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Betcha Didn't Know: Fast Facts About Lead-Acid Batteries

By Lee Kurtzmann
Posted Jul 25th 2002 11:00AM

everything1031a.jpgIn the 19th century, when the French scientist, Gaston Plante, invented the lead-acid battery to store electrical energy, he couldn't have envisioned the significance his invention would hold in the 21st century.

Today, advanced versions of his batteries are everywhere, working out of sight, and the mobile, wired and wireless lifestyle we enjoy would not be possible without them.

Scientists have been looking for a competitor that is lightweight, inexpensive, powerful, long-lived and recyclable. But lead batteries have the greatest energy density per pound, the longest life cycle and a more mature recycling infrastructure than any other battery in their price range.

For stored electrical energy, lead-acid batteries are the technological and environmental standard of our time.These quick facts from Battery Council International might surprise you.

1. Which consumer product is recycled more than lead-acid batteries?

There isn't one. For 10 consecutive years, more lead from spent batteries has been recycled than any other consumer product. More than 90 percent of battery lead is recycled, compared to 62.5 percent of aluminum cans, 35 percent of glass containers and 69 percent of newspapers.

2. When is a dead car battery not dead?

When it's merely drained. The battery usually can be recharged when you leave your headlights on, or when your alternator isn't working. The battery is dead when it reaches the end of its service life. But its lead, plastic and acid are recycled and used in new batteries. In a continuous cycle, a dead battery contributes the materials that become a new battery.

3. What do telephones, computers and batteries have in common?

Lead industrial batteries back up wired and wireless telephones and computer systems during power outages. Batteries are the reason why the phones stay on when the power is out. And in the UPS system backing up your computer, they keep you from losing data during a brownout or blackout.

4. Who invented the lead-acid battery?

The French scientist, Gaston Plante, invented the battery in 1859. The first battery was used to keep the lights on in railroad cars stopped at train stations.

5. What do you learn by looking at a black battery?

That it is made with recycled plastic - which includes most lead batteries. During recycling, battery cases are broken into small pieces. When multi-colored pieces are melted together, the resulting plastic is black.

6. What kind of battery is used in most electric vehicles?

Lead-acid batteries power the country's electric fork and scissor lift trucks, golf cars, mining vehicles, street sweepers, mail delivery vehicles and indoor and outdoor passenger shuttles.

7. Where do you find the most lead-acid batteries?

On land, batteries start and power vehicles; back up uninterruptible operations like hospitals, air traffic controls, railroad signals and weapons systems; and help electric utilities shift loads among grids. Batteries are on the water, too, powering navigational signals, backing up critical systems in submarines, starting engines and powering electrical devices in boats. 

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