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2014 International Conference on Advances in Electronics, Computers and Communications (ICAECC)

Review of Charge Equalization Schemes for Li-ion


Battery and Super-Capacitor Energy Storage Systems
Raghu Raman S*,Student Member IEEE, X.D. Xue,Senior Member IEEE, K.W.E Cheng,Senior Member IEEE
Power Electronics Research Centre, Dept. of Electrical Engineering
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Kowloon, Hong Kong
raghu.raman.1990@ieee.org*
Abstract Charge equalization of series connected energy
storage elements (batteries and super-capacitors) has significant
ramifications on their life and also reduces their operational
hazards. This paper reviews the current status and art of power
electronics converter topologies employed for charge equalization
of Li-ion battery and super-capacitors based energy storage
systems. Charge equalization schemes are broadly categorized
into passive and active cell balancing. Operating principles of
various schemes are discussed and compared.
Keywordsbattery management systems, charge equalization,
cell voltage balancing, electric vehicles, energy storage elements,
super-capacitor

I.

INTRODUCTION

Energy storage systems (ESS) play a crucial role in electric


vehicles (EV), hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), vehicle to grid
and grid to vehicle (V2G & G2V) and renewable energy
technologies. Batteries, electro-chemical cells (also termed as
super-capacitors and ultra-capacitors) and fuel cells are some
of the major energy storage elements. Batteries store energy by
utilizing the chemical reactions to trap ions that migrate
between the two electrodes. In contrast, super-capacitors (SCs)
store energy in their electric field. Batteries can store enormous
amount of energy, but because of the chemical reactions
involved, the maximum current that can be pumped into or
drawn out is limited; thereby reducing the maximum power
rating. SCs are governed by the same fundamental equations as
their conventional counterpart, but utilize higher surface area
electrodes and much thinner dielectrics to achieve capacitances
of higher magnitude. Absence of chemical reactions in SC
enables them to deliver energy quickly and SCs also charges up
in minutes or even seconds. Therefore, it means that energy
densities of batteries are higher than SCs whereas power
densities of SCs are higher than batteries and conventional
capacitors. [1] clearly depicts Ragone plot (Specific Power in
Watt per kg versus Specific Energy Watt-hour per kg) for
various energy storage elements. SCs can also be chargeddischarged several thousand times before their performance
deteriorates, whereas batteries have a significantly lower
charge-discharge cycle number. SCs are primarily used to
provide peak power and store regenerative braking energy.
Higher specific energy and cycle number, absence of
memory effect, very low self-discharge (SD), low maintenance
and toxicity, and faster charging features make Li-ion
This work was supported by project ITS16813 titled Body integrated
super-capacitor for next generation electric vehicles carried out at the Power
Electronics Research Center, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

chemistry the prominent choice among rechargeable batteries


[2]. SCs can be classified into electrochemical double layer
capacitors, pseudo-capacitors and hybrid capacitors [3]. Each
class has a distinct mechanism for charge storage.
Batteries and SCs are mostly employed in conjunction to
utilize both their aforementioned features and thereby deliver
better performance. For applications like EVs, HEVs and
renewable energy systems both battery cells and SC cells are
individually connected in series configuration to achieve higher
voltage ratings as the voltage rating of a single cell is
inherently low. For example, a lithium ion phosphate cell is
rated at 3.3 V, a lead acid cell at 2 V and a super-capacitor cell
at 2.7 V. However, most practical systems demand higher
voltage and power ratings and hence these energy elements are
employed in series and parallel configurations respectively.
Due to minor innate manufacturing defects, the voltage of
individual cells within a string may not be equal. This can also
be attributed to the difference in internal resistance of
individual cells (termed as ESR in case of SCs), imbalanced
State-of-Charge (SOC), ambient temperature gradient of the
pack during charge-discharge cycles and natural degradation
due to ageing. Several problems arise if voltages of individual
cells are imbalanced in a battery or SC string [4]. An individual
cell in a string could be over discharged if it had been charged
to a lower voltage previously. Also, chances of overcharging
an individual cell are higher if the initial cell voltages are
imbalanced. Li-ion battery cells and SC cells in particular
cannot handle over charge/discharge. Consequently, these
events could potentially lead to dangerous explosions.
Additionally, maintaining equal cell voltage levels also helps in
improving the life of batteries and SCs [5], [6]. Therefore, it is
necessary to either reduce the rate of charge being delivered to
an overcharged cell or completely disconnect it from the
influence of the charger. This process is called as cell voltage
balancing or charge equalization or SOC balancing.
Several battery/SC charge equalization circuits have been
proposed. The same equalization circuits can be employed both
to battery and SC systems but with changes in the current
rating of the equalizer since SCs have higher charging current
rating compared to Li-ion batteries. A good equalization
scheme must have rapid equalization speed, high efficiency
and reliability, low cost, easy control and a simple structure.
This paper reviews the status of power electronics topologies
used for battery and SC charge equalization and compares the
performance. Cell balancing can be classified into active and
passive cell balancing based on whether excess energy in one

