Batteries are fascinating devices with the ability to store energy and used as reliable alternative power sources. These devices are capable of delivering enough amount of electricity that can be used in various applications. What makes batteries very interesting is how they actually work, due to their ability to convert one kind of energy to electricity.
Due to this astounding capability, cells are widely used as backup power supplies, off-grid power sources, and other applications related to alternative power sources. On that note, understanding how a battery works is essential if you want to dig deeper into the world of batteries.
What kind of energy is converted to electrical energy by a car battery? Car batteries work by generating chemical energy through a chemical reaction and converting it to electrical energy. Delivering enough amount of current the engine needs to for the ignition system to work, allowing it to start the car’s engine.
It all starts with turning the ignition system on, putting the battery to a live circuit, triggering it to initiate the chemical reaction. The chemical reaction will then generate chemical energy, which will then be converted to electrical energy. This conversion process results in electricity or current that is needed to crank the engine, enabling it to run.
Once the engine is running, the battery will then be on the recharge operation. It will receive the current produced by the alternator from converting mechanical energy to electrical energy. To leave a clear answer to the question, chemical energy is the kind of energy a car battery converts into electrical energy, which is also known as electricity.
It seems that you are a bit confused about the kinds of energy involved in a car’s ignition and charging system. Well, I assume that you already had a concrete idea about them while reading the earlier part.
However, I would like to invite you to stay a bit longer to learn more about the kinds of energy in a vehicle. Come and join me as we take a more in-depth look.
Kinds of Energy Involved in the Operations of Car Batteries
Like any other rechargeable battery, an automotive battery has two operations, discharging and charging. Both of these operations involve electrical energy since batteries deliver and receive electricity when discharging and charging. However, they are both converted from two different kinds of energy, namely, chemical and mechanical, respectively.
When the car battery is set on a discharging mode of operation, it generates chemical energy from a chemical reaction. This energy is then converted to electrical power in the form of electricity as the battery discharged it through the circuit. In this process, the current is then distributed to the essential vehicle components.
In the case of a car battery in the charging state or operation mode, it receives an electric current generated by the alternator. In this process, the alternator receives and generates mechanical energy. And then, the alternator acts as a generator to convert the mechanical energy through electromagnetism to electrical energy in the form of electricity.
This current will then go to the voltage regulator and allocate the amount of current for the car’s electrical system and battery.
To give it a more straightforward explanation, in the discharging state, the battery converts chemical energy to electrical energy. While in a charging state, the battery receives electrical energy converted from mechanical energy.
Digging Deeper to Better Understand Car Batteries
Now that you’ve learned about the types of energy involved in the charging and discharging operations of a car battery. Let’s dig a bit deeper and try to understand everything there is to learn about automotive batteries. I hope you are in the mood to learn more and interested, so join me as we take an in-depth look at car batteries.
The Anatomy of an Automotive Battery and Its Structural Details
I take it that you already know that the essential role of a car battery is to provide the right amount of current every ignition system component that needs to crank the engine.
In this part, we are going to a more detailed look at the most common type of car batteries used today, the lead-acid battery. Come and join me as we take a closer look at its basic construction and components.
Like any other battery, a lead-acid car battery has three major components. The battery plates consisting of the positive electrode and negative electrode. And then the battery electrolyte where the charge electrons travel.
Along with these major components are separation bags that act as barriers to separating the positive plates from the negative plates.
A car battery is constructed because it has several battery plates as its positive electrodes and negative electrodes. These plates are then grouped in sets to form several positive and negative blocks, separated with the separation barriers preventing them from contact.
Every block the plates form is considered as a cell. Along with all of these components is the electrolyte, which varies according to the battery type, and all of them are enclosed in a casing.
A conventional car battery has an electrolyte that is basically a mixture of distilled water and sulfuric acid. This electrolyte can come in a liquid form like the typical car battery, it can also be in the form of a gel, or it can be bound within an absorbent glass mat.
Typical car power cells are constructed with six (6) battery cells, three (3) positive, and three (3) negative. Each of these cells has a nominal voltage rated at 2-volts, which sums up to 12.72 volts.
Helpful Tip: If a battery cell has more plates in it, the more substantial ignition power it can deliver in cold conditions, which means higher CCA. This is due to the larger surface area the plates offer. If the plates in each cell are thicker, reducing the number of plates, the battery has more stability and longer lifespan.
How a Car Battery Turns Chemical Energy into Electrical Energy
As we established earlier, car batteries store energy in the form of chemical structure, converting it to electrical power through the operation called the “electro-chemical” process.
In this conversion process, there are four different chemicals that react with each other.
● Lead (Pb)
● Sulfur (S)
● Oxygen (O2)
● Hydrogen (H)
The chemical reaction that involves these various chemicals is made possible and initiated when the battery is connected with a live circuit.
Here’s what happens within the cell when it is put in the discharging state.
