The lead–acid battery was invented in 1859 by French physicist Gaston Planté and is the oldest type of rechargeable battery. Despite having a meager energy-to-weight ratio and a low energy-to-volume ratio, its ability to supply high surge currents means that the cells have a relatively large power-to-weight balance. These features, along with their low cost, make it attractive for use in motor vehicles to provide the high current required by automobile starter motors.
As they are inexpensive compared to newer technologies, lead-acid batteries are widely used even when surge current is unimportant, and other designs could provide higher energy densities. Large-format lead-acid methods are widely used for storage in backup power supplies in cell phone towers, high-availability settings like hospitals, and stand-alone power systems.
Modified versions of the standard cell may improve storage times and reduce maintenance requirements for these roles. Gel-cells and absorbed glass-mat batteries are common in these roles, collectively known as VRLA (valve-regulated lead-acid) batteries. Lead–acid battery sales account for 40–45% of the value of batteries sold worldwide (1999, not including China and Russia), a manufacturing market value of about US$15 billion.