The dry cell is the most common type of primary-cell battery and is similar in its characteristics to that of an electrolytic cell. This type of a battery is basically designed with a metal electrode or graphite rod acting as the cathode (+) terminal, immersed in an electrolytic paste. This electrode⁄electrolytic build-up is then encased in a metal container, usually made of zinc, which itself acts as the anode (−) terminal. When the battery is in a discharge condition an electrochemical reaction takes place resulting in one of the metals being consumed. Because of this consumption, the charging process is not reversible. Attempting to reverse the chemical reaction in a primary cell by way of recharging is usually dangerous and can lead to a battery explosion.
These batteries are commonly used to power items such as flashlights. The most common primary cells today are found in alkaline batteries, silver-oxide, and lithium batteries. The earlier carbon-zinc cells, with a carbon post as cathode and a zinc shell as anode were once prevalent but are not as common.
A secondary cell is any kind of electrolytic cell in which the electrochemical reaction that releases energy is reversible. The lead-acid car battery is a secondary-cell battery. The electrolyte is sulfuric acid (battery acid), the positive electrode is lead peroxide, and the negative electrode is lead. A typical lead-acid battery consists of six lead-acid cells in a case. Each cell produces 2 volts, so the whole battery produces a total of 12 volts.
Other commonly used secondary cell chemistry types are nickel cadmium (NiCd), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), lithium ion (Li-ion), and Lithium ion polymer (Li-ion polymer).
Lead-acid batteries used in aircraft are similar to automobile batteries. The lead acid battery is made up of a series of identical cells each containing sets of positive and negative plates. Figure 12-191 illustrates each cell contains positive plates of lead dioxide (PbO2), negative plates of spongy lead, and electrolyte (sulfuric acid and water).
A practical cell is constructed with many more plates than just two in order to get the required current output. All positive plates are connected together as well as all the negatives. Because each positive plate is always positioned between two negative plates, there are always one or more negative plates than positive plates.
Between the plates are porous separators that keep the positive and negative plates from touching each other and shorting out the cell. The separators have vertical ribs on the side facing the positive plate. This construction permits the electrolyte to circulate freely around the plates. In addition, it provides a path for sediment to settle to the bottom of the cell.
Each cell is seated in a hard rubber casing through the top of which are terminal posts and a hole into which a nonspill vent cap is screwed. The hole provides access for testing the strength of the electrolyte and adding water. The vent plug permits gases to escape from the cell with a minimum of leakage of electrolyte, regardless of the position the airplane might assume. [Figure 12-192] In level flight, the lead weight permits venting of gases through a small hole. In inverted flight, this hole is covered by the lead weight.
The individual cells of the battery are connected in series by means of cell straps. [Figure 12-193]
The complete assembly is enclosed in an acid resisting metal container (battery box), which serves as electrical shielding and mechanical protection. The battery box has a removable top. It also has a vent tube nipple at each end. When the battery is installed in an airplane, a vent tube is attached to each nipple. One tube is the intake tube and is exposed to the slipstream. The other is the exhaust vent tube and is attached to the battery drain sump, which is a glass jar containing a felt pad moistened with a concentrated solution of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). With this arrangement, the airstream is directed through the battery case where battery gases are picked up, neutralized in the sump, and then expelled overboard without damage to the airplane.
To facilitate installation and removal of the battery in some aircraft, a quick disconnect assembly is used to connect the power leads to the battery. This assembly attaches the battery leads in the aircraft to a receptacle mounted on the side of the battery. [Figure 12-194]
The receptacle covers the battery terminal posts and prevents accidental shorting during the installation and removal of the battery. The plug consists of a socket and a handwheel with a course pitch thread. It can be readily connected to the receptacle by the handwheel. Another advantage of this assembly is that the plug can be installed in only one position, eliminating the possibility of reversing the battery leads.
The voltage of lead acid cell is approximately two volts in order to attain the voltage required for the application. Each cell is then connected in series with heavy gauge metal straps to form a battery. In a typical battery, such as that used in an aircraft for starting, the voltage required is 12 or 24 volts. This voltage is achieved by connecting six cells or twelve cells respectively together in series and enclosing them in one plastic box.
Each cell containing the plates are filled with an electrolyte composed of sulfuric acid and distilled water with a specific gravity of 1.270 at 60 °F. This solution contains positive hydrogen ions and negative sulfate (SO4) ions that are free to combine with other ions and form a new chemical compound. When the cell is discharged, electrons leave the negative plate and flow to the positive plates where they cause the lead dioxide (PbO2) to break down into negative oxygen ions and positive lead ions. The negative oxygen ions join with positive hydrogen ions from the sulfuric acid and form water (H2O). The negative sulfate ions join with the lead ions in both plates and form lead sulfate (PbSO4). After the discharge, the specific gravity changes to about 1.150.
The voltage of a battery is determined by the number of cells connected in series to form the battery. Although the voltage of one lead-acid cell just removed from a charger is approximately 2.2 volts, a lead-acid cell is normally rated at approximately 2 volts. A battery rated at 12 volts consists of 6 lead-acid cells connected in series, and a battery rated at 24 volts is composed of 12 cells.
The most common battery rating is the amp-hour rating. This is a unit of measurement for battery capacity. It is determined by multiplying a current flow in amperes by the time in hours that the battery is being discharged.
A battery with a capacity of 1 amp-hour should be able to continuously supply a current of 1 amp to a load for exactly 1 hour, or 2 amps for 1⁄2 hour, or 1⁄3 amp for 3 hours, etc., before becoming completely discharged. Actually, the ampere-hour output of a particular battery depends on the rate at which it is discharged. Heavy discharge current heats the battery and decreases its efficiency and total ampere-hour output. For airplane batteries, a period of 5 hours has been established as the discharge time in rating battery capacity. However, this time of 5 hours is only a basis for rating and does not necessarily mean the length of time during which the battery is expected to furnish current. Under actual service conditions, the battery can be completely discharged within a few minutes, or it may never be discharged if the generator provides sufficient charge.
The ampere-hour capacity of a battery depends upon its total effective plate area. Connecting batteries in parallel increases ampere-hour capacity. Connecting batteries in series increases the total voltage but not the ampere-hour capacity.