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A Guide To Lead-Acid Batteries

Structure and Operation Most lead-acid batteries are constructed with the positive electrode (the anode) made from a leadantimony alloy with lead (IV) oxide pressed into it, although batteries designed for maximum life use a lead-calcium alloy. he negative electrode (the cathode) is made from pure lead and both electrodes are immersed in sulphuric acid. !hen the battery is discharged water is produced, diluting the acid and reducing its specific gravity. "n charging sulphuric acid is produced and the specific gravity of the electrolyte increases. he specific gravity can be measured using a hydrometer and will have a value of about #.$%& for a charged cell and #.#' for a discharged cell, although these values will vary depending on the ma(e of battery. he specific gravity also depends on the battery temperature and the above values or for a battery at #%)*. +pecific gravity is defined as,
+pecific -ravity = mass of a specific volume of electrolyte mass of the same volume of pure water

he chemical reactions that occur during charging and discharging are summarised in figures # and $.

Figure 1: *harging. 3ead (IV) oxide is formed at the anode, Figure 2: 4ischarging. 3ead sulphate is formed at both pure lead is formed at the cathode and sulphuric acid is electrodes and sulphuric acid is removed from the liberated into the electrolyte causing the specific gravity to electrolyte causing the specific gravity to reduce. increase.

If lead-acid batteries are over discharged or left standing in the discharged state for prolonged periods hardened lead sulphate coats the electrodes and will not be removed during recharging. +uch build-ups reduce the efficiency and life of batteries. "ver charging can cause electrolyte to escape as gases. Types of Lead-Acid Battery

Starting Batteries . /sed to start and run engines they can deliver a very large current so a very short time, discharging by about $-%0. If deep cycled these batteries 1uic(ly degenerate and will fail after 2&-#%& cycles but should last for a very long time when used correctly. Deep Cycle Batteries . /sed to store electricity in autonomous power systems (e.g. solar, minihydro), for emergency bac(-up and electric vehicles. hese batteries are designed to discharge by as

much as 5&0 of their capacity over thousands of charging and discharging cycles. rue deep cycle batteries have solid lead plates however many batteries that do not have solid plates are called semideep cycle. Marine 6atteries . /sually a hybrid battery that falls between deep cycle and starting batteries although some are true deep cycle batteries. hybrid batteries should not be discharged by over %&0.

Types of Deep Cycle Battery

Flooded . hese batteries have a conventional li1uid electrolyte. +tandard types have removable caps so that the electrolyte can be diluted and the specific gravity measured, such batteries are supplied dry and you add distilled water. +tandard flooded batteries are cheap and if they are (ept topped up they are not overly sensitive to high charging voltages. +ealed batteries are supplied preflooded and have fixed valves to allow gases to vent during use however, they will still lea( if inverted and the electrolyte can not be replenished so that over charging will cause damage. -elled 7lectrolyte . he electrolyte is a 8elly and so will not lea(. he electrolyte can not be diluted so that overcharging must be avoided and these batteries may only last for $ or 2 years in hot climates although with good care they can last for % years. Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) Batteries . he electrolyte is held between the plates absorbed in a fine boron-silicate mat. 3i(e gelled electrolyte batteries they will not lea( acid but they can withstand more careless treatment and are less sensitive to over charging since they are designed to retain vented gases. 9-M batteries can also stand for 2& days in a totally discharged state and still be recharged successfully. he ma8or drawbac( to these batteries is that they cost between $ or 2 times as much as flooded batteries. nternal !esistance

6atteries transfer energy to electrons so that they :flow: around a circuit, the 7lectro Motive ;orce (7M;) is the total amount of energy per coulomb of charge that a battery can supply and is measured in volts. he 7M; of a lead-acid cell is provided by that chemical reactions described above (figures # and $) and can be seen as the maximum possible voltage across the cell:s terminals (the open circuit voltage). he path ta(en when current passes through the lead-acid cell will have resistance . his internal resistance depends on the cell:s design, construction, age and condition. "n discharge this internal resistance (<*) causes the voltage measured across the cell:s terminals to be less than the 7M; (7) of the cell (the voltage drop = I x <*, figure 2a). hus when a current (I) flows the terminal voltage (/) is given by,
/ = 7 - I< *

Figure ": he internal resistance of a battery and the voltage measure across the terminals, (a) current flowing through a load> (b) no current flowing.

