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Old 18-12-2010, 16:38   #16
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Originally Posted by Alaska JD View Post
The charger I have is similar to what is used in automotive garages. It has a booster setting that will kick out 35 amps for starting as well as a 2 amp trickle charge setting. I've had the thing for about 6 years and it's always worked well. In the past when I've put it on a dead battery it'll charge around 20 amps or slightly above for 30 to 45 minutes and then drop off to between 8 and 10. Usually by that time I can start whatever the battery is in and let the alternator take over. What has gotten stuck in the back of my mind is that the battery continued to draw a significant amperage from the charger because there was an internal short. The higher amperage going through the battery could have actually started boiling the battery and may in fact have dried out the cell that was shorted and when that happened it sparked????? As I read the input from others on this thread and think it through more myself that is the only senario that makes sense to me.
Could be so! Was there acid all over? If not, then that's probably the case.
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Old 18-12-2010, 17:07   #17
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Start batteries can be destroyed by a very few discharges. They are not meant to be deep cycled. If your vehicles are not used on a frequent basis then you should top them up with a trickle charger every week or so. If they have significant discharge after sitting for just a few weeks then there is something draining them and you may want to install a battery switch.

Do pay attention to the fluid level, unless they are the "no maintenance" type of battery.
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Old 18-12-2010, 18:20   #18
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Sulfuric Acid is flammable.
When the battery is charging at high amps it's putting off fumes, even more so with low liquid level. All it takes is a spark to set it off. The charger may have overload contacts that were clicking off/on which may have set it off.
I have been in two fires in UPS rooms (100+ batteries) aboard ships and I can tell you the fumes are nasty stuff. Aboard ship we are told that the first step in fighting fires is to stop ventilation but in practice, with battery room fires, this is the last thing you want to do (unless your duct work runs through other sensitive areas) because it is important to extract the explosive gas.

In a fire you have four options: remove the heat or oxygen or fuel... or break the chemical reaction. Breaking the chain reaction involves getting a chemical (e.g. Dry Powder form an extinguisher) into the seat of the flame but this isn't an option with sealed batteries. Oxygen can't be removed because it is being generated by the chemical reaction. You don't want to put water on a battery bank so removing enough to make a difference heat is difficult. So you are left removing the fuel...

Most of the time removing the fuel means closing a valve to stop the flow of fuel (i.e. in a diesel fuel fire) or removing whatever is burning (throwing it overboard). In this case what is burning is the hydrogen fumes emitting from the top of the battery... you need to get them out of the space.

Now I know this thread isn't about fighting a battery fire but the principal is the same. You had fuel (hydrogen fumes) exposed to oxygen and heat. So how did this happen:

First you need to find out why the hydrogen was emitting from the battery at high enough concentrations to ignite. The likely reason is the battery overheated. So you need to figure out why it is overheating (overcharging?).

Second you need to find out why the hydrogen was escaping form the sealed battery? (Was the battery cracked or deformed?)

Third you need to figure out what caused it to ignite. Sure the battery could have heated to a degree it caused ignition but this is unlikely... the more likely scenario is something caused a spark.

In both my cases the sparks where caused by corrosion on top of the battery coming in contact with nearby metal. In your case this could also be caused by non-explosion proof electronics (maybe the charger itself or an automatic bilge pump?) nearby.

Last you should take a look at ventilation of the space. If your battery storage area is msotly sealed then hydrogen gas can build-up in high enough quantities to ignite. Boats are typically pretty well ventilated naturally but if you've sealed her up or insulated the boat extensively then this could be the problem.
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Old 18-12-2010, 18:32   #19
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In short my advice is not to be quick in blaming an internal short of the battery. While this might have been the primary factor (I have my doubts), incidents are never caused by a single fault... you have too look at the entire system.

