Gaston Planté was a French physicist who conducted a variety of experiments in the field of electricity. He is best known for the invention of the first rechargeable electrochemical cell, the lead-acid battery. A lead acid battery consists of a negative lead terminal ("spongy" lead) and a positive lead oxide terminal with a sulfuric acid electrolyte. Due to the electrochemical reactions involved, both electrodes turn into lead sulfate while the electrolyte becomes water as more sulfate is reacted with the electrodes. Unlike the Volta cell, this reaction is reversible, making the lead-acid a very useful battery, particularly due to its cabability to deal with abuse. The lead-acid's constant usage until the present day is a testament to its simplicity and resiliency. Lead-acid batteries have an energy density of 40 Wh/kg, and a single lead-acid cell has a potential of ~2V depending on charge state. The first lead-acid batteries had a problem generating acceptable amounts of current, however.
During the course of his experimentation, Planté found that surface area was key to the current capability of an electrochemical cell. He developed a new plate that increased the surface area of lead in contact with the sulfuric acid electrolyte. This electrode used a lead-based paste impregnated grid made of a lead alloy. The paste was permeable to the acid, allowing the electrolyte to contact a much greater amount of lead than a traditional rectangular plate would be able to do. The plates would be all made identically and stacked together with a separator in between them. By alternating the polarity of each of the plates, a higher voltage battery can be made. This stack was then immersed in sulfuric acid and given an initial charge. This forms brown lead dioxide at the positive electrode and grey "spongy" lead at the negative electrode. This electrode advance allowed lead-acid to become the premier power battery. Only in the past 10 or so years have new power batteries such as lithium iron phosphate made it into the commercial market. The basic layout of the lead-acid battery has not changed for 150 years, although advances in processing and raw materials have allowed it to improve in energy density and cycle life while its simplicity and inexpensive raw materials have kept it common in the marketplace, particularly in applications where high current loads are neccessary and low energy density is not an issue.
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