7xample 9 cell has an internal resistance of &.&$? and an 7M; of $.$V. what is its terminal potential difference if it delivers (a) #9, (b) #&9 and (c) %&9@ (a) / = 7 - I< * = $.$ (# &.&$) = $.#5V (b) / = 7 - I< * = $.$ (#& &.&$) = $V (c) / = 7 - I< * = $.$ (%& &.&$) =#.$V Aote that if a high resistance voltage meter is used to measure the voltage across a battery:s terminals it will register the batteries 7M;> as long as there is no current flowing through a load from the battery (figure 2b). If the terminal voltage is measure when a current is flowing through a load from the battery, the meter will register the 7M; minus the voltage drop across the internal resistance (figure 2a). !hen charging a cell the voltage applied across the terminals must be great enough to push the desired current against the cell:s 7M;. herefore the effective voltage across the internal resistance is the difference between the terminal voltage (in this case applied to the cell) and the the cells 7M;. herefore the current that flows is given by,
I= / 7 <*


/ =7 + I< *

7xample 9 cell with an 7M; of $V and an internal resistance of &.&5? is to be charged at %9. !hat terminal voltage must be applied@
/ = 7 + I< = $ + (% &.&5) = $.BV

Cell and Battery #oltage 9 well maintained cell should have a cell 7M; of about $.$V falling to about $V when fully discharged. "nce the internal resistance has been ta(en into account the terminal voltage (the potential difference across the cell terminals) of each cell will be about $.#V, but this value will drop depending on how much current is being drawn. +ix cells in series ma(e up a twelve volt battery which when fully charged will have a terminal voltage of #$.C to #$.5V. he 7M; of lead-acid cells is dependent on chemistry although the actual terminal voltage differs depending on the battery design, this must be ta(en into account when using a voltmeter to determining the batteries state of charge. Battery Capacity he capacity of a battery is usually expressed as a number of ampere-hours (9h). "ne ampere-hour is the amount charge delivered when a current of one ampere is delivered for one hour. +ince the capacity of lead-acid batteries depend on the rate at which they are discharged a discharge rate is also 1uoted. ;or example a battery with a 2&&9h capacity when discharged over #& hours (#& hour rate) can give (2&&D#&) 2&9 continuously however, it may only have a $%&9h capacity when discharged at the % hour rate which will occur if ($%&D%) %&9 are continually draw from it (figure B). In short the more slowly you discharge a battery the greater its capacity, deep-cycle battery capacities are normally 1uoted for the $& hour rate. ;igure B shows a typical battery capacity versus discharge rate graph. *apacities are sometimes expressed in terms of (ilowatt-hours ((!h) which can be calculated from the

ampere-hour rate using the following e1uation,

(!h = 9h battery volatge #&&&

herefore a #$V battery with a capacity of 2&&9h at the #& hour rate will have a capacity of (#$x2&&E#&&&) 2.C(!h. he 9mpere-hour is a measure of the amount of charge that a battery can deliver, one ampere is a flow of charge at the rate of one coulomb per second, therefore a number of amperes multiplied by a time (i.e. hours) gives us a 1uantity of charge. +imilarly, the watt-hour is a measure of the amount of energy that a battery can deliver, one watt is the supply of energy at the rate of one 8oule per second, therefore a number of watts multiplied by a time gives us a 1uantity of energy. he capacities of lead-acid batteries are very dependent on the temperature at which the battery is operating. he *apacity is normally 1uoted for a temperature of $%)* however, the capacity will reduce by about %&0 at -$%)* and will increase to about #&0 at B%)* (figure %).

Figure $: he battery capacity vrs. discharge rate graph for a +urrette +eries %&& battery. he continuous current at various rates are also shown.

Figure %: 6attery capacity vrs. operating temperature graph.

Battery Life In a small autonomous power system (i.e. one without a mains grid connection) the batteries will be continually charged and discharged. he life span of a deep-cycle battery is normally 1uoted in the number of cycles that it can be expected to perform, a cycle being a discharge followed by recharging. 4eep cycle batteries should not be discharged by more than C&0 of their capacity and the less you regularly discharge a battery the longer it will last. 9 battery in daily use and discharged by no more than B&0 of its capacity should last for more than 2&&& cycles and may not need replacing for up to #$ years. 9 battery that is fre1uently heavily discharged may last no longer than $ years. ;igure C shows the variation in battery life with the depth to which it is discharged.

Figure (: he effect of discharge rate on battery life.

