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The lead–acid battery was invented in 1859 by French physicist Gaston Plante and is the oldest type of rechargeable battery. As they are inexpensive compared to newer technologies, lead-acid batteries are widely used even when surge current is not important and other designs could provide higher energy densities. Lead–acid battery sales account for 40–45% of the value from batteries sold worldwide (1999, not including China and Russia), a manufacturing market value of about US$15 billion. Using a gel electrolyte instead of a liquid allows the battery to be used in different positions without leakage.
Camille Alphonse Faure invented a pasted-plate construction now typical of automotive batteries. One of the problems with the plates is that the plates increase in size as the active material absorbs sulfate from the acid during discharge, and decrease as they give up the sulfate during charging.
Practical cells are not made with pure lead but have small amounts of antimony, tin, calcium or selenium alloyed in the plate material to add strength and simplify manufacture. Due to the high price of antimony, nearly all car batteries, valve-regulated sealed batteries, and most other non-industrial batteries have been made with lead–calcium grids since the early 1990s and possibly earlier.
An effective separator must possess a number of mechanical properties; such as permeability, porosity, pore size distribution, specific surface area, mechanical design and strength, electrical resistance, ionic conductivity, and chemical compatibility with the electrolyte. In the absorbed glass mat design, or AGM for short, the spacer between the cells is replaced by a glass fibre mat soaked in electrolyte.
To address the formation of hydrogen gas during discharge, calcium is added to the plates to absorb the gas. Another advantage to the AGM design is that the electrolyte becomes the separator material, and mechanically strong.
The only downside to the gel design is that the gel prevents rapid motion of the ions in the electrolyte, which reduces carrier mobility and thus surge current capability. Both gel and AGM designs are sealed, do not require watering, can be used in any orientation, and use a valve for gas blowoff. Most of the world’s lead–acid batteries are automobile starting, lighting and ignition (SLI) batteries, with an estimated 320 million units shipped in 1999. Wet cell stand-by (stationary) batteries designed for deep discharge are commonly used in large backup power supplies for telephone and computer centers, grid energy storage, and off-grid household electric power systems.
Traction (propulsion) batteries are used in golf carts and other battery electric vehicles. Lead–acid batteries were used to supply the filament (heater) voltage, with 2 V common in early vacuum tube (valve) radio receivers. Portable batteries for miners’ cap lamps headlamps typically have two or three cells.
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Despite having a very low energy-to-weight ratio and a low energy-to-volume ratio, its ability to supply high surge currents means that the cells have a relatively large power-to-weight ratio.
Large-format lead-acid designs are widely used for storage in backup power supplies in cell phone towers, high-availability settings like hospitals, and stand-alone power systems. In 1859, Gaston Plante’s lead-acid battery was the first battery that could be recharged by passing a reverse current through it.
Gel electrolyte batteries for any position date from 1930s and even in late 1920s portable suitcase radio sets allowed the cell vertical or horizontal (but not inverted) due to valve design (see third Edition of Wireless Constructor’s Encyclopaedia by Frederick James Camm).

