You rely on your drone batteries for so much, but what do you really know about them?
The more information you have, the better, as you can properly use, store, and prolong the life of your batteries.
What do you need to know about your drone batteries?
The most common type of drone battery is a lithium polymer or LiPo battery capable of 1600 mAh of power. They’re typically not fire hazards but can become that way if improperly used or stored.
You’ve come to the right place if you still have questions about your drone batteries. This in-depth guide will fill you in on all the relevant info!
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
What type of batteries does a drone use?
Let’s start with one of the most common questions among new pilots. What kind of battery powers my drone?
It’s traditionally one of three types: nickel-cadmium, lithium-ion, or lithium polymer. Here’s an overview of each.
Nickel-cadmium drone batteries
NiCad or Ni-Cd batteries feature electrodes made of cadmium and nickel oxide hydroxide.
The first version of these batteries, wet-cell NiCad batteries, was created in 1899. Today’s Ni-Cd batteries are rechargeable, making them suitable for drone use.
Their average nominal cell potential is up to 1.2 volts, which isn’t as high as zinc-carbon or alkaline primary cell batteries.
That limits the applications of NiCad batteries, but you don’t have to stress about that for your drone.
Charging a NiCad battery depends on its amp-hour capacity, with the charge rate a percentage of that. The battery needs energy beyond its required capacity, as charging results in energy losses.
The additional provided energy will ensure faster charges, so you’re not waiting for your drone battery to recharge all day.
Lithium-ion drone batteries
The next type of battery you might see in your drone is a lithium-ion or Li-ion.
This battery reduces lithium ions to produce a charge, with a graphite cell that generates a negative electrode known as an anode. The positive electron is a cathode, usually a metal oxide.
The cathode and anode stay positive or negative, respectively, but will reverse when you charge the battery. Li-ion batteries use lithium salt in organic solvent as an electrolyte.
Li-ion batteries have dominated the consumer electronics landscape, so the chances are high that your drone battery is this type.
Lithium-ion batteries have become so widely preferable because charging doesn’t affect memory, the battery has a low rate of self-discharge, and their energy density is higher than other battery types.
Lithium polymer drone batteries
The last type of battery common in drones is a lithium polymer or LiPo battery (sometimes called a Li-poly or LIP battery).
The rechargeable battery features an electrolyte of gel polymers in a semisolid state.
The specific energy of LiPo batteries exceeds Li-ion and other lithium batteries. They’re also lightweight, which is why they’re commonly used in smartphones.
The newer technology that powers LiPo batteries came about during the 1980s when lithium batteries were carefully studied to advance their performance.
Sony created the first LiPo cell in the early 1990s, and from there, the flat pouch format soon followed.
Another difference between LiPo and other lithium battery styles is the case’s flexibility. The case is made of polymer laminate for LiPo batteries, which is far more malleable than Li-ion prismatic cells.
How much power can a drone battery hold?
Battery power is measured by specific power, also called the power-to-weight ratio.
It’s produced in watts or watt-hours per kilogram, expressed as W/kg or Wh/kg, respectively.
Nickel-cadmium drone batteries have a specific power of 150 W/kg.
Li-ion batteries have a specific power of 100 to 265 Wh/kg.
The specific power of LiPo batteries is 100 to 265 Wh/kg, the same as Li-ion batteries.
Are drone batteries big?
A typical consumer drone battery is about the size of a pack of cards, but heavier. A battery for a racing drone is typically much smaller, about the size of a pack of gum.
Drone batteries are sized by capacity, with larger batteries requiring more power and thus being larger than batteries with a lower capacity.
A drone with a long flight time will likely have a large battery to match.
Voltage can also drive up the size and weight of the drone battery. Drones have a specific motor efficiency they must run at to ensure users don’t overdo it on the voltage, so more voltage isn’t always better.
Manufacturers are quite aware of how much a battery can contribute to the drone’s weight, and in the ever-intensifying race for more consumer drones to stick within the 250-gram weight threshold to avoid registration with the FAA in the United States, will consider the battery weight carefully.
That doesn’t guarantee the battery with your drone will keep the weight within that limit.
Autel drone batteries, in detail
Autel is one of the leading drone manufacturers, behind perhaps only DJI regarding innovation and quality.
The brand is best known for its EVO series drones, which use specific batteries depending on the model.
Let’s take a closer look.
The EVO Battery is an additional accessory purchasable through the Autel Robotics store, compatible with EVO drones.
It’s a rechargeable, intelligent LiPo battery that operates at 13.05 volts and 4300 mAh.
Promising up to 30 minutes in the air, the EVO Battery features a release button on top for inserting into your drone and taking it out when you’re done and need to charge it.
The battery also has built-in safety features to limit overcharging and short-circuiting.
EVO Lite Series Battery
If you have an EVO Lite drone from Autel, consider its EVO Lite Series Battery. This fast-charging battery promises 40 minutes of flight.