C&arge State here are two main methods for determining the state of charge for lead-acid batteries, Terminal Voltage - he open circuit voltage (no current flowing) of a fully charged cell depends on its type but will be $.#V to $.2V (#$.CV to #2.5V for a #$V battery). If the voltage is measured with the charging current flowing it will be increased by the voltage drop across the internal resistance. If discharging the measured voltage will drop due to the internal resistance of the cell. able # gives the approximate battery and cell voltages for various states of charge. Specific Gravity . his is the recommended method if the battery is not sealed and a hydrometer can get into the battery. ;or a flood-type battery in good condition the specific gravity should vary in the region of #.$% for a fully charged battery to #.#' for a fully discharged battery. hese figures vary slightly depending on the battery type and the temperature, &.&&&' should be added to these values for each degree above #%)*. able $ gives the specific gravity values for several lead-acid batteries.
State of Charge (approx.) #&&0 F&0 5&0 '&0 C&0 %&0 B&0 2&0 $&0 #&0 & Ta'le 1: 12 Volt Battery #$.'& #$.%& #$.B$ #$.2$ #$.$& #$.&C ##.F& ##.'% ##.%5 ##.2# #&.%& Volts per Cell $.#$ $.&5 $.&' $.&% $.&2 $.&# #.F5 #.FC #.F2 #.5F #.'%

he approximate battery and cell voltages for various states of charge.

State of Charge (approx) #&&0 F&0 5&0 '&0 C&0 %&0 B&0 2&0 $&0 #&0 &

Apex +-G #.$'' #.$%5 #.$25 #.$#' #.#F% #.#'$ #.#B5 #.#$B #.&F5 #.&'2 #.&B5 "*VGG $.#$ $.#& $.&5 $.&C $.&B $.&$ $.&& #.F5 #.F% #.F2 #.F# +-G #.$B& #.$2& #.$$& #.$#& #.$&& #.#F& #.#5& #.#'& #.#C& #.#%& #.#B&

Suncycle "*VGG $.&5CC $.&'' $.&C' $.&%5 $.&B5 $.&B& $.&2# $.&$$ $.&#2 $.&&% #.FFC +-G #.$$% #.$#C #.$&' #.#F5 #.#5F #.#'F #.#'# #.#C2 #.#%2 #.#B% #.#2%

PVStar "*VGG $.&F%& $.&''% $.&C&& $.&B$% $.&$%& $.&&'% #.FF&& #.F'$% #.F%%& #.F2'% #.F$&&

Ta'le 2: he approximate specific gravity values for several lead-acid batteries in various states of charge. G +- = specific gravity at $%)*. GG "*V open circuit voltage per $V cell.

C&arging he charging voltage must be higher than the battery voltage for current to flow into the battery. here are two basic ways to charge a lead-acid battery from an uninterrupted supply (e.g. mains or a generator), Constant voltage c!arge . 9 constant voltage is applied across the battery terminals. 9s the voltage of the battery increases the charging current tapers off. his method re1uires simple e1uipment but it not recommended. Constant c"rrent c!arge . 9n ad8ustable voltage source or a variable resistor maintains a constant current flows into the battery. hus re1uires a sophisticated charge controller. ;rom uninterrupted power supplies lead-acid batteries are normally recharged using the constantcurrent techni1ue> the manufacturer:s data should be chec(ed to find an appropriate charging rate. 9 common rule of thumb used to calculate a suitable charging current is that it should be one tenth of the ampere-hour capacity at the #& hour rate> i.e. C9 for a C&9h battery at the #& hour rate. 9nother estimation of a safe charging current is the H*E5I rate which is the capacity at the $& hour rate divided by 5, although ro8an batteries recommend #& to #20 of the $& hour rate. -elled cells should not be charged with more than the %0 of their 9h capacity. Aote that you should ta(e into account the ampere-hour capacity of the whole battery ban( (see the :6attery 6an(: section below). Tric)le or Float C&arge 3ead-acid batteries can be maintained over long periods of time by replacing charge lost via self discharge. o do this a continual tric(le charge current is maintained across the battery terminals. ypically the current is very small, being the value in milliamperes which e1uals the ampere-hour capacity (at the #& hour rate) for cells up to #&& 9h i.e. C&m9 for a C&9h battery. ;or batteries above #&&9h the following e1uation can be used,
ric(le *harge *urrent in milliamperes =K'& + (2 #& hour capacity)J

