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The plates are frequently in a sulphated condition when dismantled and in any case are exposed to the air during the cleaning process, and thus lose more or less of their charge. When re-assembled, they consequently need a very complete charge, and in some cases the equivalent of the initial charge, and unless this charge is given, the cells will not show capacity and will soon give trouble again. This charge should be as complete as that described elsewhere in connection with the initial charge.
“Flushing” or replacing evaporation in cells with electrolyte instead of water, is a most common mistake. The plates of a storage battery must always be kept covered with electrolyte, but the evaporation must be replaced with pure water only. There seems to be a more or less general tendency to confuse the electrolyte of a storage battery with that of a primary cell. The latter becomes weakened as the cell discharges and eventually requires renewal. With the storage battery, however, this is not the case, at least to anything like the same degree, and unless acid is actually lost through slopping or a broken jar, it should not be necessary to add anything but water to the cells between cleanings. Acid goes into the plates during discharge, but with proper charging it will all be driven out again so that there will be practically no loss in the specific gravity readings, or at least one so slight that it does not require adjustment between cleanings. Thus, unless some of the electrolyte has actually been lost, if the specific gravity readings are low, it is an indication that something is wrong, but the trouble is not that the readings are low, but that something is causing them to be low, and the proper thing to do is to remove the cause and not try to cover it up by doctoring the indicator. The acid is in the cells and if it does not show in the readings, it must be in the form of sulphate, and the proper thing to do is to remove the cause of the sulphation if there is one, and then with proper charging, drive the acid out of the plates and the specific gravity readings will then come back to the proper point. The too-frequent practice in such cases is to add electrolyte to the cells in order to bring up the readings, which as already explained, are only the indication of the trouble, and this further aggravates the condition, until finally the plates become so sulphated that lack of capacity causes a complaint. This practice of adding electrolyte to cells instead of water, seems to be coming more and more common.
If there is any doubt about the polarity of the plates when reassembling after cleaning it is well to note that the positive plate is chocolate in color and the negative is gray.
When plates are sulphated, to restore them to their original condition it is necessary that the battery be given a long, slow charge at about a quarter or a third of the normal charging rate. This should be continued until the electrolyte has reached the proper specific gravity and the voltage has attained its maximum.
It should be understood that sulphating is a normal as well as an abnormal process in the charge and discharge of storage batteries, and the difference is in the degree, not the process. The abnormal condition is that ordinarily referred to by the term. In normal service sulphating does not reach the point where it is difficult to reduce, but if carried too far, the condition becomes so complete that it is difficult to reduce, and injury results. A very crude method of illustrating the different degrees of sulphating is to consider it as beginning in individual particles uniformly distributed throughout the active material. Each particle of sulphate is then entirely surrounded by active material. The sulphate itself is a non-conductor, but being surrounded by active material, the current can reach it from all sides and it is easily reduced. This is normal sulphate. As the action goes further the particles of sulphate become larger and join together and their outside conducting surface is greatly reduced in comparison with their volume so that it becomes increasingly difficult to reduce them and we have abnormal sulphate.
The general cure for sulphating is charging, so that a cell having been mechanically restored, the electrical restoration consists simply in the proper charging. Sulphate reduces slowly and on this account it is a good plan to use a rather low current rate. High rates cause excessive gassing, heating and do not hasten the process appreciably, so that it is the safer as well as the more efficient plan to go slowly. A good rate is about one-fifth normal. The length of charge will depend upon the degree of sulphating. In one actual case it required three months' charging night and day to complete the operation, but this was, of course, an exceptional one.
The aim should be to continue until careful voltage and gravity readings show no further increase for at least ten hours and an absolute maximum has been reached. In serious cases it may be advisable to even exceed this time in order to make absolutely sure that all sulphate is reduced, and where there is any question it is much safer to charge too long, rather than to risk cutting off too soon. A partial charge is only a temporary expedient, the cell still being sulphated will drop behind again.
