It wasn't until we reached St. Martin and spent long weeks at anchor without travelling under power that we began to notice the deterioration of our battery charge levels.  

Since then we have had starts and stops, but now that we've been in Grenada and anchored out for months... it all came to a head.  

As I write this, we are charging the batteries.  They made it through the night and with a higher charge level this morning than we've seen in months.  They are accepting more amps and thus charging more efficiently than we've seen in months.  Life is GOOD!  Going forward we know what to do.  We will add "battery conditioning" to our monthly maintenance list and hopefully, add years to our Lifeline batteries!

I hope this sheds light on the subject for someone else and can make THIS the happiest day of your life TOO!

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