How to Choose LIPO Battery Charger & Power Supply

In this article we will look into how to choose LIPO battery charger, and hopefully it should give you some idea in picking the best LiPo charger for multicopters.

When buying a LiPo battery charger, it would be easier if you could just walk into a hobby shop, and ask the staff what charger you should get. However if you are getting it online you are pretty much on your own. Therefore researching beforehand, knowing what you need and what options available are very important.

Choosing The BEST LiPo Charger for Quadcopter / Multirotor

We have talked about how to choose the best LiPo Battery for your mini quad build. We have covered most areas in building and flying quadcopters, but LiPo charger is rarely mentioned. In this post, we will go through some of key factors in selecting a good LiPo battery charger, for your quadcopter and other multirotors.

These are the important consideration when choosing the best LiPo charger.

Recommendation

Here are some lipo charger recommendation from our multirotor group: top 5 best LiPo chargers for mini quad. However we urge you read through this guide to learn about the basics and specifications before deciding.

Programmable Charger

There are non-programmable charger which are “plug and charge”. You just need to plug your battery into these charger, and it will start charging, no input from the user is needed. These might seem simple, and economical too, but they are very slow in charging, and you can’t change any of the settings and options.

non-programmable-lipo-battery-charger

High quality chargers nowadays are almost all computerized and programmable. A programmable charger allows you to set all sorts of parameters, such as charging current, type of batteries, charging period etc. They show you the battery condition such as what the voltages is each cell, how much current has been charged into them and so on. It basically manages the charging for you in the way you want, ensuring the batteries are charged safely and accurately.

Some of the programmable chargers also do clever things including, adjusting charging current depending on charger temperature, auto-detecting battery cell counts and battery voltage level. You can even discharge your battery for storage with some programmable chargers.

turnigy-ACC-6-lipo-charger

So definitely go for a programmable charger if you got the budget.

LiPo Battery Cell Count Supports

Some charge can charge Lipo battery up to 4S, some up to 6S or even higher. It all depends on what you need, now and in the future. For most people I think 6S support is good to have and should more than enough for now. If you fly micro quads running 1S batteries, you might also make sure the charger can charge 1S too (although you could make a cable that charge 4x1S batteries as 1 4S battery like this)

Charge Current/Rate

The charge current rate is limited by two factors:

  • Max Charging Current your LiPo Battery CAN TAKE
  • Max Charging Current your charger CAN PROVIDE

For better safety, LiPo batteries are often recommended to be charged at 1C, although some more expensive LiPo batteries these days are advertised to be fast charging capable, which can be charged at 2C or even higher.

Basically, to charge at 1C, it means if you have a 3S 2000mAh LiPo battery, your charge current should be 1C x 2000mAh = 2000mA = 2A; To charge at 2C, the charge current would be 2 x 2000mA = 4A.

The max charging current your charger can provide are normally provided in the specification. But you could also confirm by dividing the power by voltage, and take the lower value. E.g. for a 100W charger at 4S 16.8V, the max charge current would be 100W/16.8V = 5.9A. But note that this current can vary as voltage changes, when the battery is empty at 14V it could charge faster at 100W/14V = 7.1A. The current would gradually decrease as the battery voltage rises and eventually down to 5.9A.

In the next chapter we can find out about how to choose charger power wattage.

Charger Power Output

LiPo Charger Power is measured in Watt which is calculated by multiplying voltage (Volts) and current (Amps). If your charger does not meet the power requirement, you might find it charge your battery at a lower current.

To work out how much power you need in a charger, you can simply multiply the charging voltage and current. For example, to charge a 3S 2000mAh LiPo at 12.6V at 1C (2A), you will need a charger that are rated for 25.2 watts (= 12.6V x 2A) or higher. So it’s clear that if you want to charge at 2C (4A), you will need double of the power to 50.4W.

Note that when dealing with different cell count LiPo, the max charge current also varies, but it should not exceed the max charge rate of your LiPo charger. For example for a 50W charger that has a rated 5A max charge current, you will find the actual max charge current for 3S battery to be only around 4A (= 50W / 12.6V). But for a 2S battery, the calculated result is now nearly 6A (= 50W / 7.4V). But you wouldn’t be able to charge at 6A because the charger is rated for max 5A .

