Lead Acid Battery Goes Kapow!

The recent brouhaha in this blog over the underwhelming performance of lithium ion batteries and the care that must be taking when charging them reminded me of a case in Design News that involved an explosion of near-Hindenburg-like proportions. Oh I know what you’re thinking — it’s those incredibly thermodynamically unstable lithium ion batteries up to their old tricks again. Wrong!! The culprit in this case was a lead acid battery for a lift truck. Let’s just say the sucker really got shredded, as noted by Myron Boyajian, the forensic engineer who was called in to investigate the case on behalf of the singed plaintiff: “If a lead-acid battery could discharge and charge with perfect electrochemical efficiency, there would be no emission of hydrogen or oxygen gas, just the quiet conversion of the plate material, one of lead and the other of lead oxide, both to lead sulfate while the sulfuric acid electrolyte changed to water while discharging; and the reversal of this process during charging. One hundred percent efficiency, like perfection, is only to be hoped for. Excess or rapid charging/discharging, plate age and condition, excessive temperature, and other reasons may cause hydrogen and oxygen gas to be emitted from a lead-acid battery.” And kapow!

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1 Comment

  1. Fred Shaw
    September 20, 2007 16:46

    Surely the phenomenon of sealed batteries of all kinds exploding on charge due to generation of hydrogen is well known. Watch batteries in particular carry a warning. I seem to remember Walter Gabriel in The Archers exploding a lead acid battery may years ago, whilst trying to start a tractor using jump leads. Not quite The Hindenberg, but a mode of transport nevertheless!

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