- Apr 16, 2018 -
Originally a kind of gel cell was produced in the early 1930s for portable valve (tube) radio LT supply (2, 4 or 6V) by adding silica to the sulfuric acid. By this time the glass case was being replaced by celluloid and later in 1930s other plastics. Earlier "wet" cells in glass jars used special valves to allow tilt from vertical to one horizontal direction in 1927 to 1931 or 1932. The gel cells were less likely to leak when the portable set was handled roughly.
A modern gel battery (also known as a "gel cell") is a VRLA battery with a gelified electrolyte; the sulfuric acid is mixed with fumed silica, which makes the resulting mass gel-like and immobile. Unlike a flooded wet-cell lead-acid battery, these batteries do not need to be kept upright. Gel batteries reduce the electrolyte evaporation, spillage (and subsequent corrosion problems) common to the wet-cell battery, and boast greater resistance to shock and vibration. Chemically they are almost the same as wet (non-sealed) batteries except that the antimony in the lead plates is replaced by calcium, and gas recombination can take place.
The modern gel formulation and large scale production was from Otto Jache's and Heinz Schroeder's U.S. Patent 4,414,302 assigned to the German company Accumulatorenfabrik Sonnenschein GmbH. With gel electrolyte the separator was no longer such a critical, hard-to-make component, and cycle life was increased, in some cases dramatically. Shedding of active material from the plates was reduced.
More importantly, gas recombination was used to make batteries that were not "watered" and could be called maintenance-free. The one-way valves were set at 2 psi, and this was high enough for full recombination to take place. At the end of charge when oxygen was evolved from overcharge on the positive plate, it traveled through the shrinkage cracks in the gel directly to the negative plate (made from high surface area pure sponge lead) and "burned" up as fast as it was made. This oxygen gas and the hydrogen adsorbed on the surface of the sponge lead metal negative plate combined to make water that was retained in the cell.
This sealed, non-spill feature made it possible to make very small VRLA batteries (1 –12 Amp hr. range) that fit into the growing portable electronics market. A large market for inexpensive smaller sealed lead acid batteries was generated quickly. Portable TV, light for news cameras, children's toy riding cars, emergency lighting, and UPS systems for computer back-up, to name a few, were powered with small sealed VRLA batteries.