This is so far only an estimation, there is also efficiency loss so you definitely need higher wattage than the number from our calculation. It’s safe to assume a power loss of around 20%, so if you are looking at 50W, a 60W charge would be a good choice (50*120%).

Once you start charging higher voltage batteries or start doing parallel charging, you would need a more powerful charger. Let’s calculate how much power we need for parallel charging:

For example to charge six 3S 2200mAh LiPo batteries at 1C at the same time, the max charge current would be 13.2A (= 1C x 2200mA x 6). And the power requirement would be 199.6W (= 13.2A * 12.6V * 120%). In this case, I will get a charger that is rated for 200W or more, with a max charge current of 14A or higher. You can certainly use a lower power charger in this situation, the only downside is the charging would take longer as it can’t deliver that much power and current.

Types of batteries supports

For mini quad’s all we need is LiPo Support, it’s also good to have HVLi support. It would be a bonus to have NIMH support too which is useful to rescue over-discharged LiPo that cannot be recognised by the charger. Some chargers might support other types of batteries too including NiCad and PB which might not be that useful to people who only fly multirotors.

Charger’s Modes

Charger might or might not have the following charge modes, here explains what they do:

  • balance charge – this is the safest and most used charging mode on the charger. Both the main lead and balance lead are plugged into the charger, so the voltage of each cell is monitored and can be made sure balanced during and after charging
  • fast charge – charging is faster because it doesn’t monitor and balance the individual cell voltage; It only looks at the overall voltage and there is a risk of overcharging one or multiple cells in the battery. We don’t recommend this mode unless you know what you are doing
  • discharge – this mode brings down the voltage of a lipo battery to as low as the charger allows (some might be 3V, some might be 3.3V, it depends on the charger and settings)
  • storage charge – puts your lipo battery cell voltage to 3.8V, which is the voltage suitable for long-term storage

A decent charger should at least have “Balance Charge Mode”, “Discharge Mode”, and “Storage Charge”.

Multiple Channels

Most low power chargers are single channel chargers. Multiple-channel charger are very powerful, basically each channel can be used as a smaller charger. For example with a 4-channel charger, you can able to charge 4 completely different batteries at the same time, regardless capacity, votlage level, cell count… almost like you are charging them on a separate charger.

They are great as you won’t need a parallel board to charger multiple batteries, and you can set different settings for each channel such as charge current which makes it really handy.

The power of multiple-channel chargers is normally the sum of all channels.

Extra Features

You probably don’t need all of the following extra features, but they are good to have. The more features it has, the more expensive charger it’s going to be.

Some basic charger features

  • Backlight LCD display.
  • Shows voltages of each cell when charging.
  • Precise voltage reading of 0.01 – 0.02 volts.

Some Safety features

  • Cell count confirmation protection before charging.
  • Over and Under voltage protection.
  • Temperature detection and limit setting for overheat protection.
  • Time out feature (stop charging after certain period of time).
  • Warning buzzer.

And more advance LiPo charger features

  • Support many rechargeable battery types.
  • Measuring Internal Resistance of each cell and the entire battery.
  • Profile programming for LiPo of different capacity and cell count, so you don’t have to set up parameters like charge current etc everytime you charge them.
  • Computer connection and GUI. Some high end charger allows you to connect your charger up to your PC, so you can see realtime data like charging current, voltage level of each cell, time remaining etc. On some of them you can even update charger firmware too..

Choosing Power Supply for Lipo battery charger

If the charger doesn’t have a built-in power supply or come with an external power supply, it mean you will have to buy one separately. A charger dedicated power supply can cost quite a lot, sometimes are as expensive as the charger itself. There are other cheaper alternatives such as computer/server PSU’s which you might need to do a bit of DIY.

turnigy-power-supply-lipo-charger

The charger specification should tell you what the input voltage (range) should be, and your power supply should have an output voltage that meets that requirement. The power supply also need to provide enough power for the charger. The power supply power is calculated by multiplying output current and output voltage.

