Drone Battery Care

Drone battery care is essential.  Unlike the many batteries scattered around our homes, (the standard and commonly found dry cell battery), drone batteries are Lithium-ion batteries, which come with a particular set of processes and procedures for getting the most out of them, while remaining safe.

In a typical week, as drone operators, we are storing, charging, transporting, and discharging our batteries on a regular basis, which rapidly works towards our batteries’ “end of life”.  With drones and drone batteries being as expensive as they are, it is essential to exercise proper care, to protect our drones and their batteries.

Below are a few steps outlining how to care for your drone batteries, which will prolong the life of the batteries.

Read the drone manufacturer’s manual

At first, this might seem like an appalling idea!  “What, take out and read the drone manual?” “My drone doesn’t even have a manual in the box!”  While this might seem like a foreign concept for many of us, the manufacturer’s documentation provides a wealth of important information on how to use and charge the batteries, as well as maintenance, and storage, and also something we many times overlook, proper battery disposal.

If your drone does not have an included operating manual, it might be online as a downloadable file.  Check your drone manufacturer’s website for details.

Update your battery’s firmware

This might come as a no-brainer for the aircraft itself. However, it is also very important to do this step for all the batteries in your fleet as well.  For many drones, if the batteries are not all on the same firmware, the drone might not take off at all.

How would one update their batteries to the newest firmware?  If there is a battery firmware update included in the current drone firmware update, it is as simple as accepting the firmware update with one set of batteries, running the update, then installing the next set of batteries and running the firmware again (once prompted,) and repeating this process for as many batteries as you might have for each of your aircraft.

If you have any batteries that are not up to date, normally once you put them in the drone, your drone’s flight app will alert you with an inconsistent firmware message, with a prompt to update the battery.  Thankfully many drone manufacturers follow this process for updating firmware, making it easy to keep all your batteries up to date.

Be mindful of extreme temperatures

Living in Central Florida, the only temperature extremes I worry about is high heat.  Many other operators worldwide must deal with extremely low temperatures in the winter and high temperatures in the summer.

Regardless of geographical location, extreme temperatures are detrimental to a drone battery’s health.  Because of this, always make sure not to store, charge, or operate your drone batteries in extremely hot or cold temperatures. You can find the recommended ranges (in Fahrenheit and Celsius) outlined by the drone manufacturer in your operator’s manual.

It was mentioned that extreme temperatures are detrimental to drone batteries.  How?  Batteries that have been left in or used in areas that are too cold or too hot, can permanently decrease a battery’s capacity, lifetime, and stability.  An example of this would be leaving batteries in a vehicle during winter or summer.

Use manufacturer battery chargers

There are many third-party charging solutions available for a wide variety of drone manufacturers.  Although these seem to be a popular choice, especially due to their low-cost pricing, manufacturer-specific charges are designed to specifically work with that manufacturer’s drone batteries.

Concern with using third-party chargers come into play when the following are considered:

  • The drone charger may have a higher charging rate than what the batteries require.
  • The third-party charger might charge the batteries faster, however, this faster charge rate may create high internal temperatures which can damage the battery components and lead to a reduced battery life.
  • A third-party charger might not have guides or alignment with the battery, which can damage the terminals of the batteries.
  • Many drone manufacturer battery chargers have protections built into their chargers and batteries, thus ensuring the battery life falls within manufacturer specs, whereas the third-party charger may not.

Follow charging best practices

To best care for your batteries, batteries should be allowed to return to the manufacturer’s recommended internal temperature before charging.  If the batteries have been left in a summer hot or freezing vehicle, it is best to let them return to close to room temperature before charging.

Also, let the battery cool down after a flight before putting it on the charger.  However, as we know sometimes in the field, it might be of utmost importance to get our batteries recharged as soon as possible after just discharging them in flight.  With some manufacturer chargers, it is safe to plug in a battery even when still hot, provided the charger and battery are in a well-ventilated area.

