Question: Hi there! I’m a small-industrial business operator and I’d like to know more about industrial battery chargers and how they can be made more efficient. Our aim is to cut down on energy costs. Can you help?

Answer: We sure can! Understanding such technical components of the industry can be tricky, but once broken down, it all starts to make sense! Here’s an introduction to industrial battery chargers to help you understand which is the most energy efficient for you, and your business.

What are industrial battery chargers?

According to the Office of Energy Efficiency of Natural Resources Canada, an industrial battery charger is a type of AC-to-DC converter designed to restore the charge in storage batteries.

Industrial batteries are typically used in forklifts, scissor lifts, golf carts and small material-handling equipment as well as telecommunications, uninterrupted power supplies, medical equipment and standby applications like engine-starting batteries, mobile homes, yachts, ambulances and emergency rescue vehicles.

Tech-talk for industrial dummies

There are two types of technology used to convert the AC input in battery chargers. The first is a switch-mode charger and the second is a linear battery charger. Switch-mode chargers are electric devices that use a switching circuit to convert AC input at a very high frequency. They are more compact, more energy-efficient and more tolerant of input AC voltage fluctuation, yet slightly more expensive, than linear chargers. Linear battery chargers are larger and heavier, and use an older technology with lower-efficiency transformers that generate more heat than switch-mode chargers.

When it comes to types of battery chargers, there are three to choose from: Magnetic-amplifier, Ferroresonance, and SCR-bridge. While each type of charger is said to possess similar conversion efficiencies (from 80-90%), they have different peak electrical demands, which, depending on the electrical demand charge arrangement you have with your utility company, could make a significant difference. Visit the NRCAN website to learn more about each type of battery charger and find out which may be right for you.

Your charger checklist

First of all, let’s talk money. The good news is that the actual efficiency of a charger has little to do with the price, meaning you can get a really efficient charger for no more than you would pay for one that is far less efficient.

You will however, want to take into consideration the amperage of the charger. The charging current (in Amperes) should be approximately 15-25% of the capacity of the battery. The capacity of the charger can vary greatly in terms of price. For example, according to NRCan, the price for small-capacity chargers (less than 100A) that have a full-load efficiency of around 70-85% can range from $80 to $3,000. Large capacity chargers that are typically customized and have a full-load efficiency of between 80-90% range from $1,500 to $30,000.

Last but not least, you want to take into consideration the electrical input of the charger. Typically, three-phase chargers are more efficient and exhibit lower ripple (the quality of the current and voltage passing through the battery) than one-phase chargers, but are more expensive. After you’ve taken a look at the amperage and the electrical input, make sure that your chargers and batteries are properly matched! Mismatched units can lead to overcharging or undercharging. Consult the manufacturer to make sure their product is right for you and will provide both optimal battery capacity and life.

Questions or comments about industrial battery chargers? Leave them below!

 image credit: Aspen Logistics