These days, more and more emphasis is being laid upon the retention of a battery’s charge. Recent advancements in the field of batteries have made it possible to power electric cars, orbiting satellites, and other electronic devices with potent batteries. On a lower scale, cameras and other small technological gear can now last much longer between charges. If you’re underwater taking pictures of a coral reef or cave diving and find your way hundreds of feet below the surface, the last thing you want is for your camera to die on you.
We can think of the Battery Series as a five-part infographic spectrum that details how each battery works. The Battery Series also includes other important aspects like the big players in the market, the core materials in the manufacture of batteries, and how probable battery advancements may better the world. For part 1 of the Battery Series, we will be looking at just the basics of a battery along with a brief history of battery technology.
Batteries work on the principle of converting stored chemical energy into usable electrical energy. There are three main components in every battery:
(-) Anode: The negative electrode that aids in the release of electrons.
(+) Cathode: The positive electrode that accepts these released electrons.
Electrolyte: The medium that surrounds the electrodes and facilitates the movement of charges from one electrode to another.
The Evolution of Battery Technology
We have come a long, long way from the earliest batteries developed. These designs focused primarily on the production of electrical energy, while nowadays, there are many other important factors to consider such as power output, weight, and cost. A concise history of batteries is stated below:
Voltaic Pile (1799)
Named after its pioneer, the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, the first voltaic battery was developed in 1799. It was the first ever battery to be produced. It could easily transfer power to a circuit. The voltaic pile made use of copper and zinc as electrodes, while a brine-soaked paper served as the electrolyte for this battery.
This battery also has a significant place in history as it debunked the widely accepted theory that only living beings could create electricity. The world of science honored Volta by using his name as the SI unit of measurement for potential difference (voltage).
Daniell Cell (1836)
John Frederic Daniell completely solved the “hydrogen bubble” defect of voltaic piles. The hydrogen bubble defect had caused the voltaic pile to have a short lifespan. However, the Daniell cell fixed most of the problems associated with voltaic piles by using copper pot (which was filled with a CuSO4 solution) and was further immersed in a container that had sulfuric acid and a zinc electrode.
The electric potential of the Daniell cell became the basis for the unit for potential difference i.e. one volt.
The lead-acid battery was a revolutionary device as it was the first battery that could be recharged. It was developed by a French physicist named Gaston Planté. Lead-acid batteries took the market by storm due to two main reasons:
- They were very economical to produce.
- They could supply high surge currents if needed.
Nickel Cadmium (1899)
Waldemar Jungner invented nickel cadmium batteries. They are now commonly known as wet cells because they used a liquid electrolyte. These batteries paved the way for modern technology, even though they have fallen out of favor in the market recently due to cadmium’s toxicity.
Alkaline Batteries (1950s)
Alkaline batteries are the ones that we are most familiar with. Popular battery brands like Energizer and Duracell make use of alkaline batteries to power common household devices. They are preferred because they offer great value for money, and even though they are generally of a non-rechargeable nature, they can be charged again by making use of a specially designed cell.
The alkaline batteries that we see today were first invented by Lewis Urry. Urry used manganese oxide and zinc as electrodes, while the electrolyte became the basis of the name of the invention as it was potassium hydroxide (an alkaline solution).
Nickel-Metal Hydride (1989)
The nickel-metal hydride battery employs a hydrogen-absorbing alloy. As these batteries steer clear of cadmium, they are more environment-friendly. Nickel-metal hydride batteries are commonly used to power digital cameras and power tools. They were even used in hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius.
It took two decades worth of investment and efforts from Volkswagen AG and Daimler-Benz to spawn the first NiMH batteries. They have been commercially available since 1989.
Lithium-ion batteries have taken the market by storm. They were first released by Sony in 1991. Li-ion batteries are preferred because they have a high energy density (which means they can store more charge in less space). The uses of Li-ion batteries range from lithium cobalt dioxide (LiCoO2) cathodes batteries being used to power laptops and cellphones to lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (LiNiCoAlO2) batteries which have been used to power cars like the Tesla Model S.
The Rechargeable Battery Spectrum
The selection of a battery is subject to a plethora of factors. One of the most significant battery selection parameters is cost. Other important factors include the fitting and usage of rechargeable batteries.
However, there are two other factors that can change the landscape of the battery industry. The first factor is the specific energy capacity of a battery, while the other is the specific power. This means that even though Li-ion batteries are dominating the industry today, should there be a battery in the future that is cheaper and has more specific energy and power, it could easily dethrone Li-ion batteries as the number one choice for most manufacturers.