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How many amp-hours do I need?


Cell capacity is rated in amp-hours or milliamp hours. The symbol for capacity is C. This is amps times hours. Divide by hours and you get amps, divide by amps and you get hours. For example a 5 amp hour battery is the same as a 5000 milliamp-hour battery charger. If you want to discharge in 10 hours, you can get a current of 5/10 = 0.5 amps. If you need 100 milliamps current, then you can run for 5000/100 = 50 hours. 

Often a discharge or charge rate is given proportional to C. So a discharge rate of C/5 means C/(5 hours), or the constant current to fully discharge the battery in 5 hours.

The calculation of run time versus current is a rough estimate, but is accurate under the right conditions. The faster you discharge, the lower the capacity of a battery. This trade-off depends on the battery chemistry and construction. Usually the capacity of a battery is quoted at a C/20 discharge rate. So an 12 amp hour battery sealed lead acid battery will actually put out a steady 0.6 amps for 20 hours. However, if you discharge the same battery at 12 amps, you would expect to run an hour, but you will only last for 22 minutes. Also, if you wan to run at 10 milliampere you will get less than the expected 1200 days, since self-discharge of the battery will limit your run time.

Different battery chemistries differ in this respect. Lead acid batteries are probably the worst at the rapid discharge end of the scale. NiCads and NiMH are much better.