However, such a construction produces only around one ampere for roughly postcard-sized plates, and for only a few minutes. In Plante’s design, the positive and negative plates were formed of two spirals of lead foil, separated with a sheet of cloth and coiled up. Each Faure plate consists of a rectangular lead grid alloyed with antimony or calcium to improve the mechanical characteristics. The alloying element has a great effect on the life and water consumption of the batteries.
Separators obstruct the flow of ions between the plates and increase the internal resistance of the cell. There is only enough electrolyte in the mat to keep it wet, and if the battery is punctured the electrolyte will not flow out of the mats.
This only works during slow discharges, and gas buildup remains a problem when the battery is deeply or rapidly discharged.
This allows the plate stack to be compressed together in the battery shell, slightly increasing energy density compared to liquid or gel versions.
When a normal wet cell is stored in a discharged state, the heavier acid molecules tend to settle to the bottom of the battery, causing the electrolyte to stratify. This converts the formerly liquid interior of the cells into a semi-stiff paste, providing many of the same advantages of the AGM.
For this reason, gel cells are most commonly found in energy storage applications like off-grid systems. Lead–acid batteries are used in emergency lighting and to power sump pumps in case of power failure. Large lead–acid batteries are also used to power the electric motors in diesel-electric (conventional) submarines when submerged, and are used as emergency power on nuclear submarines as well. At Maplin, we’re always looking for innovations and technology that can help your business work more efficiently.
These features, along with their low cost, makes it attractive for use in motor vehicles to provide the high current required by automobile starter motors. For these roles, modified versions of the standard cell may be used to improve storage times and reduce maintenance requirements. Plante’s first model consisted of two lead sheets separated by rubber strips and rolled into a spiral. Antimony-alloyed plates provide longer life but calcium-alloyed plates are much preferred over antimony for their eight times lower water consumption.
Wood, rubber, glass fiber mat, cellulose, and PVC or polyethylene plastic have been used to make separators.
The area of the separator must be a little larger than the area of the plates to prevent material shorting between the plates.
Likewise, the mat greatly reduces evaporation, to the point that the batteries do not require periodic refilling of the water.
When the battery is then used, the majority of the current flows only in this area, and the bottom of the plates tend to wear out rapidly.
Such designs are even less susceptible to evaporation and are often used in situations where little or no periodic maintenance is possible. However, it is quite common to find resources stating that these terms refer to one or another of these designs, specifically.

At the end of the charge cycle the current decreases to a trickle charge at constant voltage, to keep the battery fully charged, and the LED starts to flash.
With a dedicated business team and special services available only to business customers, you can access our electronics and technology solutions through our wide network of over 200 stores, our website with more than 20,000 products or though your personal account manager over the phone. Gel-cells and absorbed glass-mat batteries are common in these roles, collectively known as VRLA (valve-regulated lead-acid) batteries. His batteries were first used to power the lights in train carriages while stopped at a station. Initially this process used electricity from primary batteries; when generators became available after 1870, the cost of production of batteries greatly declined. The lignosulfonate prevents the negative plate from forming a solid mass during the discharge cycle, instead enabling the formation of long needle–like crystals. This combination of features allows the battery to be completely sealed, which makes them useful in portable devices and similar roles. This is one of the reasons a conventional car battery can be ruined by leaving it stored for a long period and then used and recharged. Gel cells also have lower freezing and higher boiling points than the liquid electrolytes used in conventional wet cells and AGMs, which makes them suitable for use in extreme conditions. In 1881, Camille Alphonse Faure invented an improved version that consisted of a lead grid lattice, into which a lead oxide paste was pressed, forming a plate.
Plante plates are still used in some stationary applications, where the plates are mechanically grooved to increase their surface area. The paste is pressed into the holes in the grid, which are slightly tapered on both sides to better retain the paste.
The long crystals have more surface area and are easily converted back to the original state on charging. This porous paste allows the acid to react with the lead inside the plate, increasing the surface area many fold.
It is possible to make lead–antimony positive plates and lead–calcium negatives, however, antimony is plated out onto the negatives and this causes the water-saving benefit of calcium negatives to be lost.
Stratification also causes the upper layers of the battery to become almost completely water, which can freeze in cold weather, AGMs are significantly less susceptible to damage due to low-temperature use. Once dry, the plates are stacked with suitable separators and inserted in the battery container. Sulfonated naphthalene condensate dispersant is a more effective expander than lignosulfonate and speeds up formation. While it can be argued that calcium saves water and maintenance costs, it is almost never worth cutting the battery life from 20 years to 5.
This dispersant improves dispersion of barium sulfate in the paste, reduces hydroset time, produces a more breakage-resistant plate, reduces fine lead particles and thereby improves handling and pasting characteristics. Sulfonated naphthalene requires about one-third to one-half the amount of lignosulfonate and is stable to higher temperatures.

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