Shorts - Why & How

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Shorts, how they occur.

A short develops in a Ni-Cd when conductive particulates bridge the separator or the separator itself deteriorates to the point where it allows the positive and negative plates to touch. Rarely does the short occur all at once but rather building up a very small conductance path termed "soft shorts". In a charged cell the energy in the cell will blow away any short as it tries to develop. You've heard about "zapping" cells. The cell actually zaps itself before the short can develop. Only in cases of severe overcharge at high rates when the cell heats up significantly, can the separator melt down to the point where the plates contact each other (hard short). In this case the energy in the cell then dumps and we have what is referred to as a hot steamer, the electrolyte boils, nylon in the separator melts down and is forced by the steam through the vent. On some occasions the vent is clogged by the molten nylon separator and becomes inoperative causing the cell to rapidly disassemble. So under normal circumstances a cell maintained at some state of charge is much less likely to short than a cell that is completely discharged. It should be noted however that the self discharge increases rapidly in cells where there is a short building (high resistance -soft short) due to separator deterioration and/or cadmium migration. One other shorting mechanism is a manufacturing defect where the positive or negative collector tab bridges the opposite plate. These usually fall out before the cells are shipped or assembled into batteries.
cls 12/96
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