It is common knowledge that it is important to use batteries often or the battery will break down. Why? Sulfation.
Sulfation is a chemical process that changes the battery’s efficiency at accepting, holding and delivering a charge. It can shorten battery life. Understanding sulfation and taking the proper preventive measures are crucial.
How does sulfation work? An acid battery has lead and lead oxide plates with positive and negative charges, as well as an electrolyte solution (usually made with 65% distilled water and 35% sulfuric acid). The solution creates electrons which vacillate between the plates, creating energy (measured in volts). Lead plates then convert the energy into electricity.
However, if the battery is left unused for extended periods the electrolyte solution disintegrates. The sulfur found in the solution reacts to the lead plates, creating sulfuric lead crystals. These crystals stick to the plates, rendering them inefficient. Furthermore, the electrolyte solution now has the wrong proportion of sulfuric acid, and is less effective at generating a charge.
Initially, the sulfation is minor enough for the battery to “recover” because the sulfur is reabsorbed. However, when the crystals start sticking the plates, the battery must consume a greater charge to release them. Soon, the battery is incapable of generating any charge at all.
Batteries must be constantly maintained and charged. This is pretty automatic for car batteries or anything used regularly, but it can be neglected for recreational vehicles (such as pleasure boats) or motorcycles. In these cases some people disconnect the battery but that actually doesn’t help. The most effective solution is to use a battery conditioner that has been specially designed to lengthen battery life.