Parallel charging allows you to charge multiple LiPo batteries at once using a single charger. Parallel charging is a more effective and faster way of charging your batteries, and it allows you to go out and fly more often, which is what this is all about.
If you are new to LiPo batteries used on quadcopters, make sure to check out our guide first: Quadcopter LiPo Battery Explained.
Getting a Parallel Charging Board
Normally parallel charging boards have enough slots to connect 4 to 6 batteries. Each battery has one discharge lead (main plug), and one balance plug, you need to insert both connectors into the para-board.
The following para-board is the most basic and cheapest option, but it doesn’t have any safety features built-in.
I personally recommend using para-boards with built-in fuses like the one below. They cost a bit more, but the extra safety is well worth it.
Here are some good ones:
Why Parallel Charge LiPo Batteries?
Charging your batteries in parallel is faster than charging them individually given your charger is powerful enough.
It allows you to maximize the output power of a single charger while we charge small batteries such as 1300mAh. They only take 1.3A to 2.6A each assuming you charge them between 1C to 2C.
Parallel charging is also convenient as it saves you from having to unplug one battery to connect another to the charger.
The best way to parallel charge your battery is by using dedicated “Parallel Charging Boards” (para boards). These boards allow you to connect and charge multiple LiPo batteries simultaneously.
Good quality para boards are equipped with fuses which mean they cut off the connection if there is a problem. This is an essential safety feature that minimizes the risk of damaging your battery and causing a fire.
Parallel Charging vs. Dual Channel Chargers
Multiple channel chargers allows you charge multiple batteries at the same time without connecting multiple batteries together. Many people prefer that over parallel charging because they think it’s safer, and just as fast.
It will be another article to discuss the safety claim, but is it really just as fast?
Serious FPV pilots can charge between 8 and 12 packs simultaneously. That means you can charge a whole session of batteries in the time it takes a dual charger to charge 2 packs.
A good and cheap 4-channel charger we recently reviewed is the SkyRC E4Q.
Before You Parallel Charge, Read This
So parallel charging is a great way to charge your LiPo, but it’s also more prone to error than charging a single battery. Please do your research and ensure you charge your batteries safely.
Here are some important points you should understand and follow.
1. Safety and Precaution
It doesn’t matter how you are charging your LiPo, always keep a fire extinguisher near your charging station. More importantly, always use a metal box (or Ammo box) to store your batteries while charging which can minimize the chance of fire spreading.
2. Same Cell Count
Your batteries have to have the same cell count. For example, you should only charge 3S batteries with 3S, 4S with 4S and so on.
3. Capacity and C-Rating
You might be able to get away parallel charging batteries from different manufacturers and of different capacity. However we do recommend only charging batteries of similar spec to ensure maximum safety (preferably even the same brand, model and batch).
However different capacities within a reasonable range should be okay. Slight differences in C-Rating should also be okay.
4. Voltage Level
Voltage in a battery is like water in a barrel, if you connect 2 barrels together, water from the fuller one will flow into the emptier until the 2 barrels have the same amount of water. If you have 1 full barrel and 1 empty, the water will flow with the weight of a full barrel behind it which could burst a pipe.
Likewise, before connecting the batteries together, you should always check if their voltages and ensure they are at a similar voltage level. They don’t have to be the exact same voltage, small differences are allowed. Generally a difference within 0.2V is acceptable.
When connecting multiple batteries together, the voltage difference between them will be neutralized. But if the voltage difference is too large, it will cause a high current to flow between battery packs as they try to equalize, like bursting a pipe, this could burn your parallel board, the battery wires, or even the batteries.
If you have a battery with vastly different voltage, you should isolate it and charge it alone.
5. Plug in all the Balance Leads
Always hook up the balance connector for every battery before charging. This is no different than charging you batteries individually.
This will allow the charger to monitor the individual cells to avoid overcharging, even though they’re connected in parallel and appear to the charger as one large cell.
6. Charge Current
When charging a single LiPo pack, I usually just charge at 1C, and the charge current can be calculated as
Current = 1C x Capacity.
For example, to charge a 1800mAh pack, I will use 1.8A; Or for an 800mAh pack, I use 0.8A. You can choose to charge at higher C rate if your batteries allow, but it increases the risk.
The same principle applies when I charge multiple LiPo, the only difference is that the capacity is now the sum of all batteries connected. For example if I have 3 x 3S 2000mah batteries, the total capacity is now 6000mAh, and I can charge them at 6A.
7. Battered Batteries? Don’t Risk It
We crash a lot with our mini quads, and inevitably we batter and bruise our batteries.