he voltage maintained across the battery during tric(le charging should not be higher than about $.$%V per cell (#2.%V for a #$V battery). +elf-discharge will be reduced by (eeping the batteries clean and free of dust, particularly between the terminals. Solar C&argers !hen lead-acid batteries are charged from a variable source, such as LV panels, three charging stages are normally provided by the charge controller, B"l# C!arge . *urrent is sent to the batteries of the maximum safe rate they will accept until their voltage rises to about 5& to F&0 of their fully charged value. he bul( charging voltage is typically about #B.5V but may be as high as #%.%V for a #$V system, this may vary so that the maximum possible current in maintained. -el batteries often have lower recommended voltages in the region of #2.5 to #B.#V. Absorption C!arge $ he voltage remains constant, typically about #B.$V for a #$V system(depending on temperature) and the current tapers off as the battery reaches #&&0 charge. Tric#le or Float C!arge . ;or a #$V battery ban( a voltage of about of about #$.5 to #2.$V is maintained across the batteries to (eep them in good condition. +ome charge controllers have pulse width modulation (L!M) which can be used to provide the last bit of charge and maintain a tric(le charge. <ather than letting the current taper off a larger current is pulsed into the battery, the length of the pulses reduces as less charge is re1uired. *+ualisation C&arging ,-ented li+uid electrolyte 'atteries only. ;or a ban( of batteries to wor( efficiently they should all have the same voltage at any given time, similarly for a single multi-cell battery all of the cells should have the same voltage at any given time. Mowever, due to slight irregularities from battery to battery constant charging and discharging leads to an imbalance in the specific gravity of individual battery cells. 9lso, during use the electrolyte may become stratified so that the electrolyte is more concentrated at the bottom of the cell than the top. hese problems can be rectified by applying an e1ualisation charge that will return all of the cells to the same voltage and eliminate irregularities in the electrolyte concentration. he voltage used during a e1ualisation charge is normally #V higher than the bul( charge voltage for #$V systems and $V higher for $BV systems, although this may be significantly higher at cooler temperatures. 71ualisation charges are normally necessary about once every month for batteries in fre1uent use and is most effective on fully charged batteries. he e1ualisation voltage is normally maintained for about two hours. 9fter e1ualisation the batteries should be chec(ed to see if they need topping up with distilled water since electrolyte may be lost as gas during this process. Battery *fficiency 4ue to internal resistance and the fact that the charging voltage is greater than the discharge voltage, the energy returned by the battery upon discharge will be less than the energy used for recharging. ypically a lead-acid battery will be 5& to F&0 efficient when considering ampere-hours (i.e. charge transferring efficiency). his figure assumes that the charging and discharging voltages are the same since,
ampere - hour efficiency = discharged 9h #&&0 charging 9h

*apacities are 1uoted in terms of the number of ampere-hours that a full battery can discharge, but this will only be about 5&0 of the ampere-hours needed to completely recharge the same battery from

empty. he charging voltage is the sum of the cell 7M; and the internal voltage drop (due to internal resistance) whereas the discharge terminal voltage is their difference. 9 truer method is to calculate an energy efficiency for a battery using watt-hours,
watt hour efficiency = discharged watt - hours #&&0 charging watt hours

he watt-hour efficiency is typically C%0 for a lead-acid battery. 9mpere-hour efficiencies are still useful for solar power siNing calculations since these often use ampere-hours when siNing the panel array needed to charge the battery ban( but be careful. 7xample 9 discharged #$V battery is charged for #& hours at #$9, the average charging terminal voltage being #%V. !hen connected to a load current of #&9 for F hours at an average terminal voltage of #$V the battery is discharged.
ampere - hour efficiency = watt hour efficiency = #& F #&&0 = '%0 #& #$

#& F #$ #&&0 = C&0 #& #$ #%

Aote that because of the internal resistance of the battery the efficiency will depend on the charging and discharging rate. Battery Ban)s 6attery ban(s in small power systems normally have nominal voltages of either #$V or $BV however, lead acid batteries are available from BV up to $BV. 6atteries can be combined in series (figure 'a) so that their voltages are added together, two #$V batteries in series will provide $BV. 9lthough voltages are added the same current will flow though each battery, so that two identical batteries #$V in series supplying %9 to a load each supply %9, therefore the 9h capacity of two identical batteries in series is the same as one battery on its own. he total internal resistance of batteries in series will e1ual the internal resistances (<*) of the individual batteries added together.

Figure /: (a) 2 batteries and their internal resistances in series> (b) 2 batteries and their internal resistances in parallel.

