by Chris Mattia, W6AH
Every ham radio station needs power to operate. Power requirements vary from station to station but the vast majority of modern stations run on 12v DC power that is either supplied from an AC/DC Power Supply or a battery. A good quality AC/DC power supply is a great option for the ham shack but if commercial AC power is not available, your ham radio station simply can not operate. Generators (gas, diesel, etc.) can create AC power, but they require fuel, are noisy (to the ear and often produce RF Interference – QRM), and pollute the environment. Batteries need to be recharged but provide a reliable source of power to keep your station running when power is otherwise unavailable. Batteries can be recharged from a variety of power sources including commercial power, generators, vehicles, solar, wind and more.
To help educate hams about the viability of operating a ham radio station for extended periods of time, exclusively on renewable power we reached out to Bioenno Power, who graciously offered to help by providing WaveTalkers with a pair of 30 Ah LiFePO4 (LFP) batteries with AC/DC charger, a set of 60W solar panels, and their solar charge controller to test and use in our instructional materials for hams.
We’ve been testing and operating with this equipment for the past year now to get a good sense of just how well the Bioenno Power products work for Amateur Radio Operators. This review will cover my experiences thus far operating on both HF with an Icom 7300, and on VHF/UHF with my Kenwood D170G. With both rigs, I have operated out of my Shack, on my sailboat, and Portable in the Field for general operations and under deployed EmComm scenarios.
When the batteries arrived I was immediately impressed with how the units were packed and shipped. The batteries ship without a charge and the initial charging took approximately 5.5 hours with each battery taking in about 27.5 Ah as measured by Powerwerx meter I put inline between the charger and the battery. The 30Ah battery comes wired with 2 sets of power leads terminated with a 30 Amp and 50 Amp Anderson Powerpoles connector. The AC/DC charger comes wired with 30 Amp Powerpoles. Since I had already wired my radios in my shack to use Powerpoles, swapping my Alinco AC/DC power supply with the battery was very easy.
The Solar Panels arrived prewired with a 50A Powerpole connecter and an unterminated 50A powerpole adapter so I crimped a pair of 30A Powerpoles to the other end. The panels come packed very well and have their own soft sided padded case. The case doesn’t have handles on it which I found a bit awkward when moving the panels around. However, the panels themselves have a handle on them so if you open the top of the double zippered case a bit, you can carry the panels with ease using the attached handle.
The panes are relatively small and compact for ridgid solar panels, and they easily fit into my Mini Cooper with the rest of my ham gear. The panels have integrated stands for deploying the panels on the ground, but there is no provided options for mounting the panels on a vehicle, tripod or other stand. I am working on plans to fabricate my own solution for mounting the panels in the future and plan to utilize the sturdy aluminum frames of the panels as a key component of the solution.
The Charge controller arrived with two 12V DC barrel connectors that were also unterminated. The documentation for the Bioenno charge controller notes specifically to not run your radio equipment from the load port on the charge controller, instead it advises to connect your fused radio connection directly to the 2nd Powerpole connection on your battery rather than to the load port on the charge controller. I connected 30A Powerpoles to the provided wires to match the rest of my radio equipment. I then made Powerpole pigtails for each of the charge controller terminals and color coded each pigtail with heat shrink to help in identifying the power ports. I then made a 15 foot Powerpole terminated extension cable with 12 gage zip cord to connect the solar panels to the charge controller. Terminating all of the wiring only took about an hour to complete. Initial tests showed everything was working properly.
Before the battery arrived, I inserted my Powerwerx meter inline between my power supply and each of my radios to measure and monitor the current draw of my 7300 and my D710G independently so I could verify that both radios would meet the current requirements of the battery. Both radios were within the technical specs for the radio and showed that they could be powered up to full high power by the 30 Ah battery. To put this to the test, for the past year I have operated exclusively with both radios on power supplied by the Bioenno batteries.
My experience with running my 7300 from the 30Ah Bioenno Power Battery has been outstanding. In my shack I’ve been able to easily operate for 1-2 hours per evening on SSB at an appropriate 20-30% duty cycle for well over a full week on a single charge with no issues. Using digital modes, operating for 1-2 hours per night I’ve had no issues operating for 3-4 nights on a single charge. Running off of the battery also showed a perceived drop in my noise floor as compared to operating with power supplied by my Alinco power supply.
When I took the Bioenno Power Battery into the field to operate on HF my results were similar, no issues running the 7300 at the full 100W of power. I would typically operate in the field for about 2 hours with a more aggressive 40–50% duty cycle on SSB and the field tests would consume less than 6Ah of power from the battery. For Field Day 2019, we operated my station on 6m around the clock using the solar panels to keep one of the batteries at float during the day using full power and operated exclusively from the battery at night using 50% power.
On VHF/UHF the battery has no problem supplying full power to the Kenwood D710G. I would operate the D710G from my Shack, in my vehicle, on my boat, and in the field without issue. The quick connect and disconnect of the Powerpoles makes for an extremely flexible deployment solution when operating under EmComm conditions.
The Bioenno Batteries all have an internal Battery Management System (BMS) that balances the charge between the cells in the battery during charging and protects the battery from over current, undercurrent, etc. by electrically disabling the battery to protect the battery if conditions that are outside of the safe operating ranges for the battery occur; an extremely important safety mechanism for a battery that holds as much energy density as a LiFePO4 battery does. To reset the internal BMS, you simply connect your battery to a proper charging source and the BMS resets automatically, and the battery instantly returns to normal operations.
All in all, I couldn’t be more pleased with the performance of the Bioenno Power LiFePO4 battery, solar panels and solar charge controller. They have proved to be a reliable off grid power source for an amateur radio operator working stations across HF, VHF, and UHF frequencies. For EmComm use, the batteries also performed extremely well even under difficult field deployment conditions where critical communication systems had to rely on the system to provide continuous power for extended periods of time and still have plenty of power to keep going if needed.
Chris Mattia – W6AH
ARES LAX NW, CA
ARES Ventura, CA