978-1-4799-5496-4/14/$31.00 2014 IEEE

cell is dissipated in the form of heat (passive) or transferred to


an energy deficient cell (active). It can also be classified on the
basis of the type of energy transfer into cell to pack or pack to
cell with individual or centralized control. This paper is
organized as follows. Section II discusses the pros and cons of
passive cell balancing techniques. Active cell balancing using
power electronics is covered in section III. A comparative
study among various cell balancing strategies is presented in
section IV.
II.

PASSIVE CELL BALANCING TECHNIQUES

Passive cell balancing utilizes a bleeding resistor in parallel


to each cell and routes excess charge in the cell to a resistor
which dissipates heat. Active cell balancing schemes
overcomes this inefficient method and instead uses a DC-DC
converter or a switched capacitor network to route charge to
lower voltage cells.
Typically, a passive cell balancing topology will have
resistors connected in parallel with the cell through a power
switch as shown in Fig. 1 [7]. This technique is simple, easy to
be implemented and inexpensive. However, it is not
recommended as the energy from the higher voltage cell is lost
in the balancing resistor in the form of heat which drastically
reduces efficiency of the system. This technique additionally
demands voltage monitoring for each cell to turn on and off the
power switch. Adopting dissipative method also demands a
good balance between heat dissipation and effectiveness of
balancing, as excessive heat dissipation will complicate
thermal management. Non-uniform temperature among cells in
a string will only worsen voltage imbalance.

A dissipative cell balancing technique utilizing transistors


and op-amps as shown in Fig. 2 has also been previously
attempted [7]. In a string, when a cell reaches the maximum
voltage level by constant current charging (this value is set by
the voltage reference and divider) the current is routed around
the cell while the cell is still being subjected to constant
voltage charging; until every cell in the string reaches the
maximum voltage. This technique is comparatively more
efficient than using dissipative resistances in continuous mode
as the current is only diverted to the transistors at the end of
constant current charging. It does not need voltage monitoring
and hence it is also cheaper.
III.

ACTIVE CELL BALANCING

Active cell balancing scheme employs power electronics


techniques to transfer charge between cells with imbalanced
voltage. It is more efficient. Most of them employ a large scale
voltage sensing system to identify the higher/lower voltage
cell. Recent research on active cell balancing focuses on novel
topologies and algorithms to obtain efficient voltage balancing;
without voltage monitoring and intelligent control.
Cell1
Sw Cap1
Cell 2

Sw Cap2
Cell3

SW1

(a)
R1
Charger

Cell 1

Cell1

SW2
R2
Cell 2

Fig. 1 Passive cell balancing using shunt resistances.

(b)

Voltage
Ref

Cell3

Ci

R1

Cell1

C1
Cell2

Cell1

R2

Cell2

Charger

Cell3
Cell2

Ci

R1

Voltage
Ref
R2

Fig. 2 Passive cell balancing using transistors and op-amps.