If this where my problem I'd first check;
1) The integrity of your existing batteries
2) that the space has enough natural ventilation
3) there are no potential sources of a spark in close proximity to your batteries.
4) find out what caused the batteries to fail (probably either the charger itself or your charging practices)
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Old 18-12-2010, 18:43   #20
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i meltedd a coupla batteries with a teensy weeensy solar panel once......only used 2 batts and one panel--- meltola-- need a regulator even on small panels..lol...i think the panel was a 1.9amp rated one that puts out 1 amp.
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Old 18-12-2010, 23:16   #21
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As usual the knowledge base on this forum is awsome. It may be true that the problem was not an internal short as I had suspected but some other cause (perhaps a spark caused by the charger clamp on the battery post shifting because the wind blew the door into the wire or some similar thing). What I really was interested in though is what ultimately got discussed - that being how not to have this happen on a boat and gcaptain's discription of the problems of fighting a battery fire is excellent. Thank you so much.

I'm very new to sailing and taking care of boats, but have tons of related mechanical experience. Sometimes it's tough to know exactly how to translate what is learned from Logging, Mechanicing, Farming, and Construction into Marine maintenance. I try really hard to be a sponge and you guys are great at providing information - Thanks again
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Old 18-12-2010, 23:53   #22
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Originally Posted by Alaska JD View Post
As usual the knowledge base on this forum is awsome. It may be true that the problem was not an internal short as I had suspected but some other cause (perhaps a spark caused by the charger clamp on the battery post shifting because the wind blew the door into the wire or some similar thing). What I really was interested in though is what ultimately got discussed - that being how not to have this happen on a boat and gcaptain's discription of the problems of fighting a battery fire is excellent. Thank you so much.

I'm very new to sailing and taking care of boats, but have tons of related mechanical experience. Sometimes it's tough to know exactly how to translate what is learned from Logging, Mechanicing, Farming, and Construction into Marine maintenance. I try really hard to be a sponge and you guys are great at providing information - Thanks again
No worries... glad to help! One more note, in addition to being explosive, the gas emitted from these batteries is noxious. The firefighting advice was just background material... I only fought the fires because we where far from shore, had full sets of fire gear with SCBA's, and I had no other choice. If it happened to me in port I would have evacuated the area and let the pros (either firefighters or insurance adjusters) handle it.

The best crew's I've worked with have been people with high levels of experience in diverse (non marine) backgrounds and willing to share their knowledge with the group. Guys like you, guys with different a perspective on problem solving, have taught me much over the years at sea.... and, no doubt, will teach me more in the years to come!
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Old 19-12-2010, 02:25   #23
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I'm beginning to think NAPA batteries are crap.

I have had 3 in 3 years.

The last one developed a very interesting problem. The battery had 2 sets of posts. The standard clamp type on the top and the bolt type on the side, which we used for our particular car. One day we went to start the car and nothing happened except a lot of really weired electrical problems with lights and other electrical systems on the car. I tested the battery with a load tester using the top posts. The battery seemed fine. So I finally caved and called my mechanic. We all were scratching our heads.

Finally the mechanic used a load tester on the side posts that were actually the ones in use. The load tester on those posts showed the battery was dead. So something was shorting out inside the battery. this battery was only ten months old.

If something is shorting it can cause a spark....KABLOWYY.
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Old 19-12-2010, 05:54   #24
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A few tips for ya...

1. Swap your batteries within 5 years for new ones (even if they appear good).
2. Check the charge voltage every now and then. Charge voltage for 12v=14,6v max. at 3-50 amps. (usually from 12,6 to 13,8 maintenance charging at about 1-3 amps) If it's more than that, trash the charger and get a decent one for marine use (standard car chargers and boosters are a no go in a boat).
3. Check the connections of all cables connected to the batteries, there should not be any corrosion (remove corrosion by using lots of hot water and a stainless steel brush, put acid free vaseline on the poles and connectors (more is better).
4. Keep the batteries topped up with destilled water/battery acid at all times.
5. Make sure that your negative battery cables do not distribute trough the engine's block or similar. If it does, you should re-route them to a separate distribution block or directly to the battery.
6. When everything is switched off, and main breakers are off. Do a test with a test lamp - pull off one of the battery connectors and place the lamp between the battery pole and the disconnected cable - there should not be any sign of light (you can also use a multimeter set at amps or milliamps). If you get a readout you got a leak or something that draws power somewhere, start pulling fuses to eliminate.

