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GEL BATTERIES


For some, Gel batteries offer a step up in technology.

However, as we read here it's not all plain sailing as careful consideration must be given before specifying gel batteries for canal boats.

Gel Batteries are a Type of Lead Acid Battery...
Gel batteries are a form of lead acid battery in the class of VRLA batteries.

VRLA stands for Valve Regulated Lead-Acid.

Gas Recombination Under Pressure...
As we have seen, the discharge/charge process produces hydrogen gas. In a common wet cel battery, this gas is vented to the outside air. In a VRLA battery, the electrolyte is effectively immobilised therefore trapping the hydrogen close to the plates.
During the charging process the trapped hydrogen is recombined and the cycle starts again. VRLA battery types are hermetically sealed to allow this recombination to occur under pressure.

Spill Free...
With a gel battery the liquid sulphuric acid/de-ionised water electrolyte is gelified by mixing it with a form of silica. The resulting mixture is a jelly like substance which is immobile and therefore cannot be spilled when tipped over. They differ very slightly in their components when compared to wet cell lead acid batteries, but this is a chemical difference which allows for the gas recombination to occur as mentioned above.

Faster Charging...But be Careful...
A benefit of this chemical difference in plate construction is that VRLA batteries can be charged much quicker the conventional wet cells. However charging has to be controlled as over rigorous charging can mean that gasses build up too quickly for recombination.
The batteries have a safety valve which allows minute levels of gas to escape in the case of excessive overcharging or high charge rates. Additionally overcharging will lead to premature failure, another good reason for ensuring your charging system is suitable for your battery type.

Lower Charging Voltage so Check Your Charger is Compatible
Gel battery charge acceptance is better than wet cell so they will recharge quicker. Wet cells loose up to 20% of their charge energy into heat whereas gel cells will loose 12% on average. They will also discharge naturally at a lower rate so can be left off charge in storage for a bit longer than conventional wet cells. However, they use slightly lower charging voltages than wet cells so it is imperative to ensure your equipment is compatible with this technology in order to get the most benefit from a gel lead-acid battery system.

Maintenance Free, at a Price...
Gel batteries can be used in any orientation and are maintenance free. Whilst maintenance free may be an advantage for some, it can also be a disadvantage in that electrolyte levels cannot be topped manually and as a consequence, battery service live may be shortened. Good quality gel batteries are more expensive than their wet cell equivalents.
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