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The lowdown on batteries: Lead-acid batteries

Posted: 27 Jan 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:lead-acid  battery  run time  absorbed glass mat  charging 

As you may recall, this series of articles tackles the various battery technologies available to us. In addition to the nitty-gritty technology details, I'm including tips and tricks for selecting the most appropriate battery technology for your application (the first two tips appeared in the previous article), along with tidbits of trivia and nuggets of knowledge. In this article we consider lead-acid batteries.

Tip No. 3: Estimate your energy requirements.
After eliminating the technology types that don't fit your usage/storage environment (as discussed in Tip No. 1), I decide on primary or secondary types and then calculate the energy my load will need over the desired run time. A rough estimate is the average load voltage multiplied by the average load current multiplied by the required number of run time hours. Keep in mind that loads may be constant power, constant current, constant resistance, or a mix (including pulses). Next, we normalise the calculation to one hour to give Watt-hours at the load. Next time, I will show how to estimate all the losses and temperature derating to arrive at the minimum Watt-hours rating of the battery.

For the science nerd
An interesting team to watch over the coming years is to be found at the Battery Innovation Center.

Car help
Where can you find a place to charge your car, and how does it all work? Answers to these questions can be found at the website of the Car Charging Group, the largest electric-vehicle charging service provider.

The lead-acid battery
The lead-acid battery was invented in 1859 by the French physicist Gaston Planté. This is a secondary battery that provides a very low energy-to-weight ratio and a low energy-to-volume ratio, but it compensates for this by supplying high surge currents at low cost. Four main application categories have driven the development of this battery type: small consumer, starting/vehicle, deep cycle, and industrial.

Two reduced-maintenance varieties are known as gel cells and absorbed glass mat (AGM). These are collectively known as valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) or sealed lead-acid batteries. Some specific details:
 • Specific energy: 30-40 Wh/kg
 • Energy density: 60-75 Wh/L
 • Specific power: 180 W/kg
 • Charge/discharge efficiency: 50-92%
 • Energy/consumer price: 7-to-18 Wh/$
 • Self-discharge rate: 3-20%/month
 • Cycle durability: up to 800 cycles (500 typical)
 • Nominal cell voltage: 2.1V
 • Float-charge voltage per cell: 2.23 (gel), 2.32 (flooded), 2.25(AGM).
 • Cut-Off voltage: 1.75V per cell (loaded)
 • Charging temperature: -40°C (min) to +49°C (max); see specific manufacturer for more details

Chemistry
Discharge, negative plate reaction:
Pb(s) + HSO4-(aq) → PbSO4(s) + H+(aq) + 2e-

Discharge, positive plate reaction:
PbO2(s) + HSO4-(aq) + 3H+(aq) + 2e- → PbSO4(s) + 2H2O(l)

Discharge, the whole reaction:
Pb(s) + PbO2(s) + 2H2SO4(aq) → 2PbSO4(s) + 2H2O(l)

Charge: negative plate reaction:
PbSO4(s) + H+(aq) + 2e- → Pb(s) + HSO4-(aq)

Charge: positive plate reaction:
PbSO4(s) + 2H2O(l) → PbO2(s) + HSO4-(aq) + 3H+(aq) + 2e-

Charging
Except for vehicle batteries, the charge time of a sealed lead-acid battery is 12-16 hours, or up to 36-48 hours for large, stationary batteries. With higher charge currents and multi-stage charge methods, the charge time can be reduced to 10 hours or less. However, the topping charge may not be complete. Sealed lead-acid technology is sluggish and cannot be charged as quickly as other battery systems.

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