We're totally depending on battery technology. Eventhough it has changed drastically in just the past few decades. Basic idea goes back thousands of years. So, how did we get here? Where does battery power go from here and so on? Well, in the simplest terms—a battery is a device that stores potential chemical energy and converted into electricity. The reactions known as oxidation-reduction reactions. Any battery is basically like electrochemical cell. In order for it to work, it has to have three things.
- (+) A positive electrode or cathode that collect more electrons.
- (-) The negative electrode or anode which gives up electrons.
- Electrolyte that allows the ion to move back and forth between the first two, thereby, creating a flow of electricity.
You probably read how to make a battery out of the water. Where you can see these principles at work. Just take some copper coin which access the cathode. Zinc coated or aluminum foil for the anode. Then, a water which provide the electrolyte—medium that connects the two. The difference in electronegativity between the anode and cathode causes the reactions that produce a small charge electricity.
The Ancient Baghdad Jars
It took a while for humans to get the idea that the stored electrical charges could be useful. In the late 1930s, German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig was poking around in Baghdad he dug up an unusual artifact that made the world rethink the origin of batteries. It's about 13 cm. clay jar that held an iron rod encased in a copper cylinder and contain traces of an acidic liquid. Probably, wine or vinegar. It was a really, really, really old battery like 2,000 years old.
This blew some minds in the artifact remains kind of an oddity. Experts debate what these batteries might have been useful for? But some believe that they were tools in electroplating. Electroplating is the process of using electricity to apply a thin layer of gold or other metal onto a different metal to make jewelry and other ornaments.
Scientists had actually replicated these battery jars and found they can produce 1-2 volts of electricity. For sure batteries have improved a lot! Since then with the basic concept has essentially remain the same as those Baghdad jars.
Italian physicist Count Alessandro Volta was long credit with creating the very first modernish battery back in the late 1700s. He stack layers of brine soaked paper between silver and zinc plates to form what became known as a Voltaic Pile. It can intimate a steady current electricity. Today, we measure electromotive force in Volts—in Volta's honor.
While everybody agreed that this pile was pretty sweet. It did some major drawbacks. Like how the salt water quickly corrode the metal plates. It wasn't until around 1836 that English Chemist John Daniell made some major improvements. He invented the Daniell Cell by placing a copper plate at the bottom of a glass jar—half full with copper sulfate solution. Then topped it off with zinc plate suspended in a zinc sulfate solution. The copper and zinc work on the same principles as that water battery we talked about. But in Daniell's cell, because the copper solution is denser. It kept the bottom of the jar while zinc solution remain floating at the top. The positive on the copper and and negative on zinc end terminals of a battery.
As long Daniell cell remains still or motionless it worked like a charm. Powering things like doorbells and telephones for years.
It took another several decades for new improvements to pop up. In the mid of 1960s, Frenchmen George Leclanche developed a contained Carbon-Zinc Wet Cell. It was smaller more rugged longer-lasting than a Daniell Cell—that would still work by immersing its electrodes in an acidic solution. In this case ammonium chloride. Later improvements to use the barely moist paste of ammonium chloride as the electrolyte instead a liquid. Which meant that the battery could be jostled around without spilling all over the place.
The Era Of Dry Cell Battery Has Come
This was the dry cell battery concept which we still see today. An alkaline and zinc carbon in mercury batteries. By the end of the 19th century the national carbon company began selling the first commercial batteries in the US. That company eventually morphed into Everyready which then became Energizer!
Disposable Batteries VS Rechargeable Batteries
While today's batteries come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and materials. They all function basically the same way. Whether they made of alkaline and zinc, lead acid or lithium. The electrochemical reaction in all three key components of anode, cathode and electrolyte all remain. Today, the biggest difference in battery taxes between primary or disposable and secondary or rechargeable batteries.
- Disposable batteries is a one-shot wonders. They produce electricity so long as the anodes chemicals keep releasing electrons and the cathode keeps accepting those electrons through the electrolyte. But, once the chemical reactants are drained. Reaction stop and the battery dies. Lights go out! These include your Everyday alkaline batteries. Which use an acquiesce alkaline for the electrolyte intimately connected zinc anode to a cathode made of manganese dioxide.
- Rechargeable batteries like nickel cadmium in the lithium-ion. The one found inside the laptop operate a lot more like two-way street. They lose all their chemical reactants while producing electricity. But they can be recharged when plugged into an electrical source. Because the particular chemical reactions they use can be reversed. Lithium is a super, super reactive element and its ions can be used to store tons of energy. Lithium-ion batteries use lithium cobalt oxide as the positive electrode, carbon as the negative and organic solvent often ether for the electrolyte. These batteries are generally a far lighter than other types of similarly-sized rechargeable batteries which make them particularly good for your mobile devices.
In 1859, Gaston Plante invented the lead-acid battery. The very first ever rechargeable battery. It is still starting cars today. Lead acid batteries do a great job of delivering a big burst of energy to start your car's engine!
Battery Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
The chemistry of batteries make possible all the electronic wizardry around us. Pretty darn cool to consider the basic function of those 2,000-year-old Baghdad jars. Hasn't changed that much from electroplating engine jewelry to you reading and surfing this blog right now—to the future of electric inventions.