7xample (a) 9 #$V battery with an internal resistance of &.2? is connected to a load with a resistance of B?.!hat *urrent will flow@
I= 7 #$ = = $.59 < + < * B + &.2

(b) !hat current will flow in the same load if the current is supplied by two similar #$V batteries connected in series@


7 #$ = = %.$9 < + otal < * B + ( $ &.2)

!hen batteries are connected in parallel (figure 'b) they all operate at the same voltage and only identical batteries should every be connected in parallel. !ith this arrangement the total current being provided is split e1ually between the batteries so that two #$V batteries supplying %9 contribute $.%9 each, therefore the total capacity of these two batteries is twice the capacity of one battery supplying $.%9 (which in turn will be greater than the capacity of one battery supplying %9). he internal resistances must be summed as if they are resistors in parallel> that is that the reciprocal of the total resistance e1uals the sum of the reciprocals of each resistor. 7xample ;rom the previous example, (c) If three of the same #$V batteries are connected in parallel to the B? what current flows@ otal internal resistance,
# # = 2 =#& otal < * 2 I= 7 #$ = = 2.&9 < + otal < * B + &.&#
otal < * = &.&#


6attery ban(s may be constructed from several strings of batteries in series connected in parallel (figure 5)> note that all of the batteries must be identical and of course all of the series strings must contain the same number of batteries. he 7M; of such a ban( is e1ual to the number of batteries in series multiplied by the battery 7M;, the 9h capacity is e1ual to the capacity of one battery (at the appropriate rate) multiplied by the number of string in parallel and the total internal resistance is given by,
< * number of batteries in a string number of strings in parallel

Figure 0: 6atteries and their internal resistances in a ban( containing 2 strings of C batteries each.

7xample *ontinuing the previous example, (d) If a battery ban( consists of three strings of two batteries each what current will flow@ he 7M; of the battery ban( is, he total internal resistance is,
$ #$ = $BV
$ &.2 = &.$ 2



7 $B = = %.' 9 < + otal < * B + &.$

Aote that this is about the same current that is supplied by two batteries in series however, since there are three strings in parallel so the ban( will be able to supply this current for more than three times as long (more than three times because the discharge rate has reduced). If the batteries have a capacity of %&9h each at the $& hour rate the ban( will have a capacity of (2 x %&) #%& meaning that it can supply '.%9 for $& hours, therefore it could supply %.'9 for slightly longer than $& hours. Care and 1aintenance +ome 3ead-acid batteries are designed to be maintenance free, such batteries are sealed and the electrolyte can not be topped up. 6atteries that are sealed and not vented should not receive e1ualisation charges. i. 6atteries should not be left standing for any length of time, either charged or uncharged. ii. 6atteries supplied dry have a shelf life of about $ to 2 years. iii. 6atteries should neither be over charged or discharged by more C&0 of their capacity. iv. 6atteries in a ban( should all be the same ma(e and the same model. "nce a battery ban( has been operating for more than a few wee(s, new batteries should not be added. v. he electrolyte should be topped up regularly with distilled water. <efer to the manufactures literature to find the recommended specific gravity. vi. 71ualisation charges should be used about once a month for batteries that are regularly cycled. Safety 3ead-acid batteries can be dangerous because they vent hydrogen and oxygen gas during operation. he following points should be remembered, i. Oeep the electrolyte in flooded cells at the correct level with distilled water, to ma(e good losses due to evaporation and gassing. ii. /se no materials or finishes which will be attac(ed by acid in the battery room. +pilled acid, and acid vapour given off during gassing, will 1uic(ly corrode most exposed metals other than lead. /se an asphalt floor where possible and coat wooden surfaces with anti-acid paint. iii. Ventilate the battery room well, if necessary using corrosion-proofed fans. iv. 4o not allow a na(ed flame in the room> and prevent spar(ing by switching off a circuit before connecting and disconnecting. he gases present are explosive when in the correct proportions. v. Mop up spilt acid immediately and wash with soda solution. 9cid on clothing will 1uic(ly cause holes to appear. vi. 4o not allow acid to enter the eyes. If it does so, immediately lie down and run clean water over the eyes for as long as possible. *onsult a doctor. 9cid on the hands is not itself dangerous, but can easily be transferred to more vulnerable parts of the body. vii. !hen mixing acid for the initial charge of new cells, always add acid to water, and not the reverse. viii. !atch cell temperature, as excessive heat will damage lead-acid cells. 9cid temperature should not exceed 2C)*. ix. Oeep battery terminals clean and coated with petroleum 8elly. x. <emember that a short-circuit across the battery or cell terminals can result in very high currents which may result in fire or burns. /se only insulated tools and ta(e great care not to allow terminals to connect together inadvertently.