7. Merry Christmas to you all!
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Old 19-12-2010, 07:35   #25
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Lots of information here! I've got a Xantrex charger/inverter through a Link2000 for charging from shore power. It's programmable for my batteries. A Balmar smart regulator on my Balmar alternator and an MPPT controller on my solar panels so I hope that my batteries are charging correctly. But, I ruined a fairly expensive set of batteries because one of them developed a bad cell and overheated everything (I think).

I don't understand HotRod's comment about the negative battery cables and the engine block. I'll have to check a few of the other suggestions because I'm getting ready to rewire some of my charging system and to insert a couple more fuses.

Has anyone ever tried a "battery tender" or similar? They make them for marine use as well. I'm thinking of one for my cars when I leave them stored.
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Old 19-12-2010, 08:14   #26
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Do pay attention to the fluid level, unless they are the "no maintenance" type of battery.
My job entails taking care of many types and sizes of battery plants, from 100amphr to 3000amphr banks. The one fallacy I have found is the No Maintenance battery. Please always check your batteries on a schedule and after layup. Look for bulging, corrosion and voltage and electrolyte levels on wet cells. Be Safe.
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Old 19-12-2010, 08:46   #27
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Please always check your batteries on a schedule and after layup. Look for bulging, corrosion and voltage and electrolyte levels on wet cells. Be Safe.
Good advice.
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Old 19-12-2010, 10:27   #28
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Old 24-12-2010, 14:26   #29
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JD-

"how a battery could develop an internal short"
That's easy, the plates are just clapped in there and like anything assembled at the lowest possible costs, something can come loose and short out. A plate, a post, hey, welds fail all the time too.

Frozen or low electrolyte, charging problems...they'd probably have to send a bucket full of pieces to the actual maker (JCI? East Penn?) to find out what really happened.

Forget the store owners, tell NAPA corporate that all you want is a new battery and that you have no plans to sue them over the explosion of the defective one if you're sure the battery was the problem and it wasn't abused. Depends on how confident you feel about creating the problem versus not. From NAPA's point of view...cheaper to replace a customer's battery than to argue about it, and good PR as well, in either case.

Unlikely that a battery out in the open, well ventilated, would have a hydrogen fire. The stuff goes up and away very quickly in open spaces, this is not a closed locker. I've seen battery boxes/compartments built up from 1/2" thick lexan. Some folks would call that overkill, but it just might contain that kind of an explosion, and the resulting acid spray.
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Old 24-12-2010, 15:31   #30
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[QUOTE=hellosailor;584705]JD-

"how a battery could develop an internal short"
That's easy, the plates are just clapped in there and like anything assembled at the lowest possible costs, something can come loose and short out. A plate, a post, hey, welds fail all the time too.

Frozen or low electrolyte, charging problems...they'd probably have to send a bucket full of pieces to the actual maker (JCI? East Penn?) to find out what really happened.

Forget the store owners, tell NAPA corporate that all you want is a new battery and that you have no plans to sue them over the explosion of the defective one if you're sure the battery was the problem and it wasn't abused. Depends on how confident you feel about creating the problem versus not. From NAPA's point of view...cheaper to replace a customer's battery than to argue about it, and good PR as well, in either case.
QUOTE]

Sailor

Thanks for the insight, confirmation and advice. I simply couldn't explain to myself how the explosion occured because of an outside problem. The battery had never been frozen, the electrolite level was normal in the spring when I started using the tractor again and until about 6 weeks prior to the explosion held a charge just fine. Early this fall it seemed a bit low when I hadn't run the tractor for a week or two, but I assumed I had a short in the electrical system somewhere. The tractor/backhoe is old (1978 John Deere 410D) and things certainly wiggle loose over time. I hadn't had time to chase the problem down so simply put the charger on it to top it off.

I didn't push too hard at the local NAPA store because I was really short of time and needed another battery. I simply bought another one when my requrest for warrenty was denied. I probably should contact NAPA Corporate and ask for a more cost effective solution. The new battery has held a charge just fine which means there is not likely to be a short in the tactor's electrical system (or if there is, it is intermitant which could also be the case).

At any rate I really appreciate your comments. My gut couldn't get over that it had to be a battery problem - not a charger or environmental/situational one.

Thanks, JD

p.s. A 1/2" Lexan battery case is an interesting idea. I wonder how they ventilate it.
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