Automotive Battery

Both car batteries and deep cycle batteries are lead-acid batteries that use exactly the same chemistry for their operation. The difference is in the way that the batteries optimize their design:

• A car's battery is designed to provide a very large amount of current for a short period of time. This surge of current is needed to turn the engine over during starting. Once the engine starts, the alternator provides all the power that the car needs, so a car battery may go through its entire life without ever being drained more than 20 percent of its total capacity. Used in this way, a car battery can last a number of years. To achieve a large amount of current, a car battery uses thin plates in order to increase its surface area.
• A deep cycle battery is designed to provide a steady amount of current over a long period of time. A deep cycle battery can provide a surge when needed, but nothing like the surge a car battery can. A deep cycle battery is also designed to be deeply discharged over and over again (something that would ruin a car battery very quickly). To accomplish this, a deep cycle battery uses thicker plates.

A car battery typically has two ratings:

• CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) - The number of amps that the battery can produce at 32 degrees F (0 degrees C) for 30 seconds
• RC (Reserve Capacity) - The number of minutes that the battery can deliver 25 amps while keeping its voltage above 10.5 volts
Typically, a deep cycle battery will have two or three times the RC of a car battery, but will deliver one-half or three-quarters the CCAs. In addition, a deep cycle battery can withstand several hundred total discharge/recharge cycles, while a car battery is not designed to be totally discharged.

If you look at any battery, you'll notice that it has two terminals . One terminal is marked (+), or positive, while the other is marked (-), or negative. In an AA, C or D cell (normal flashlight batteries), the ends of the battery are the terminals. In a large car battery, there are two heavy lead posts that act as the terminals.

Electrons collect on the negative terminal of the battery. If you connect a wire between the negative and positive terminals, the electrons will flow from the negative to the positive terminal as fast as they can (and wear out the battery very quickly -- this also tends to be dangerous, especially with large batteries, so it is not something you want to be doing). Normally, you connect some type of load to the battery using the wire. The load might be something like a light bulb, a motor, or an electronic circuit like a radio.

Inside the battery itself, a chemical reaction produces the electrons. The speed of electron production by this chemical reaction (the battery's internal resistance ) controls how many electrons can flow between the terminals. Electrons flow from the battery into a wire, and must travel from the negative to the positive terminal for the chemical reaction to take place. That is why a battery can sit on a shelf for a year and still have plenty of power -- unless electrons are flowing from the negative to the positive terminal, the chemical reaction does not take place. Once you connect a wire, the reaction starts.

VOLTAGE

In any battery, the same sort of electrochemical reaction occurs so that electrons move from one pole to the other. The actual metals and electrolytes used control the voltage of the battery -- each different reaction has a characteristic voltage. For example, here's what happens in one cell of a car's lead-acid battery :

• The cell has one plate made of lead and another plate made of lead dioxide, with a strong sulfuric acid electrolyte in which the plates are immersed.
• Lead combines with SO 4 to create PbSO 4 plus one electron.
• Lead dioxide, hydrogen ions and SO 4 ions, plus electrons from the lead plate, create PbSO 4 and water on the lead dioxide plate.
• As the battery discharges, both plates build up PbSO 4 (lead sulfate), and water builds up in the acid. The characteristic voltage is about 2 volts per cell, so by combining six cells you get a 12-volt battery.

A lead-acid battery has a nice feature -- the reaction is completely reversible . If you apply current to the battery at the right voltage, lead and lead dioxide form again on the plates so you can reuse the battery over and over. In a zinc-carbon battery, there is no easy way to reverse the reaction because there is no easy way to get hydrogen gas back into the electrolyte.

BATTERY ARRANGEMENT

In almost any device that uses batteries, you do not use just one cell at a time. You normally group them together serially to form higher voltages, or in parallel to form higher currents. In a serial arrangement , the voltages add up. In a parallel arrangement , the currents add up. The following diagram shows these two arrangements:

The upper arrangement is called a parallel arrangement. If you assume that each cell produces 1.5 volts, then four batteries in parallel will also produce 1.5 volts, but the current supplied will be four times that of a single cell. The lower arrangement is called a serial arrangement. The four voltages add together to produce 6 volts.