Lead acid batteries get thirsty. The plates in a lead acid battery need to be continuously soaked in a liquid mixture of sulfuric acid and water to operate correctly. Over time, the water portion of that mixture in flooded lead acid batteries, such as those used in golf carts or some forklifts, will need to be replenished. “A flooded lead acid battery requires regular watering to replace the water that evaporates out of it through normal use,” says Jake Schmalz, director of engineering, alternative power at Briggs & Stratton. (Note: Sealed lead acid batteries do not require watering).
This ‘watering’ should occur on an as needed basis, and should be conducted after you charge the lead acid battery to ensure it’s healthy and safe for use. Over watering can significantly damage the battery by diluting the electrolyte solution or causing the battery to overflow, while not watering at all can lead to performance issues.
“Often, people just don’t know they need to water lead acid batteries, which eventually leads to battery damage so significant that the only option is to buy a new one,” says Schmalz. “With lithium-ion batteries, you don’t need to do any sort of maintenance, such as watering, which inherently increases the safety of operating a lithium-ion battery.”
Block and Tackle
“Most typical commercial batteries — lead acid and lithium-ion — are made in large blocks,” says Schmalz. “You get a large number of cells that are permanently joined together, and if something goes wrong with a single cell or component, you have to basically remove the whole thing.”
By breaking those blocks down into smaller, modular components you can increase both serviceability, flexibility and safety of the battery. Which is exactly why the team at Briggs & Stratton developed the Vanguard Lithium-Ion Battery around a modular concept.
“There's just 32 small cylindrical cells in a module, and if one of those goes bad on a larger pack, a lot of times you've got to replace the whole pack. That’s very costly,” says Schmalz. “With the Vanguard lithium-ion battery, you only have to replace about eight percent of the pack cells if something goes wrong because of the unique way the cell modules are constructed in the pack.”
Performing maintenance, such as watering, on the modular components of a lead acid battery will put you in potential contact with dangerous materials. “Lead-acid has acid in it, of course. There is an opportunity to be exposed to acid when watering it,” says Schmalz. “That doesn’t exist with lithium-ion.”
When servicing a lead acid battery, you’ll need to wear acid-resistant goggles, a face shield and gloves. If you do encounter acid on your skin, rinse the affected area with large amounts of water.