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What is Acid Stratification?

Written on November 26, 2015 at 11:55 am

What is Acid Stratification?

The electrolyte of a stratified battery concentrates at the bottom, starving the upper half of the cell. Acid stratification occurs if the battery dwells at low charge (below 80 percent), never receives a full charge and has shallow discharges. Driving a car for short distances with power-robbing accessories contributes to acid stratification because the alternator cannot always apply a saturated charge. Large luxury cars are especially prone to acid stratification. This is not a battery defect per se but the result of use. Figure 1 illustrates a normal battery in which the acid is equally distributed from top to bottom.

 

acid pic 1 Figure 1: Normal battery

The acid is equally distributed from the top to the bottom of the battery, providing good overall performance.

Courtesy of Cadex

Figure 2 shows a stratified battery in which the acid concentration is light on top and heavy on the bottom. The light acid on top limits plate activation, promotes corrosion and reduces the performance, while the high acid concentration on the bottom makes the battery appear more charged than it is and artificially raises the open-circuit voltage. Because of unequal charge across the plates, CCA performance, or the ability to crank the engine, is also reduced.

 acid pic 2 Figure 2: Stratified batteryThe acid concentration is light on top and heavy on the bottom. This raises the open circuit voltage and the battery appears fully charged. Excessive acid concentration induces sulfation on the lower half of the plates.

Courtesy of Cadex

Allowing the battery to rest for a few days, doing a shaking motion or tipping the battery on its side helps correct the problem. Applying an equalizing charge by raising the voltage of a 12-volt battery to 16 volts for one to two hours also helps by mixing the electrolyte through electrolysis. Avoid extending the topping charge beyond its recommended time.

Acid stratification cannot always be avoided. During cold winter months, starter batteries of most passenger cars dwell at a 75 percent charge level. Knowing that motor idling and driving in gridlocked traffic does not sufficiently charge the battery, a charge with an external charger may be needed from time to time. If this is not practical, switch to an AGM battery [See BU-201a, Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM)]. AGM does not suffer from acid stratification and is less subject to sulfation if undercharged than is the case with the flooded version. AGM is a little more expensive than the flooded starter battery but tends

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