Sw Cap1

Sw Cap3
Cell4

C1

Sw Cap2

C2

(c)
Fig. 3 (a) Switched capacitor and (b) Single switch capacitor and (c) Double tier
switched capacitor cell equalizer

A. Switched capacitor technique


This method utilizes external capacitors [7]-[10] to shuttle
energy among cells to keep the voltage balanced. The
operation principle is very simple. For example in Fig. 3 (a),
in one state, SwCap1 will be paralleled with Cell1 and therefore
SwCap1 will get charged/discharged to obtain the same voltage
as Cell1. Then the system will turn to the other state where
SwCap1 is connected in parallel with Cell2. The cycle repeats
and in the process Cell1 and Cell2 are balanced.
Switched capacitor technique utilizes n-1 capacitors and 2n
switches to balance n cells (can be batteries as well as SCs)
whereas single switched capacitor demands only 1 capacitor to
balance n cells while using n switches. This reduces the speed
of equalization of the single switched capacitor when
compared to the conventional switched capacitor network.
Double-tiered switched capacitor circuit operation and
control approach is similar to the conventional switched
capacitor. The only difference is the additional tier of
capacitors in parallel with existing capacitors. This ensures
charge exchange even between non-adjacent cells in a
switching cycle. Therefore, the charge is transferred to far off
cells in fewer switching cycles which reduce equalization time.
This topology additionally demands n-1 capacitors compared
to the conventional switches while using the same number of
switches.
Switched capacitor cell balancing schemes have minimum
power loss and is easy to be implemented. However it takes a
longer time to equalize if high voltage cell and low voltage
cell are respectively on the opposite ends of the module as the
charge has to move through every cell. These topologies do
not require voltage monitoring and control, and can efficiently
function during charging and discharging operation. Improved
topologies have been proposed in [9] and [10].
B. Traditional DC DC converters
Several equalization techniques employing buckboost
[1116], boost [17], Cuk [18] and flyback [20] converters
have been proposed. These converter based topologies usually
employ a voltage monitoring system which makes the design
complex and bulky. The control logic circuit for the battery
switches is complicated to design and implement.
In the boost converter technique, individual cell voltages
are measured and the cell with higher voltage is detected by
the controller and the corresponding switch is operated. The
switch is controlled by a PWM signal. The boost converter
routes extra energy to the other cells in the string. The circuit
is relatively simple and fewer components are used.
For adaptive control equalization process of Li-ion
batteries, [18] proposes a fuzzy logic based intelligent
management system using a Cuk converter based individual
cell equalizer. Bi-directional quasi resonant buck boost
equalizer has been proposed in [13]. This topology uses
individual cell equalizer that adopts soft-switching techniques
which have tremendously reduces the switching losses and
improves the average equalization efficiency. Also, the
equalization time is reasonably better as the current is directly
routed to the lower voltage cells. [19] proposes a low cost and

size, two stage converter which has lower voltage stress on the
devices.

C1

Sw1

L1
Sw3

C2

Sw2

L2
C3

Sw4

(a)

Cell 1

Cell 2

SD1

SD2

(b)

Cell 2

Cell 1

(c)
Fig. 4 (a) Buck-Boost (b) flyback based equalizer and (c) Cuk based
individual cell equalizer

C. Transformers based
A multi-winding transformer [21] shown in Fig. 5 (a) has a
single magnetic core with secondary taps for each cell.
Current is switched into the transformer primary which
induces currents in each of the secondary windings. The
secondary with the least reactance (due to the lower voltage
across any of the cell) will have the most induced current. This
topology is not modular because the multi winding
transformer has to be designed keeping the number of cells to
be balanced in mind. Ramp converter based topology [12], [22]
is an improvement on the multi-winding transformer. This
topology employs one secondary winding for a pair of cells.
Another modification of this topology results in the multiple
transformer topology [23] where the number of transformers
used is equal to the number of cells.

Switched transformer [23] topology shown in Fig. 5 (b)


uses entire energy from the battery pack as the input and the
output of the converter is connected to a series of switches
which are used to select individual cells (pack to cell topology)
the output connects to. The controller senses the lower voltage
cell and then turns on/off appropriate switches to connect the
transformer thereby achieving cell balancing. Most
transformer based topologies have a major drawback of higher
cost and larger size. Some of the designs are not modular in
nature too, which does not make them a favorite choice.
However, it can be designed to carry larger balancing current
when compared to switched capacitor topologies. [24]
proposes an advanced single charge equalizer using the multiwinding transformer topology. This technique does not use
sensing circuits and is modular in nature.