It’s another rechargeable LiPo battery, running on 11.13 volts and 6175 mAh.
FPV drone batteries, in detail
With so many FPV drones on the market, what type of battery do they use?
FPV drones typically feature a LiPo battery, but Li-ion is another option you might see as you shop around.
LiPo batteries are more common in mini quads, a quadcopter FPV style known for its contained size. You’ll recall that LiPo batteries are flexible and lightweight, making them ultra-compatible in a mini quad setup.
Some mini quad FPV drones use Li-ion batteries, typically at a power rate of 14.8 volts and 4000 mAh, or thereabouts.
You’ll recall that Li-ion batteries are heavier, which can affect FPV drones. However, it depends.
Models like the DJI FPV weigh 795 grams out of the box, but racing FPV drones are typically a lot lighter and more streamlined.
FPV drones don’t last nearly as long in the sky as standard consumer drones, so their voltage, size, and pricing might differ from what you’re used to if you’re experiencing FPV drones from a standard drone perspective.
How to read an FPV drone battery
Let’s help you make heads or tails of your drone battery with this information.
FPV drone batteries have a C-rating. The C isn’t a grade like what you received in school. Instead, it represents the current the battery can generate in that charge cycle.
In other words, a lower C-rating reduces the power the battery pack receives, whereas a higher rating provides more than enough power.
Each FPV drone battery will have a C-rating, but if you add several to a pack, you can multiply the C rating to get an overall discharge current rate.
You should always calculate the C-rating for a battery before using it.
Some configurations can cause an FPV drone battery to exceed its C-rating, producing excess current.
The longer this happens, the likelier you will incur battery damage that might impact how well the battery recharges and works.
Even more detrimentally, the additional electrical charge can cause some FPV batteries to overheat and start a fire.
Handling the hot battery can also lead to burns, so know the C-rating of your battery and swear by it.
The V on an FPV drone battery refers to its nominal battery voltage. The traditional voltage is between 3.7 and 22.2 volts for this battery style.
An S accompanied by a number between 1 and 6 represents how many LiPo cells the FPV drone battery has. The voltage is commensurate with the number of cells.
For example, a 1S battery has a voltage of 3.7 volts.
Here are the other numbers of LiPo cells and accompanying nominal battery voltages.
- 2S – 7.4 volts
- 3S – 11.1 volts
- 4S – 14.8 volts
- 5S – 18.5 volts
- 6S – 22.2 volts
Safety features of drone batteries
Drone safety features extend to your batteries, with more advanced batteries offering top-of-the-line safety measures.
Here are some you should expect.
When a battery short-circuits, its negative and positive battery nodes connect and achieve the same voltage level.
The resistance drops significantly, with less control over the current. This increases the risk of the battery overheating and catching fire.
Short-circuit protection in a drone battery occurs through a current comparator circuit, current amplifier circuit, and charge-discharge circuit with a sampling resistor.
These components can determine when the drone battery is at risk of short-circuiting, reducing current to prevent it from happening.
We all forget we’re charging our drone batteries sometimes, especially when doing it at home. A battery with overcharge protection will stop the power bank from sending electricity to the battery when it reaches full charge.
The battery risks overheating if it charges too long, creating a fire risk. Drone battery damage can also occur.
The range of temperatures on either end of the spectrum today’s drone batteries can handle continues to rise.
You could fly your drone in an arid or cold region without always depleting the battery fast. Batteries still last longest in ambient conditions.
Are FPV drone batteries safe?
FPV drone batteries are just as safe to use as any other type of battery utilized by UAVs.
Drone batteries are safest when you use them properly and according to manufacturer recommendations.
If you overcharge your batteries, store them in poor conditions, expose them to extreme temperatures outside the temperature tolerance limit, and otherwise push the boundaries, they’re no longer safe to use.
Inserting a damaged or compromised battery into a fast-moving FPV drone and crashing it could cause disastrous consequences.
Can drone batteries start a fire?
Unfortunately, drone batteries are a fire risk.
It’s not only drone batteries, as your electric vehicle and personal electronics like smartphones and tablets also use LiPo batteries.
LiPo batteries are prone to overheating. In that condition, they can explode and/or cause a fire. The toxic smoke released from the explosion can be deadly, as can the high heat and flames.
Here’s a thread from the Mavic Pilots forum about a house fire that started from an exploding drone battery in 2019.
The fire in North Carolina was picked up by local news and captured on home security video.
The explosion isn’t in the video, but you can see a light flash if you watch. The video shows the spark that starts the fire and the engulfing flames.
It’s not an easy watch, but it’s a testament to how drone battery mishandling can be dangerous.
How to properly charge a DJI drone battery
Purchasing a DJI drone is a momentous occasion. DJI is a leader in the drone industry, and while its drones are rarely inexpensive, the big price tag ensures top-notch quality.