1. When the battery starts to discharge, it is triggered to decompose its electrolyte, reducing the distilled water and sulfuric acid mixture to hydrogen ions with a positive charge and sulfate ions with a negative charge.
2. While the electrolyte decomposes, the negative electrons stored in the negative plates or electrode travels to the positive electrodes through the live circuit at the same time.
3. To rectify that electron flow, the negatively charged sulfate ions from the decomposed electrolyte travel to the negative electrode through the electrolyte. Once reaching the negative electrode, the sulfate ions then react with the lead, generating lead sulfate.
4. At the same time, the positive electrode produces lead sulfate by bonding the remaining lead left by the electron transfer with the sulfate that remains within the electrolyte.
5. Due to this chain reaction happening at the same time, the sulfuric acid is used to produce the lead sulfates. As a result, water is formed when the remaining oxygen and hydrogen bond together. At this point, if the sulfuric acid concentration falls below a specific level, a recharge is required.
6. When the battery is in the charging state, the entire process will carry out in a reversed sequence of chemical reactions.
The Major Issues with a Lead-Acid Car Battery
After going through a series of detailed information about the anatomy of a lead-acid battery, let us now take a closer look at the setbacks we have to overcome with regards to this battery. You have to keep in mind that there are two major issues that you have to be concerned about with a lead-acid car power cell.
The first issue is the phenomenon famously known as “sulfation,” and the other problem is referred to as “acid layering,” also known as stratification.
Both of these issues have a significant impact on the battery’s health, which shortens their battery life. So, understanding both of them is imperative to allow you to make sure that the battery won’t suffer any of them.
Acid Layering or Stratification on Lead-Acid Car Batteries
Stratification or acid layering is a condition where the electrolyte has a poor mixture, forcing its acid component to be stratified.
Due to varying densities within the electrolyte, a layering of both the water and acid components occupy the top and bottom areas of the battery. This limits its charging and discharging capabilities by only providing a smaller section of the battery operational. As a result, the battery is rendered to be inefficient.
Acid layering often starts when the battery is consistently discharged deeply or running the battery down to a level below 80%. Charging the battery with shallow remaining charge left in it also triggers this condition. This is because it makes it hard for the battery to recover the energy it discharged, forcing it to take a lot of time.
Because of this, the battery won’t have the chance to recover before it is discharged once again fully. This condition can also be due to excessive current draw on the battery that reduces the possibility of the alternator generating enough power to refill all the energy used.
The Infamous Sulfation Phenomenon
Sulfation is basically a result of an unaddressed issue of acid layering. If the battery is suffering from stratification or acid layering, and the problem is left unfixed for a long time, it will gradually lead to sulfation.
The phenomenon where the lead sulfate within the battery crystalizes and slowly buildup on the electrode plates. Over time, this crystallized lead sulfate gradually grows into larger chunks limiting the battery’s ability to reduce the sulfates to its original chemical components.
This infamous phenomenon not only prevents the battery from receiving electrical energy for charging, but it also reduces its ability to deliver its specified and expected current output.
It also poses a threat to the battery’s internal components because when the crystallized sulfate starts breaking apart, sharp shards of crystals can inflict significant damage to the separator bags within the battery.
Due to those dangers, sulfation is considered one of the most common factors leading a lead-acid battery to its demise. It is a condition that shortens the life expectancy of a car battery and leads it to an early death.
Other Alternatives for a Lead-Acid Automotive Battery
After going through the complete anatomy of a lead-acid car battery and learning about the major issues that come with it, you probably think that it is not a good choice for your car.
Let me remind you that lead-acid cells are the traditional power cell used in vehicles science then, and they are the proven the tested battery type that most cars use today.
There are various ways ways to overcome the two major weaknesses of lead-acid cells and one of which is proper battery care, appropriate upkeep, and carrying out the good practices for this kind of battery.
Fortunately, there are also new battery innovations in battery technology today, giving us other battery chemistry as an alternative.
Here they are:
Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) Cell Technology
One of the battery technology that you can consider a better alternative for the conventional lead-acid tech is the AGM innovation. Stands for Absorbent Glass Mat, the AGM cell technology is an upgraded version of the lead-acid cell.
In this kind of battery technology, the electrolyte is wicked between the battery plates and enclosed all battery components within a special glass mat. This eliminates the risk of acid layering and makes the battery spill-proof as well as maintenance-free.
Lithium-Based Car Battery Chemistry
The lithium-based battery chemistry is arguably the best kind of car battery to get today, but its exceptional features are more expensive. However, lithium chemistry is considered to be the best due to the higher capacity it offers and the larger charging cycle it has.
In simpler terms, car batteries with the lithium-based chemistry are more powerful, longer-lasting and provide higher energy density.
Thanks for taking the time to read my article. I hope that it cleared out some of the perplexing thoughts you had in mind. Remember, a car battery converts chemical energy to electrical energy to supply the car’s current needs.
And the electrical energy that it receives when charging is converted from mechanical energy. I also impart a few additional information that will help you understand car batteries that may come in handy.