Most times, however, the battery will postpone charging (while on the charger) until the internal temperature has cooled down to an ideal temperature.  All that said, it is still highly advisable to let the battery cool down first, before placing it on the charger.

Follow battery storage best practices

Where to store the batteries

The ideal temperature to store most drone batteries is between 71° and 86°F (22 and 30°C). Storage between these temperatures can help minimize battery capacity loss.

While it is recommended to store batteries at these temperatures, this might not always be possible. If this is the case, when possible, avoid storing batteries in vehicles or storage units that will get very hot or very cold, so as not to damage the batteries.

Partially discharge batteries before storage

Although we all would like to be in “ready state” or “immediate Go state”, you should not charge batteries to 100% before storage, wanting to be ready “just in case”.  Many manufacturers’ batteries are of the intelligent type, meaning they will automatically discharge after a certain time frame. Batteries that do not self-discharge, or that are stored with a full charge for a long period will incur damage to the battery cells.

In the drone’s operating app, often you can set the number of days for the battery to self-discharge to the recommended storage level (in DJI drones this would be 60%).  If there is no option for you to set the days yourself, the battery should begin self-discharging at 10 days or so.  If you plan to store a battery and it is below 60% it should be charged up to the 60% range first.

Avoid flying to 0%

Just like storing batteries at 100% can damage the battery, flying to 0% likewise can cause permanent damage to your battery.  I suggest that you land your drone when the battery has reached 15% to maximize battery life. However, many drone operators feel more comfortable with landing around the 25% mark, as a precaution.  If for some reason your battery(s) has been depleted beyond 15%, it is advisable to immediately recharge the battery as soon as possible.

Rotate battery usage

This might seem like a foreign concept to some. But rotating out batteries help to extend their health and life.  For example, let’s say you have 3 batteries included in a “fly-more” package.  Label the 3 batteries (1,2,3) and use them in that order.  If you are not flying all the batteries in one session, you would use the next one in line, in order.   This helps in preventing the mistaken use of one battery, repeatedly over time, over the others, thus extending each battery’s life.

Drone battery maintenance

Maintenance is critical if you want to keep your batteries in prime working order and ready to go for each flight.  Below are a few steps to aid in the process.

  1. Make sure the cell voltage difference is less than 0.1V after the battery is fully charged and left stationary for 6 hours.  This can be checked in the drone’s flight app.
  2. Make sure the battery is not swollen, leaky, or damaged.
  3. Clean the battery terminals with a clean dry cloth and make sure they are fully clean before each use and before charging.
  4. Make sure the battery firmware is updated to the latest version.

Battery issues to be aware of

If any of the following issues are observed with your batteries, you need to retire them and dispose of them properly. Before you start complaining about the cost of replacing your battery, remember that using a damaged battery can result in damage to your drone.

  1. The battery is noticeably swollen.  You can generally see this when the battery appears to be “puffy” or will no longer snap in or sit flush within the drone.
  2. The battery is leaking or has visual damage (such as cracks, tears, dents, or scorch marks).
  3. The battery has bent terminals.
  4. The drone’s operating app notifies or prompts you regarding battery cell damage.
  5. The battery has gone through 200 charging cycles (the normal life expectancy of a LiPo battery).
  6. The battery is showing errors even after proper charge and discharge procedures, twice in a row.

Retiring batteries and safe disposal

As was mentioned above, batteries that have reached 200 cycles should be retired.  This is to ensure the safety of the drone and others nearby, as the battery could sooner or later suffer failure.  You can understand a drone battery cycle to mean every time the battery is charged.  Many drone flight apps (ie: DJI Fly or DJI Go 4, Autel Explorer) give screen readouts of the currently installed batteries’ cycle and voltage.

Proper battery disposal includes discharging the battery fully and immersing it in saltwater for 8-12 hours.  Alternatively, you may have a local outlet that accepts Lithium-ion batteries for disposal.  It is advisable that you do not ship your batteries to a disposal facility.

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