The lead-acid battery could be the most misunderstood product of our time. These power sources are used so extensively that 20th century life would not be possible without them. But most of us who benefit from lead-acid batteries everyday know litle about these workhorses.
Lead-acid batteries come in many different sizes and operate hidden from view. Their workings are a bit confusing; they're bought because they're needed, not wanted; and they are taken completely for granted until they die.
More important, few of us know that when lead-acid batteries reach the end of their lives, they are recycled at a higher rate than any other consumer product.
If lead-acid batteries are misunderstood, their primary component, lead, is feared and maligned. Too much lead exposure can cause serious health damage in adults and impair intellectual development in children. Over exposure to lead from leaded gasoline, lead-based paint, improperly glazed pottery and contaminated soil has been called one of the greatest dangers to children today, and we should be vigilant in protecting them from too much of it. Critics of electric vehicles have played on this fear of lead, and the lead-acid batteries that power EV's as a way to plant doubt about the viability of electric cars.
In our fear of lead, we have allowed ourselves to remain ignorant about the benefits of lead-acid batteries and the very successful operational controls industry uses to protect people.
Batteries: Everywhere But Out of Sight
When Gaston Plante invented the lead-acid battery a century ago, he could not have envisioned the role his invention would play today. Lead-acid batteries are critical to transportation, communication, electric utilities and as emergency backup systems. Without them, life as we know it would not be possible.
Because batteries are the likely power source for tomorrow's electric passenger car, and because researchers are looking at batteries as alternatives to oil and gas generation, life in the 21st century may not be possible without them, either.