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What types of equipment are universal batteries (AGM and GEL) most commonly used for? 

Parrish — Floor care machines commonly use AGM batteries — specifically equipment like floor scrubbers, sweepers, walk-behinds and riders. 

Wehmeyer — If universal means sealed AGM and GEL valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries, it is somewhat of a misnomer. Sealed AGM and GEL batteries are often used as replacements for FLA batteries in applications where regular maintenance is difficult or undesirable, or where non-spillable characteristics are necessary or desirable. AGM and GEL batteries do not require water addition or regular terminal cleaning, but may require periodic retightening of lead terminals. Some AGM and GEL batteries use non-lead terminals that may not require retightening of terminals. AGM and GEL batteries are non-spillable, meaning that they will not leak electrolytes and can be installed in any orientation, however most manufacturers do not recommend installing them upside down. AGM and GEL batteries are not ‘universal’ from the standpoint that they still must meet the dimensional, voltage and capacity requirements of a given application. These requirements are determined by the original equipment manufacturers.  

What are some of the biggest benefits of universal batteries? 

Wehmeyer — The biggest benefits from the use of AGM and GEL batteries are that regular maintenance in the form of water additions, terminal cleaning and in some case retightening of terminals is not necessary. They are also non-spillable (do not leak electrolytes) and can be installed in any orientation with the possible exception of upside down. They are usually available in the same BCI (Battery Council International) Group sizes as FLA batteries — which assures they will fit in the same applications with the same hold-down hardware. 

Parrish — They require virtually zero maintenance and no watering. They are also spill-proof, designed to handle low and high-temperature conditions, feature a short charging time, and are 99 percent recyclable.  

Are there any caveats to universal batteries that end users should be aware of? 

Wehmeyer — The replacement of FLA batteries with AGM or GEL batteries usually requires changing the charger or charge algorithm to one that is compatible with sealed AGM or GEL batteries to prevent excessive water loss that cannot be replaced.  Water lost during the service life of sealed AGM or GEL batteries cannot be replaced as with FLA batteries. This presents an additional potential failure mode (dry-out) that does not exist with properly maintained FLA batteries. AGM and GEL batteries are usually more expensive on a watt-hour basis than FLA batteries and may not last as long as well-maintained FLA batteries in the same applications. AGM and GEL will certainly outlast FLA batteries in applications where regular maintenance is not possible or convenient. 

Parrish — AGM batteries can be sensitive to overcharging. It is important for end users to understand proper charging techniques and use chargers designed for AGM batteries or chargers with AGM settings.  

A graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, James DeGraff joined Trade Press Media Group in 2019 as an associate editor. He creates and oversees content for Contracting Profits, Facility Cleaning Decisions and Sanitary Maintenance magazines, as well as   

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Best Practices for Distributors Training End Users on Batteries