Electrokinetica The Electro-mechanical Museum

The lead-acid battery

Battery on rack

In 1859 Gaston Planté invented the lead-acid cell, so called because it consists of two lead plates (which in use become coated with lead compounds) immersed in sulphuric acid. This was the first practical storage battery that could be recharged time and time again. Batteries made from cells of this type are called ‘secondary’ batteries because they store electrical energy that has been generated elsewhere, for example by charging them using an engine-driven dynamo. The lead-acid battery was developed further by Faure in 1881 to a point where it could be used for applications demanding large-capacity storage and high rates of discharge, such as electric vehicles and lighting. Although many other battery technologies appeared throughout the 20th century, the lead-acid held its own as an economical and practical storage device, finding universal favour for duties including car engine starting, electric traction and country house lighting plants. The quest is still on for a cheap, long-lasting secondary battery with high energy storage density; as time goes by the lead-acid is losing ground to more recent technologies such as lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride, but only a major breakthrough is likely to put an end to its 125-year innings.

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