What is the lifespan of a lead-acid battery?

Posted by Andy Hill on

We thought we’d start off 2021 by answering one of the questions we get asked time and time again: what is the lifespan of a lead-acid battery?

The short answer? It depends.

The slightly longer answer is that the life and performance of a lead acid battery is entirely variable. It’s dependant on how it is managed, monitored, and maintained.

Lead-acid batteries are one of the most common electrochemical energy storage devices and are used in a variety of applications, from cars to submarines and lots of other applications in between. Our area of expertise lies in industrial applications such as forklift truck lead acid batteries and we specialize in how to maximize the performance of the batteries to match and even reach beyond the life expectancy of the trucks themselves. In these applications the average guaranteed lifespan of a basic lead acid battery is around 1,500 cycles.

But, nearly half of all flooded lead acid batteries don’t achieve even half of their expected life. Poor management, no monitoring and a lack of both proactive and reactive maintenance can kill a battery in less than 18 months. This can drastically affect the performance of a battery room. However, there are numerous ways to improve and maximize the number of cycles a typical battery will achieve.

There are some basics to cover first though:

  • Keep batteries clean and dry.
  • Check if the vent caps are secure.
  • Check if the electrical connections are tight, according to values provided by the manufacturer.
  • Use suitable products to clean batteries and possible corrosion on the terminals.
  • Complete any pro-active maintenance tasks on time.
  • Batteries must be charged before and during storage.
  • Never store discharged batteries. Always periodically charge batteries in storage to prevent sulfation.
  • Store batteries in a dry, protected place.
  • Recharge batteries before putting them into use.
  • Rotate a fleet of batteries to ensure even usage.

Now these tasks will start you off in the right direction, and if diligently followed, will help. Where we can lend our expertise is how you can efficiently maximize performance. We’ll start off with maintenance.

Battery Maintenance

This is one of the most arduous tasks to carry out manually and because of this, it’s often the most overlooked task on everybody’s to-do list. Our first product was the Watering Gun, now called the Gun-X. It was designed to easily tackle the problem of watering a battery weekly. It remains the industry leader in easy, simple filling of small fleets of batteries. As time went on, fleets got bigger and demands for time were higher, so we conceptualized, designed and manufactured some of the most cutting-edge watering systems available on the market today. Take the Water Injector System, it can fill a lead acid battery to the correct level in under 15 seconds. This makes it ideal for the medium to larger size fleets where there are a high number of batteries to maintain and the ROI is incredible. For the smaller operations, there are float based systems such as the Stealth or AFS (region dependant) which provide excellent value for the money and a boost to speed and safety when watering batteries.

Battery Monitoring

The above covered how to water, but what about when to water? Much like a fuel level warning light on a car, our family of Blinky electrolyte monitors will tell you exactly when you need to fill up. Rather than having to check manually, which can be dangerous and time consuming, the SmartBlinky uses patented SmartDelay technology and clear LED indications to show you exactly when you need to water batteries. Couple this with a watering system and that’s the hardest and most time-consuming part of battery maintenance and monitoring covered easily.

Battery Management

Finally, good battery management is the cornerstone of a well-performing battery room. As we’ve mentioned, half of all flooded lead acid batteries don’t achieve their maximum life expectancy. In our experience, a large percentage of those are the batteries that are closest to the entrance to the battery room. In an unmanaged battery room, forklift truck drivers and battery room attendants tend to choose the closest batteries or the newest batteries. This means that they could not be fully charged or not cooled down enough, thereby removing some of the total cycles available due to abuse. It also means the ones gathering dust at the back of the room aren’t getting cycled, leading to sulfation. This pattern of behavior reduces the capacity of the entire fleet from both ends of the scale, over-use and under-use. Our iBOS system corrects that pattern and makes sure all the batteries in a battery room are organized correctly, giving operators a clear bright blue LED indication as to which charged and cooled battery to take next. From the iBOS Basic which has an integrated audible warning alarm to the iBOS Pro which gives you a whole range of battery room data, there is an iBOS system to suit any size of operation.

All of the products are designed to complement each other, working in synergy to maximize performance. If you take an average battery, don’t water it, don’t monitor it and don’t manage it, you’d be lucky to get half of the 1,500 guaranteed cycles. And with this abuse and mis-management, you won’t be able to successfully claim on the battery warranty.

A typical, well-watered, proactively monitored, and managed battery can achieve performance well in excess of the guaranteed output, often by one or even two extra years’ worth of usage. So, going back to the short answer, the life span of a lead acid battery depends on how well it’s looked after. Cutting down on proper maintenance and management will cost you a lot more in the long run.

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