We previously discussed how to dispose LiPo batteries, in this article we will talk about how to determine when to throw them out. Apart from physical damages, the most important factor is internal resistance (IR), which indicates the health and performance of the LiPo battery.
The Average Lifespan of a LiPo Battery – Discharge Cycles
If you are lucky enough not to damage your LiPo battery before its end of days, it should have an average lifespan of around 300–500 cycles according to Tattu – one of the LiPo manufacturers.
Of course this also depends largely on factors such as how much “abuse” you put your batteries through, and how you handle them on a daily basis.
A few hundreds of cycles might sound like a lot, but for us FPV drone pilots, it’s quite likely that we crash and damage them way before we hit that number :)
But even if you have charged and discharge your battery over 500 times, you can still use it as long as you are happy with its performance and there is no visible damage. One of the biggest issues with heavily used LiPo would probably be the built-up internal resistance which causes bad voltage sag. Also they might not hold the charge that well when they get old.
LiPo batteries don’t have an expiry date printed on them, but from my personal experience, new batteries almost always perform better than old batteries, even when they just sit there and not being used much.
I generally find batteries that are 12 to 18 months old to start showing noticeable drop in performance. I usually replace my batteries when they are around 2 to 3 years old, even when they might look completely normal on the outside.
It’s helpful to label and date your battery packs when you first get them in.
Check Internal Resistance
One of the most useful battery health indicators would be internal resistance (IR).
As explained in my LiPo battery beginner’s guide, IR determines how effectively a battery can deliver current to your quadcopter. Higher IR means lower performance, and more energy is wasted as heat, that’s why it gets hot during charging and discharging. The safety aspect of IR is that when the internal resistance is too high, the battery can overheat during charging and go into thermal runaway.
It’s impossible to say what IR value is considered good without mentioning the size as of the cells as they are related. Bigger cells tend to have lower IR. For typical 1100mAh to 1500mAh batteries (regardless the number of cells), I would consider under 10mΩ to be in great condition, 10mΩ to 15mΩ to be fine, 15mΩ to 20mΩ to be a little old, and over 20mΩ to be “time to retire”.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to document the IR of any new batteries that you buy, and you can see how IR changes over time and decide if you should retire the pack. As you notice the battery start to perform poorly you can then measure the IR again and get an idea what sort of IR range is bad.
Also, if one of the cells in your battery has noticeably higher IR than the rest (e.g. 100% higher), it’s probably not a good idea to keep using it, I’d probably throw it out because that problematic cell will supply less current and heat up more than it should during usage. If you have a cell imbalance issue after every flight, this might be the reason too.
How to Measure IR?
Almost of all modern LiPo chargers these days can measure IR. for example the iSDT Q6 and TookitRC M6. IR of each cell is displayed on the screen when you charge the battery. If you are getting a charger I strongly recommend getting one with IR measurement.
When measuring internal resistance, you should try to keep all conditions constant, because several factors can affect your IR readings, such as:
- Capacity of the battery
- Quality of the cells
- Chemical properties
- Age (number of discharge cycles)
- Measuring equipment
- Voltage of the LiPo
- Discharge rating
IR depends on the size of the cells (i.e. capacity). Larger cells have lower IR inherently. For example, when you parallel charge, the IR will appear lower than when you charge those batteries individually.
Note that IR increases at lower temperature, that’s why LiPo batteries perform worse in the winter, and it helps to warm them up in your pocket before flight. Try to measure IR at the same temperature.
Also the state of charge affects IR reading, i.e. when the pack is empty IR tends to be higher than when it’s fully charged. Therefore you should measure it when the pack is fully charged to be consistent.
A visual examination of your LiPo battery can help determine if it should be retired.
LiPo batteries used on drones can easily become deformed in a crash since they are exposed on the outside. It’s risky to use dented batteries, especially during charging.
Further Reading: Here are some tips to protect your LiPo batteries from physical damage
Your batteries can also become “puffed” after some abusive uses, or when they are getting old.
Swollen batteries are dangerous. You can’t fix a swollen battery, and it should be disposed of.
How to Avoid a Swollen Battery
- Proper charging: charge at 1C to reduce the chance of battery getting overheat.
- Avoid over-discharge: Make sure you land before the voltage drops below the minimum cut-off voltage.
- Batteries don’t like heat: If the battery is still warm, let it cool down first before charging/discharging again.
- Don’t abuse your battery: Avoid discahrging your battery beyond the specified safe rate.
- Proper storage: If you live somewhere cold, store your battery indoor. Batteries don’t like the cold just as much as they don’t like the heat.
Causes of Puffed Up Lipo Batteries
Gas generation in lithium ion batteries is normal. Even if you don’t abuse your battery, the normal everyday use of your battery will generate gas through a process called electrolyte decomposition. The electrolyte decomposition occurs faster if you over-discharge a battery or overheat a battery.
What is electrolyte decomposition?
Simply put, a battery is made of three things: the anode, the cathode and the electrolyte. The cathode and the anode are the positive and negative terminals on your battery.
The electrolyte is a chemical inside the battery that allows charged ions to flow from the anode to the cathode during discharge (and the other way during charging).
Electrolyte decomposition is what happens when that electrolyte chemically breaks down. So in a lipo battery, as the electrolyte breaks down you end up with lithium and oxygen. This forms lithium oxide on the anode and cathode (depending whether you are charging or discharging).
But what you also end up with is excess oxygen that doesn’t adhere to the anode or cathode. This excess oxygen is part of what causes a battery swell. And oxygen likes to burn.
Unbalanced Cell Voltages
It’s pretty normal that the cell voltages are slightly different after a flight, e.g. 3.55V, 3.59V, 3.61V. The point being, they should all be within reasonable range.
When the internal resistance of particular cells are wildly higher than the rest, the voltage always end up unbalanced after flight, it will put more stress on other cells. Higher IR cells also generate more heat during usage.
Pay Attention to Performance
Battery performance decreases when they get older:
- Not holding charge, voltage drops after charging, and flight time reduced
- Voltage sag is noticeably worse
Another thing to keep in mind is the temperature of the LiPo after a flight. If a battery is getting way hotter (can’t hold it in your hand for more than 10 seconds) than others, it’s also a sign of aged battery.
Check Temperature While Charging
Battery getting warm during charging (charging at 1C) is an extremely important sign that your battery has a problem, and you should stop immediately. LiPo batteries shouldn’t get noticeably warm when charging at reasonable rate. The common cause is internal short and it can be extremely dangerous.
“Is My Battery Still Safe to Use?”
If you ever ask yourself this question, the answer is probably no.
If you handle a healthy battery properly, it should never set on fire. But when you have a battery with a dented corner, or one of the cells with unusually high IR, the risk increases exponentially.
Nobody can tell you if a battery is going to explode, but would you risk your house over a damaged $20 Lipo battery?
- Sep 2017 – Article created
- Nov 2018 – Added effects of high IR and comments about “check bat temp while charging”
- Mar 2019 – Added “is my LiPo still safe to use”
- Feb 2020 – Added “how to measure IR”
- Feb 2023 – Article revised