I was always curious why lead was chosen as the default for metal acid batteries. This article describes lead-acid battery operation and there are plenty of resources like this on how lead acid batteries work, but I could not find any resources that explain "why lead?"

What about lead makes it the standard for metal-acid batteries?

Lead Acid Battery on HyperPhysics

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    $\begingroup$ @Paparazzi, Per watt-hour, lead acid is definitely the most common. All cars and industrial/commercial battery backup systems use lead acid. $\endgroup$
    – ericnutsch
    Feb 16 '18 at 6:29
  • $\begingroup$ @ericnutsch Thanks I deleted my comment $\endgroup$
    – paparazzo
    Feb 16 '18 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps lead was easily sourced due to the lead industry providing pipe and roofing material... $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Feb 16 '18 at 17:00

each electrochemical reaction involving a lead atom in a lead-acid cell releases two electrons into the external circuit, which means it has a relatively good extractable power-to battery mass ratio. in addition, the charge/discharge process retains reversibility over a relatively large number of cycles, giving the cell a long usable lifetime. the materials needed to manufacture the cell (lead and sulfuric acid) are not expensive, and finally, the manufacturing processes are very well-understood after over 100 years of experience. All of these factors contribute to making lead-acid batteries the default technology where battery mass is not a design limiter but cost is.

  • $\begingroup$ You are on the right track as I was wondering why lead and not some other metal like iron or aluminum to react with the sulfuric acid. I don't think lead ranks that highly in terms of chemical properties for this application. $\endgroup$ Feb 17 '18 at 3:09

Lead acid batteries has been around a long time and is easy to manufacture. They are rechargeable, recyclable, and reasonably safe. AGM or Absorbent Glass Mat lead acid has the added benefit of being sealed.

The reason they are so common is because of the high watt-hour/$ ratio:

  • Lead acid 6.77–17.41
  • Alkaline 0.48
  • Lithium 2.75

They are the battery of choice for car starters, UPS (uninterruptible power supplies), commerical/industrial battery backup systems, off-grid power systems, electric forklifts, emergency lighting, etc.

Per watt-hours in use they are definitely the most common. Per unit, it would most likely be alkaline, followed by lithium and lithium ion.


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