How Do I Choose A Pack?

- Jun 14, 2018-

The process of selecting a battery pack typically goes through the following process:

Step 1: Determine your voltage

In many situations, especially if you are replacing a battery pack on an existing setup, the voltage is defined by the controller electronics and cannot be readily changed. Otherwise, the voltage determines the maximum speed at which your vehicle will travel, and you have a degree of freedom in selecting the voltage to meet your performance expectations. If you know the volts/rpm for the motor, then it is straightforward to calculate how fast it will go for a given voltage. Select a value that gives an unloaded speed of about 20% greater than your desired cruising speed for best performance.

While it is possible to build packs with any number of cells for just about any voltage, most have standardized in 12V increments, with 24V, 36V, and 48V being most common, and 72V used on occasion. Battery chargers are usually only stocked for these voltages as well.

Step 2: Determine your minimum capacity

With the voltage known, the next item to figure out is how many amp-hours will be required to achieve your desired trip distance without the battery running flat. This depends of course on how much pedaling you contribute to the effort, how fast you are traveling, and the terrain you are on. The following table is based on minimal pedaling effort.

Motor Type Rough energy usage 
Minimal Assist (using motor only on hills, slower ~30kph setup)6-8 Wh/km
Typical Assist (~40 kph with pedaling, motor on all the time) 9-12 Wh/km
Power Hungry (either no pedaling, or hauling a load, or going really fast) 14-20 Wh/km

Now take your trip distance, multiply it by the appropriate watt-hours/km from the table above, and you'll get the total minimum watt-hours required for the trip. Take the watt-hours you've estimated and divide it by the voltage, and you now have an estimate on the minimum amp-hours you'll need from the pack.

For even more information you can consult the motor simulator to see how your setup will fare in the real world.

Step 3: Choose your chemistry

Now you have the required specs on the pack, namely its voltage and capacity, so it's a matter of finding one that meets your budget and weight restrictions. To a first order, for a given voltage and capacity, NiCad will cost twice as much as lead acid but come in at half the weight, NiMH will be 30% lighter and more expensive than NiCad, and lithium will be twice the cost of NiMH and a further half the weight again.