For example, for the Turnigy Accucel-6, it’s rated at 50W, and input voltage is rated at 11V-17V. To match it, this power supply would be a good choice. The example power supply’s output voltage is 15V, which is meets our voltage requirement. It can output 7A current, 7A x 15V = 105W, which is more than enough (always leave rooms in case of over heat issues).

With a under-powered power supply, you could overload your power supply and cause overheat issue and eventually burns out.

Charger Quality and Cost

A LiPo charger should be treated as a long term investment when you start out in RC hobby, just like your radio transmitter. So expect to spend fair amount of money on the quality chargers.

The most expensive charger is not necessary the best, but a good quality charger comes with reasonable price. My advice is, don’t look at the how much it is before you figure out what you actually need. List your requirements on a piece of paper, and find the chargers that you are happy with. If you don’t need the “fancy features”, then don’t add it to your list.

If you don’t find anything suitable locally then try shopping abroad, It offers you more options with lower prices. Most of the chargers you find will probably be made in China or other countries. It’s a stereotype that China always make bad products, not necessary true. In fact most RC products are made in China these days, including some really top notch brand names.

 

Conclusion

Picking a LiPo battery charger is just like any other quadcopter parts, it’s quality versus price. But unless you actually try in, you won’t know how good or how bad it is. So read some other guides on how to choose a LiPo battery charger, ask on forums, do your research, and make sure you have a good understanding of LiPo charging before making your decision. This article is based on my personal experience, if there is any error or missing info please let me know.

Happy flying and charging!

Edit History

  • 2015 Feb – Article created
  • 2017 Jun – Added charger’s modes

8 thoughts on “How to Choose LIPO Battery Charger & Power Supply

  1. Venki

    This is very helpful. Any recommendation on how to prevent any lipo related fire? What is the best way to store the chargers?

    Reply
  2. Daniel

    Great article! thanks! I would like to ask you about Dell PSU, is it appropriate for Lipo? I have this model hardware.nl/power-supply/dell/210-abvs.html and I want to try it but I’m afraid that i can damage it! Can you advise me something?! thanks !

    Reply
  3. Buy Rc Planes

    “Hi Oscar”

    I was looking for something like this…I found it quiet interesting, hopefully you will keep posting such blogs….

    Reply
  4. Chris Barth

    Hi Oscar, keep up the good work! I’ve watched your site grow over the last couple of years. It’s a great source of info for the hobby.
    What I use for a power supply is a server power supply. You can buy one for $20 on Ebay that will give you 80A at 13V! Some will even supply more. They can also be run in series to give 24V. That’s probably overkill for quad batteries though.
    They need a modification which basically consists of soldering a jumper, you don’t even need to take the case off. There are guides on RC groups on how to do it.
    Trust me, if you have the ability to figure out how to get a quad up and running on your own, you can easily mod the power supply.
    IMO, buying one of the expensive power supplies sold specifically for Lipo chargers is a waste unless you don’t have the skill, don’t have the time, or have extra money to waste.

    Reply
  5. Magma6

    Hi Oscar
    Something I rarely see mentioned about why RC chargers generally come without power supply, and which always feel quite obvious to me, remembering my late teen going to the electric RC-cars race field with a buddy of mine: after each race, we plugged the empty battery to the RC charger (the big one, which can do a full charge of your NiMh battery in 15min). No power line there: the only available and practical source of power was one or two full-size car battery he kept in his car trunk. These are heavy but they can give an awful lot of amps in a short time. If you are careful about not discharging it, you can even use your own car battery.

    I did not check but I guess all these chargers can run on 12-13V

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      yes you are right :)
      actually that’s how we charge on the field, with car batteries :)
      we even tried some huge 3S 10000mah lipo to supply power to the charger and charge smaller lipos :D

      Reply
  6. Asad Faruque

    Sir,
    W have a lithium polymer battery of 32s1p configuration with Vmax 134V.
    We have a BMS to monitor the cells voltage and temperature continously.
    What can be the maximum charger voltage i can use to charge the above battery pack? Can we use a 180V charger to charge a 134V battery or we have to use a charger of 140V?

    Reply

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