So many portable consumer electronics gadgets in use today use small, button- or coin-cell batteries. Sometimes it is necessary to monitor their state-of-charge (SOC) and health efficiently without affecting their SOC significantly, but this can be a challenge. However, simple low-power monitoring circuits for small batteries using comparators can overcome this challenge.
Managing Batteries in Portable Systems
Usually, the system engineer budgets the system power requirements carefully during the system design. A micro-controller or microprocessor within the gadget is the actual brains that manages the system reliably and performs the required functions. Since it is typical for the controller to be power-hungry, as it is the workhorse of the system, there is not much sense in making the controller do all the work. To prevent unnecessary power dissipation, the controller is designed to remain asleep for extended periods, only waking up when flags are presented on the GPI pins.
Therefore, engineers resort to using low-power circuits for continually monitoring the vital functions of the system. When these circuits detect an event, they flag the micro, usually in the form of interrupts. The micro then wakes up to perform its required duty. One of the vital functions of such circuits is to monitor the state of the battery. When the battery voltage dips below the pre-defined threshold, it means it has discharged and requires charging. Likewise, as soon as the battery voltage crosses another pre-defined threshold, it means it is completely charged with no further requirement of further charging. Similarly, it is important to monitor the case temperature of the battery and the ambient temperature, as this provides much information about the loading conditions on the battery, and the presence of a fault.
Using Comparators for Monitoring
Although there are sophisticated battery monitors with fuel gauges, and monitoring battery voltage and temperature with an analog-to-digital converter is possible, these essentially require careful tradeoffs with portable gadgets. A designer must consider form factor, cost, accuracy, speed, and power consumption when creating the design, as different systems may have different priorities.
It is possible to have a simple comparator monitoring the voltage at the battery terminals. For a fully charged battery, the output voltage of the comparator transitions from high to low and from low to high for indicating a fully discharged battery. When implemented with external hysteresis, thresholds can be pre-defined to yield the proper output states.
The comparators can be tiny-footprint devices with internal references, consuming very low quiescent currents. When large-value resistors are used in the circuit, the overall operating current will be comparable to the typical self-discharge rate of the battery. By designing the circuit to operate from a low supply voltage of about 1.7 V and consuming less than 2 µA of current, the circuit will be able to produce the proper output state even when the battery has only a minimum charge remaining.
The component values necessary to realize the application for battery state monitoring must be selected with care. The determined threshold value should provide a narrow band of hysteresis to allow for more cushion for component variation and tolerances. Using resistors with 0.5% makes the circuit work with ±1% accuracy.