Remember the 29 cells in my motorcycle I destroyed last summer, when I accidentally left it turned on and the DC/DC converter has drained all the cells to empty and beyond? Something interesting has happened since. Actually, two interesting things.
I was actually going to take most of these cells in for recycling, but I just hadn't got around to it. Instead I had just left them in our basement. Before storing them I had connected them all in series and drained them down to 2.6 volts, figuring that they would bottom balance together and I'd see which cells had internal soft shorts.
Now the eight newest cells I had just bought to increase the cell count to 29 were at zero volts after my little mishap. I had also connected them in parallel with the others, figuring that they'd recharge from the other cells if they had any life in them. They hadn't and I had left them for dead at zero volts.
But before I get to those eight newer cells, let's get back the 22 older cells which had bloated. Actually 12 of them hadn't and I had connected them into three 12 V packs for whatever use I'd come up with later. I even tested them and each 12 V pack had more or less 500 Wh of capacity, so I thought these 12 cells can be saved for later use and the rest scrapped.
The remaining 10 old cells were pretty well bloated, but they seemed to retain voltage, at least for a while. To my no small amazement, they still had the same voltage after about six months of storage. All ten cells were around 2.55 volts. What that means is that they can't have any significant internal shorts. If they had, they'd keep going down until they're at zero volts. Alas they hadn't. What's even more amazing, they had lost their considerable swell and are now pretty much right size and shape! The had actually shrunk back to shape.
After discovering that the older cells had gotten back to shape and were still holding their charge, I thought I'd give these cells one more chance too. What if they just didn't want to charge from the other cells while being in parallel? I made two 12 V packs of them, measured a voltage of about 0.5 V for both whole packs and connected a 14 V 5 A power supply.
What happened was that the voltage started to steadily rise as one might expect, so I just left them charging for four hours. When I got back, I disconnected the power supply and checked the cell voltages. They seemed normal, about 3.33 V, as they should for just charged, half full cells. Again I left the cells, figuring they'd probably start draining themselves. I was, again, quite amazed to find out they had not, but kept a voltage above 3.2 V instead. I repeated the same for the other pack with identical results.
These eight SE40AHA cells which I had left for dead and stored at zero volts for over six months were back as well! Now I don't expect the cells to have their full 40 Ah capacity left and I haven't tested them with a load, but I will bottom balance the rest of the cells now and connected them as a 29 cell pack. Charging them together will reveal if any cells shoot higher too early and what the remaining capacity of the pack is.
Right now it looks like bottom balancing saved the day after all.