Through advancements in chemistry dating back to the 1700’s, the use of technology is more than the baby boomers could have dreamed of. Before the end of the 19th century, batteries were the main source of electricity. Improvements in battery technology made it possible for our generation to have computers, electric cars, alarm clocks, hand held devices, cell phones, and many other electrical devices.
Many electrical devices that we use today need a small amount of electricity to make them work. (1) They get it from a battery. Chemicals work together inside a battery to make electricity. The electricity travels through wires to make many of the electrical devices work. The battery stops working when the chemicals are used up. A flashlight bulb lights up when electricity from batteries pass through it. Cars, trucks, four-wheelers and boats all use batteries. Many things from electric cars to a simple wrist watch use a battery.
The first battery construction was described as: “place copper plated in an earthen pot, cover it with copper sulphate and wet saw dust. Spread Zinc powder and cover it with mercury. Due to chemical reaction a positive and negative charge is created. The water is decomposed into oxygen and hydrogen.” (2) This battery did not create very much voltage and certainly did not hold a charge for any length of time.
Although Benjamin Franklin did not construct the battery, he was the first person to use the term “battery” to describe a set of capacitors he used for electricity experiments. It was Alessandro Volta who invented the first true battery in 1800. (3) The battery was called the Voltaic Pile and had pairs of copper and zinc disc on top of each other, separated by a layer of cloth or cardboard soaked in brine. The Voltaic Pile produced a continuous and stable current and did not lose much charge over time or when not being used. The Voltaic Pile could not produce a voltage strong enough to make sparks. In 1836, a chemist named John F. Daniell made a battery that had a steadier current. (2) Until this time, all batteries were primary which meant they could not be recharged. In 1859, the first rechargeable battery was invented.
Batteries that followed the Voltaic Pile included the Daniell Cell, a rechargeable battery made with nickel and cadmium electrodes in a potassium hydroxide solution. This was the first battery to use alkaline electrolyte. These batteries were much better, but were very expensive. Zinc-carbon batteries continued to be popular batteries, but they had a low battery life. In 1955 Leis Urry was asked to find a way to extend the life of zinc-carbon batteries, but he decided that alkaline batteries might be a better way to go. Alkaline batteries had been invented but they were so expensive that people couldn’t buy them. Urry’s new battery was made using manganese dioxide cathode and a powdered zinc anode with an alkaline electrolyte. These batteries were available to the...