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Know More ; AGM, or Absorbed Glass Mat Batteries
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Culled from North Arizona Wind & Sun

Sealed batteries are made with vents that (usually) cannot be removed. The so-called Maintenance Free batteries are also sealed, but are not usually leak proof. Sealed batteries are not totally sealed, as they must allow gas to vent during charging. If overcharged too many times, some of these batteries can lose enough water that they will die before their time. Smaller deep cycle batteries (including AGM) use Lead-Calcium plates for increased life, while most industrial and forklift batteries use Lead-Antimony for greater plate strength to withstand shock and vibration.

Lead-Antimony (such as forklift and floor scrubber) batteries have a much higher self-discharge rate (2-10% per week) than Lead or Lead-Calcium (1-5% per month), but the Antimony improves the mechanical strength of the plates, which is an important factor in electric vehicles. They are generally used where they are under constant or very frequent charge/discharge cycles, such as fork lifts and floor sweepers. The Antimony increases plate life at the expense of higher self discharge. If left for long periods unused, these should be trickle charged to avoid damage from sulfating – but this applies to ANY battery.

As in all things, there are tradeoffs. The Lead-Antimony types have a very long lifespan, but higher self discharge rates.

Battery Size Codes

Batteries come in all different sizes. Many have “group” sizes, which is based upon the physical size and terminal placement. It is NOT a measure of battery capacity. Typical BCI codes are group U1, 24, 27, and 31. Industrial batteries are usually designated by a part number such as “FS” for floor sweeper, or “GC” for golf cart. Many batteries follow no particular code, and are just manufacturer’s part numbers. Other standard size codes are 4D & 8D, large industrial batteries, commonly used in solar electric systems.

Some common battery size codes used are: (ratings are approximate)

U1 34 to 40 Amp hours 12 volts
Group 24 70-85 Amp hours 12 volts
Group 27 85-105 Amp hours 12 volts
Group 31 95-125 Amp hours 12 volts
4-D 180-215 Amp hours 12 volts
8-D 225-255 Amp hours 12 volts
Golf Cart & T-105 180 to 225 Amp hours 6 volts
L-16, L16HC etc. 340 to 415 Amp hours 6 volts

Gelled electrolyte

Gelled batteries or “Gel Cells” contain acid that has been “gelled” by the addition of Silica Gel, turning the acid into a solid mass that looks like gooey Jell-O. The advantage of these batteries is that it is impossible to spill acid even if they are broken. However, there are several disadvantages. One is that they must be charged at a slower rate (C/20) to prevent excess gas from damaging the cells. They cannot be fast charged on a conventional automotive charger or they may be permanently damaged. This is not usually a problem with solar electric systems, but if an auxiliary generator or inverter bulk charger is used, current must be limited to the manufacturers’ specifications. Better inverters commonly used in solar electric systems can be set to limit charging current to the batteries.

Some other disadvantages of gel cells is that they must be charged at a lower voltage (2/10th’s less) than flooded or AGM batteries. If overcharged, voids can develop in the gel which will never heal, causing a loss in battery capacity. In hot climates, water loss can be enough over 2-4 years to cause premature battery death. It is for this and other reasons that we no longer sell any of the gelled cells except for replacement use. The newer AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries have all the advantages (and then some) of gelled, with none of the disadvantages.

AGM, or Absorbed Glass Mat Batteries

A newer type of sealed battery uses “Absorbed Glass Mats” or AGM between the plates. This is a very fine fiber Boron-Silicate glass mat. These type of batteries have all the advantages of gelled, but can take much more abuse. These are also called “starved electrolyte”, as the mat is about 95% saturated rather than fully soaked. That also means that they will not leak acid even if broken.

AGM batteries have several advantages over both gelled and flooded, at about the same cost as gelled:

Since all the electrolyte (acid) is contained in the glass mats, they cannot spill, even if broken. This also means that since they are non-hazardous, the shipping costs are lower. In addition, since there is no liquid to freeze and expand, they are practically immune from freezing damage.

Nearly all AGM batteries are “recombinant” – what that means is that the Oxygen and Hydrogen recombine INSIDE the battery. These use gas phase transfer of oxygen to the negative plates to recombine them back into water while charging and prevent the loss of water through electrolysis. The recombining is typically 99+% efficient, so almost no water is lost.

The charging voltages are the same as for any standard battery – no need for any special adjustments or problems with incompatible chargers or charge controls. And, since the internal resistance is extremely low, there is almost no heating of the battery even under heavy charge and discharge currents. AGM’s have a very low self-discharge – from 1% to 3% per month is usual. This means that they can sit in storage for much longer periods without charging than standard batteries. AGM’s do not have any liquid to spill, and even under severe overcharge conditions hydrogen emission is far below the 4% max specified for aircraft and enclosed spaces. The plates in AGM’s are tightly packed and rigidly mounted, and will withstand shock and vibration better than any standard battery.

Even with all the advantages listed above, there is still a place for the standard flooded deep cycle battery. AGM’s will cost 2 to 3 times as much as flooded batteries of the same capacity. In many installations, where the batteries are set in an area where you don’t have to worry about fumes or leakage, a standard or industrial deep cycle is a better economic choice. AGM batteries main advantages are no maintenance, completely sealed against fumes, Hydrogen, or leakage, non-spilling even if they are broken, and can survive most freezes. Not everyone needs these features.