Battery Charging Apparatus.—The apparatus to be used in charging a storage battery depends upon the voltage and character of the current available for that purpose. Where direct current can be obtained the apparatus needed is very simple, consisting merely of some form of resistance device to regulate the amperage of the current allowed to flow through the battery. The internal resistance of a storage battery is very low and if it were coupled directly into a circuit without the interposition of additional resistance an excessive amount of current would flow through the battery and injure the plates. When an alternating current is used it is necessary to change this to a uni-directional flow before it can be passed through the battery. Alternating current is that which flows first in one direction and immediately afterward in the reverse direction. When used in charging storage batteries some form of rectifier is essential. The rectifier may be a simple form as shown at Fig. 74, A, which is intended to be coupled directly into a lighting circuit by screwing the plug attached to the flexible cord in the lamp socket. A rotary converter set such as shown at B, may also be used, in this the alternating current is depended on to run an electric motor which drives the armature of a direct current dynamo. The current to charge the battery is taken from the dynamo, as it is suitable for the purpose, whereas that flowing through the motor cannot be used directly.
The view at Fig. 74, C, shows a usual form of hydrometersyringe which is introduced into the vent hole of the storage battery such as shown at E and enough electrolyte drawn out of the cell to determine its specific gravity. This is shown on the hydrometer scale as indicated in the enlarged section at D. A very useful appliance where considerable storage battery work is done is shown at Fig. 75, A. This is a stand of simple form designed to carry a carboy containing either acid, distilled water, or electrolyte. In fact, it might be desirable to have three of these stands, which are inexpensive, one for each of the liquids mentioned. In many repair shops the replenishing of storage batteries is done in a wasteful manner as the liquid is carried around in a bottle or old water pitcher and poured from that container into the battery, often without the use of a funnel. The chances of spilling are, of course, greater than if the liquids were carefully handled and more time than necessary is consumed in doing the work. The stand shown is about 5 feet high and is fitted with castors so it may be easily moved about the shop if necessary. For example, in taking care of electric vehicle batteries it may be easier to move the carboy to the battery than to remove the heavy battery from the automobile. The container for the liquid is placed on top of the stand and the liquid is conveyed from it by a rubber tube. The rubber tube is attached to a glass tube extending down nearly to the bottom of the liquid. At the bottom of the rubber tube an ordinary chemist's clip which controls the flow of liquid is placed. In crder to start a flow of liquid it is necessary to blow into a bent glass vent tube which is also inserted into the stopper. Once the rubber tube has become filled with liquid merely opening the clip will allow the liquid to flow into the battery as desired.
In most communities the incandescent lighting circuit is used for charging batteries on account of the voltage of the power circuits being too high. The incandescent lighting circuit may be any one of six forms. A direct current of either 110 or 220 volts used over short distance either 220 or 440 volts on three wire circuits over long distances, alternating current at a constant potential, usually 110 volts and in various polyphase systems. It might be stated that in the majority of instances house and garage lighting circuits furnish direct current of 110 volts. We will consider the devices used with the alternating form, one of which is shown at Fig. 75, B. This is known as the Rollinson electrolytic rectifier which is based upon the following principles : When an element of aluminum and a corresponding element or plate of iron are submerged in a solution of certain salts, using these elements as negative and positive terminals, respectively, the passage of an electric current through the solution produces a chemical action which forms hydroxide of aluminum. A film of hydroxide thus formed on the aluminum element repels the current. The arrangement of the cell will then permit current to pass through it in one direction only, the film of chemical preventing it from passing in the opposite direction. The result is that if an alternating current is supplied to the cell a direct pulsating current can be obtained from it. The outfits usually include a transformer for reducing the line voltage to the lower voltages needed for battery charging purposes. Regulation of the current is effected in the simplest type by immersing the elements more or less in the solution in the jar. As complete instructions are furnished by the manufacturers it will not be necessary to consider this form of rectifier in detail.
One of the most commonly used rectifying means is the mercury arc bulb. This device is a large glass tube of peculiar shape, as shown at Figs. 76 and 77, which contains in the base a quantity of mercury. On either side of this lower portion two arms of the glass bulbs extend outwardly, these being formed at their extremities into graphite terminals or anodes indicated as A and A-1, Fig. 77. The current from the auto transformer is then attached one to each side. The base forms the cathode or mercury terminal for the negative wires. The theory of this action is somewhat complicated, but may be explained simply without going too much into detail. The interior of the tube is in a condition of partial vacuum and while the mercury is in a state of excitation a vapor is supplied. This condition can be kept up only as long as there is a current flowing toward the negative. If the direction of the current be reversed so that the formerly negative pole becomes a positive the current ceases to flow, as in order to pass in the opposite direction it would require the formation of a new cathode element. Therefore the flow is always toward one electrode which is kept excited by it. A tube of this nature would cease to operate on alternating current voltage after half a cycle if some means were