Cell1

Cell3

Cell2

increased by BMS which in turn increases the average


current flowing into cell2 increasing its voltage level. This
technique demands accurate voltage sensing and is
complicated for a large number of cells as the BMS then
needs to process more data.
E. Balanced Charging
In this scheme [26], shown in Fig. 7, cells are connected in
a series mode using switches S11 to S1N, with parallel diodes,
D11 to D1N. During cell discharge, the switches S11 to S1N are
closed and the diodes are completely short-circuited and
during charging, the switches S11, S12 to S1N are opened and
the diodes D11 to D1N conduct. The cell voltages are
continuously monitored and any abnormal increase or
decrease in voltage is negated by turning off S21 (S22S2N)
and S11 (S12S1N) respectively. For example, to isolate cell 1
during charging, the switch S21 is closed. Since the cell is
open-circuited by the diode D11 it can be removed without
interrupting the charging process of other cells. This method is
quite simple and straightforward. However, if the battery
string is very long, the charger needs to have a wide output
voltage variation.

Voltage
reading

Sw1
Cell 1

Celln

L
Sw2

Cell 2

(a)
PWM Control
Battery Management
System

Control

Vr2
Vr1

Oscillator

Fig. 6 PWM controlled balancing system [25]


Charger

Celln
Cell1

Cell2

Cell3

(b)
Fig. 5 (a) Multi-winding transformer and (b) Switching transformer based
equalizer

D. PWM based balancing


In this technique [25], shown in Fig. 6, two cells are
connected to an inductor through a pair of complementary
switches driven by an oscillator with 50% duty cycle. PWM
control is done by using a Battery Management System
(BMS) by adjusting the value of variable resistors Vr1 and Vr2.
If the voltage of cell1 is higher than cell2, the value of Vr1 is

Cell 1

S11

D11

D21

S21

D22

S22

Cell 2

S12

D12

Fig. 7 Balanced charging scheme as in [26]

TABLE I. COMPARISON OF DIFFERENT BALANCING SCHEMES


No. of major components for balancing
Balancing performance

Topology

Diodes

Bleeding Resistor
Analog Shunting
Switched cap
Single switch cap
Double-tier switch cap
Buck-Boost
Boost
Flyback
Cuk
Multi-winding transformer
Ramp converter
Multiple transformer
Switched transformer
PWM controlled
Balanced charging

N
N
2N
N
N+1
N
1
N
2N

N
N
N-1
-

N
N
N-1
1
2N+1
N
N
N/2
1
-

Transformer

FET

Speed

2N
2N
2N
2N
N
N
N
N
1
N+3
N
2N

P
P
E
E
E
G
G
G
G
M
M
M
G
G
G

G
G
G
P
G
G
E
G
G
E
E
E
M
G
G

1 (1:N)
2N
1 (1:N)
N/2
N
1
-

Control

E
E
E
E
E
G
G
G
G
G
G
E
G
G
P

Voltage
Sensing
Y
Y
N
N
N
Y
Y
N
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y

Modular
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
Y
N
Y
N

P Poor, M Moderate, G Good, E Excellent, Y Yes, N No


N number of batteries/super-capacitors

IV.

Table 1 compares different cell balancing schemes based on


several key parameters. For EVs, modularity and less bulky
schemes are most suited. Schemes that do not require voltage
monitoring systems automatically reduce in size and cost,
making it ideal for EVs/HEVs. Switched capacitor and
Flyback topologies satisfy these criteria. Double-tiered
switched capacitor scheme offer faster equalization speeds too.
For smaller sized and low power applications, dissipative
techniques are still being implemented. Although being easy
to implement, transformer based schemes being bulky and
non-modular is not preferred. Conventional DCDC converter
based schemes employ individual cell based equalizer and
most of them need a voltage monitoring system. This makes
them expensive and bulky. However, they offer relatively
faster equalization time when compared to switched-capacitor
based schemes.
V.

REFERENCES

COMPARISON
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CONCLUSION

This paper reviews different cell balancing schemes that


can be used to balance voltage of serially connected batteries
or super-capacitors. Voltage equalization is vital for series
connected cells. Equalization improves their life time and also
prevents batteries and SCs from dangerous explosions. Cell
balancing can be active or passive and the transfer of charge
can take place from a pack to a cell or from single cell to a
pack.
Internal parameters of battery and SCs vary with ageing and
they are also a function of temperature. Therefore, there is
need for intelligent cell balancing techniques that take these
factors into consideration and accordingly adapt equalization
strategy.

[8]

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