My advice is to bin those damaged batteries and don’t risk it.
Deformed LiPo batteries could have defected cells that have much higher internal resistance resulting in significant temperature increase during charging and discharging. And heat is the main cause of many LiPo fires.
How to Parallel Charge LiPo Safely
Now you understand the requirements for parallel charging, let’s talk about how to do it.
Firstly you will need get a decent parallel charging board (aka para-board), see our recommendation at the beginning of this article.
Using a parallel charging board
When charging, I always put the para-board and batteries in a fire-proof container, such as a metal ammo box, this helps reduce the risk of fire.
LiPo fire during charging is very rare, I personally have been using LiPo batteries since 2013 and not yet had a fire caused by charging. But still, it’s better safe than sorry.
You must make sure that the power connectors on your para-board match the ones on your batteries (the ones in the picture are XT60). If your batteries have a mix of different types of connectors (e.g. JST, T-connector), you can just get adapters for them instead of a whole new board.
Getting a voltage checker
Another must-have tool for parallel charging is a voltage checker, which allows you to check the voltage of each cell in a lipo battery simultaneously. I personally use these and really like them:
Understand the Max Charging Current
Modern LiPo chargers are smart enough not to go over the maximum current allowed depends on the rated power, even if the user sets a higher current. The maximum charge current of the charger can be calculated using this equation:
I = P/V
If your charger doesn’t have this feature you might want to manually calculate the safe charging current before connecting the batteries.
Calculate Max Charging Current
Assuming that I was using the 50W Turnigy Accucel-6 charger, and I want to parallel charge three 3S 1300 mAh LiPo batteries.
If I want to charge my batteries at 1C, the charging current would be 3.9A. But does my charger support this amount of amps? Let’s find out.
Beware that battery voltage increases during charging, while the power is a constant, the maximum current allowed decreases. Again, smart chargers can automatically adjust the current appropriately without any human intervention.
So for those dumber chargers, you might have to manually change the charge current constantly. But that’s not ideal, it’s probably easier to just set the lowest charge current, which is when voltage is at the highest, i.e. at 4.2V per cell. For a 3S battery, this is 12.6V.
The maximum charging current the charger can handle is:
50W / 12.6 = 3.97A
So we are all good! But what happens if we had 4 batteries instead of 3? Well we simply can’t charge at 1C as the charge current would be 5.2A, and it would exceed the power rating of the charger.
Most smart LiPo chargers these days can automatically calculate all this for you. It sets an upper limit to the charge current for safer charging, even if you set it to a higher value, it won’t go above that limit. Therefore I strongly recommend spending a little extra to get a decent charger, it’s just so much safer and easier!
Tips on Plugging in Batteries to Para-Board
Remember always connect the discharge leads first, and the balance leads after.
When you first connect the batteries together, a difference in voltage will cause a current flow before they are equalized, the larger the voltages, the higher the current that will flow.
The balance leads are not rated for high current and could easily overheat and get damaged. The current surge could even melt the traces on the parallel charging board (it happened to me a while ago as shown in the following photo).
Always balance charge when parallel charging, and remember to plug in the balance leads on every pack so that every cell in every pack is balanced before, during and after charging.
Make sure you are plugging in the balance lead in the correct orientation. Even though they are designed so that you can only plug it in one way, it’s possible to make enough contact with the wrong pins to cause sparks.
Before you start parallel charging, make sure you do your research, read up and understand how to do this correctly.
The Science Behind Parallel Charging
So when multiple LiPo batteries are connected to a parallel charging board, they will be charged and balanced nicely. You might wonder how it works.
When they are connected in parallel, separate batteries become one big battery. As we mentioned earlier, the moment you connect them, there is a surge of current flow to equalize the voltage differences, and their voltages will become the same across all the packs.
But how does cell balancing work during charging? Similar to the above, the individual cells are also connected in each battery with the balance leads, for example cell1 in battery1 is connected with cell1 in battery2. These cells will have their voltages “evened out”, and again it acts like a single LiPo battery.
It’s not unheard of for a LiPo to catch fire while charging, especially when you have multiple batteries sitting next to each other, this can be very dangerous!
It is good practice to remain in the room where your batteries are charging, and always make sure that they are all disconnected from the charger before going out.
If you decide to go ahead with parallel charging, you do so at your own risk. If you are feeling uncomfortable or unsure, simply do not attempt it. Hopefully this short guide gave you some insight into what parallel charging is, and how to do it safely.
- Dec 2014 – Article created
- Oct 2016 – Updated equipment options
- Nov 2017 – Article revised