Since its invention in 1859, the lead-acid battery has undergone many progressive changes both in terms of its structure and use. Today it functions as the most commonly used rechargeable battery in the world.
What is a lead-acid battery?
The lead-acid battery is an electrical storage device that uses a reversible chemical reaction to store energy. Lead-acid batteries have a capacity of six or more volts, enough to power a vehicle or boat.
- They are simple and inexpensive to manufacture.
- Having been used over more than 140 years, they are reliable, mature secondary batteries, globally manufactured and therefore a widely understood technology.
- They are durable and dependable when used correctly.
- Their self-discharge is among the lowest of rechargeable battery systems.
- They are capable of high discharge rates, which enables them to deliver the bursts of energy that are required to start an engine.
- They provide the greatest amount of energy per pound and have the longest life cycle in their price range.
- They are environmentally sound in that they are recycled at an incredibly high rate: today, 98% of lead-acid batteries are recycled.
- They have low maintenance requirements, including no memory and no electrolyte to fill on the sealed version.
- They have turnaround efficiencies of over 70 percent as well as high cell voltages of over 2 volts—the highest of aqueous-electrolyte battery systems.
Invented in 1859 by French physician Gaston Plante, lead acid was the first rechargeable battery made for commercial use. Plante designed the battery in order to store electrical energy. It was first put to use in keeping the lights on in railroad cars stopped at train stations and providing standby power for utilities. Technology progressed in the mid-1970s when researchers developed a maintenance-free lead-acid battery that was able to operate in any position. The liquid electrolyte was transformed into moistened separators and the enclosure was sealed. In addition, safety valves were added to allow venting of gas during charge and discharge. Nowadays, life without lead-acid batteries seems implausible. They have myriad uses and are one of the most useful batteries with the longest life cycle, the greatest energy density per pound, and the most mature recycling infrastructure of similarly priced batteries.
Starter, Deep-Cycle, and Industrial Batteries
Lead-acid batteries are designed to serve multiple purposes, but all batteries provide either starting or deep cycle power. The only difference is in the amount and duration of power delivered.
Typically when people think about lead-acid batteries, they think of a car battery. These are starting batteries. They deliver a short burst of high power to start the engine. Starter batteries have many thin lead plates that permit them to discharge large amounts of energy quickly for a short period of time. However, these batteries cannot be discharged deeply because the thin lead plates needed for starter currents degrade quickly under deep discharge and re-charging cycles. If these batteries are completely discharged more than a few times they will become irreversibly damaged.
Deep-cycle batteries, found on boats or campers are used to power accessories such astrolling motors, winches or lights. They have thicker lead plates and therefore tolerate deep discharges, delivering a lower, steady level of power for a longer period of time than a starting battery.
Industrial batteries are essentially more complex deep-cycle batteries. They provide the same low, steady power and for a much longer period of time as the plates are much thicker and more total energy is available for years.