Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gentle Battery Regulator

This small but very effective circuit protects a lead-acid battery (12-V solar battery or car battery) against overcharging by a solar module when the incident light is too bright or lasts too long. It does so by energizing a fan, starting at a low speed when the voltage is approximately 13.8 V and rising to full speed when the voltage exceeds 14.4 V (full-charge voltage). The threshold voltage (13.8 V) is the sum of the Zener diode voltage (12 V), the voltage across the IR diode (1.1 V), and the base-emitter voltage of the 2N3055 (0.7 V). In contrast to circuits using relays or IC amplifiers, the circuit has a gradual switching characteristic, which avoids relay chatter and the constant switching on and off near the switching point produced by a ‘hard’ switching point.

Gentle Battery Regulator circuit diagram
The circuit does not draw any current at all (auto power-off) below 13 V. Pay attention to the polarization of the Zener and IR diodes when building the circuit. The transistor must be fitted to a heat sink, since it becomes hot when the fan is not fully energized (at voltages just below 14 V). A galvanized bracket from a DIY shop forms an adequate heat sink. The indicated component values are for a 10-W solar module. If a higher-power module is used, a motor with higher rated power must also be used. The circuit takes advantage of the positive temperature coefficient of the lamp filament. The filament resistance is low at low voltages and increases as the voltage rises. This reduces the speed of the fan to avoid generating an annoying noise level. The lamp also provides a form of finger protection.

If you stick your finger into the fan blade, the lamp immediately takes over the majority of the power dissipation and lights brightly. This considerably reduces the torque of the fan. An ordinary 10-W or 20-W car headlight (or two 25-W headlights in parallel) can be used for the lamp. Don’t try to replace the LED by two 1N4001 diodes or the like, replace the ZPY12 by a ZPY13, or fit a series resistor for the LED. That would make the ‘on’ region too large.

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