The Secret Life Inside Lead-Acid Batteries

May 29, 2023

Have you ever stopped to ponder what transpires within the robust confines of our hermetically sealed lead-acid batteries? The truth is, a bustling chemical dance is taking place, generating the energy we rely on. We've decided to unravel the enigma surrounding the secret life inside lead-acid batteries through a series of concise posts. So, take a seat, and prepare to unveil knowledge that eludes most.

How Do Lead Plates Create Electricity in Sulfuric Acid?

Deep within lead-acid batteries, an array of cells can be found, each housing a pair of plates. These plates come in a positive and a negative electrode variant, with diluted sulfuric acid, referred to as electrolyte, serving as their physical divider.

When fully charged, each cell, comprised of these two plates, can deliver approximately 2.1 volts. For a 6-volt battery, three cells are necessary, and for a 12-volt battery, six cells suffice. It's a straightforward concept so far!

Yet, there's more to this story. You see, the lead plates within each cell are intricately crafted grids with marginally different chemical compositions. Moreover, distinct active materials coat their surfaces.

This knowledge is something any school-going child should be familiar with. But how many actually grasp the intricacies of what occurs when a lead battery connects to a device? As the battery is utilized, it undergoes discharge, releasing some of its stored energy. This process consumes portions of the sulfuric acid present in the water solution.

The clandestine journey within lead-acid batteries unfolds further as sulfate from the acid gradually blankets the plates. This gradual buildup reduces the available surface for the chemical reaction to persist. Once the plates are fully coated, the reaction grinds to a halt, rendering the battery powerless.

One might assume that to be the terminal point for single-use batteries. However, there's hope for the resurrection of lead-acid batteries through recharging. When recharged, the sulfate returns to the acid, allowing the process to commence anew. Although not all of the sulfate is fully reclaimed, leaving a portion on the plates with each cycle. Alas, not even the sturdiest lead-acid batteries can endure indefinitely. Such is life!

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