You should always charge your batteries before operating a DJI drone, whether you bought it new or used.
The drone battery isn’t all that requires charging. Your remote controller also needs a charge.
Some DJI drones have a power adapter, but not all. For example, the Mini 3 does not. DJI sells chargers, including some USB models, to recharge your drone battery.
If your DJI drone has a Two-Way Charging Hub, as seen in some Mini models, you can charge both controllers simultaneously (if your model has dual controllers).
You don’t need the Two-Way Charging Hub, but for its low price, I would recommend it if it’s compatible with your drone.
Now that you’ve got everything, here are the charging steps.
- Step 1: Connect the USB-C cable to a USB-C charger, plugging in the charger.
- Step 2: Plug the USB-C cable into the DJI drone battery or remote controller.
- Step 3: Allow the drone and/or remote controller to charge. The charging speed varies depending on the voltage, but charging a remote controller can take an hour and a half to several hours.
- Step 4: Unplug the USB-C cable from the drone or remote after charging your devices.
Check out this video from our own Dan from Droneblog, who explains how to charge the Mini 3 Pro in more detail.
How to safely charge an FPV drone battery
You’ve just grounded your FPV drone after another successful flight. The battery is running low, so it’s time to charge, but how do you do it? Let’s review.
You should only charge an FPV LiPo battery at a 1C limit, meaning its capacity is 1x.
This charge rate should take about 60 minutes to fully charge the battery if the battery’s current voltage is 3.2 volts.
This slower charging rate might not be close to the battery’s upper C-rating, and you know what? That’s best.
The following tips will help you safely charge the battery.
- Always stay in the room while the FPV drone battery charges. LiPo batteries are most prone to exploding or overheating when charging.
- Avoid extreme temperatures when charging the battery.
- Plan strategically how long to leave the battery fully charged.
When the battery isn’t kept at storage voltage, it loses its charge and risks more damage. Its internal resistance accumulates, boosting the internal heat and reducing its performance. Plan to use the charged battery as soon as possible to return it to storage voltage.
What to do if you damage a drone battery
Drone battery damage can occur in many ways, including crashing the drone, overcharging it, or exposing it to extreme temperatures.
If you believe you’ve damaged the drone battery, dispose of it immediately. Even testing the battery puts you at risk of burning yourself or starting a fire, as you might be unaware if the battery is overheated.
Here are some signs your drone battery is damaged:
- The outer casing is cracked
- The battery has begun to swell or bubble
- The battery feels hot to the touch
- Liquid has begun to seep from the battery
It’s not fun (or cheap) to replace a drone battery, but in this case, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
Tips for storing and transporting a drone battery
Proper usage is critical to preserve your drone batteries. The following tips will help you proceed so you can use your batteries without stressing about fire risks every time you fly.
1. Do not leave your batteries in the drone when not in use
Always take your batteries out of your drone when you land after giving them adequate time to cool down from the flight. Leaving the batteries in an enclosed compartment of your drone could create conditions conducive to overheating.
2. Don’t let your drone batteries overcharge
Overcharging drone batteries can generate excess heat, putting the batteries at risk of starting a fire. It’s also not great for the batteries’ long-term life to overcharge them, as you can reduce their overall charge.
Lithium and nickel-based drone batteries should be stored with at least 40 percent battery.
3. Keep the batteries dry
Wet batteries are very dangerous. They could cause electrical shock, and they might also be an elevated fire risk.
Make the right choice for your health and safety. Dry the external battery casing if your batteries get wet from flying your drone in the rain.
Allow the batteries to air-dry over a day or two before handling them and certainly before you plug them into your drone.
4. Don’t store drone batteries near heat and light sources
Considering that LiPo batteries are a fire risk, you must carefully monitor where you keep the batteries while not inserted into your drone.
They should always be placed far from flammable items and sources of heat and light.
Examples include fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, return vents for heat and air conditioning, your refrigerator (yes, fridges give off warm air), the kitchen, the bathroom, sunrooms, and under bright light.
5. Store the batteries in a ventilated area
So, where should you keep your drone batteries, then? Store them in a cool, comfortable, ventilated area.
The room can have windows, but the batteries can’t be within the direct line of sunlight. Close the curtains or blinds during the day.
6. Check with your airline about transporting drone batteries
When you take your drone on adventures, the question of whether you can bring your batteries is paramount. Some airlines will allow the transport of drone batteries on planes, but others won’t.
The airlines that restrict battery travel do so for a very good reason: fire risk.
The rising pressure of the cabin in the plane can cause the batteries to overheat and possibly explode, which is dangerous for all crew and passengers.
7. Remove batteries from the drone when traveling
If your airline permits drone batteries, you must remove them from the drone before you’re allowed through airport security.
Keep the batteries in a separate compartment in your bag designed to hold them.