The Rechargeable Storage Battery
January 23, 2015
There’s a keystone in every great invention.
The impact of modern technology is undeniable. Regardless of what part of the world you inhabit, on any given day you’re going to see a plethora of electronic devices. Seemingly everyone has digital devices such as cell phones, MP3 players, or laptop computers, but people also use power tools, calculators, and various other electronics.
What do these devices all have in common? These electronics have to sustain their individual energy sources with one of two types of batteries: non-rechargeable batteries, which stop producing electricity once their chemicals have been depleted; and rechargeable batteries, which can continually provide energy after being energized.
While the former revolutionized how electronics received energy, rechargeable batteries are more widely used today, and pushed the medium even further.
Birth of a New Battery
The rechargeable battery, also known as the rechargeable storage battery, was first conceived by French physicist Gaston Planté. In 1859, Planté invented his lead-acid battery; this device used lead and lead oxide for the respective negative and positive plates, which were applied to a dilute sulfuric acid bath.
The sulfuric acid creates a chemical reaction with the positive plate, stimulating the release of electrons, thus generating electrical current. Most batteries stop generating current once the chemical reactants are depleted; Planté’s design reversed the reaction, and current could be added to the battery from an outside source.
In 1860, Planté fitted a protective box with nine rechargeable cells, creating a battery that delivered substantial amounts of electrical current. Since this battery was primarily made of lead, its use was not practical for many handheld applications.
As time progressed, alternative batteries were created to address this problem; alternatives like Thomas Edison’s alkaline storage battery. Edison’s design consisted of nickel-iron and nickel-cadmium cells, and in turn, inspired the creation of the iron-zinc battery—which offers three times more efficiency than lead batteries.
Types of Rechargeable Batteries
Today, there are several types of rechargeable batteries to choose from. The most common types include:
- Nickel-metal Hydride (NiHM), popular in both consumer and industrial electronics, these batteries discharge in five hours. Instead of cadmium, these batteries use hydrogen-absorbing alloys to facilitate the negative electrode role.
- Nickel-cadmium (NiCd), which would quickly lose energy capacity if they weren't fully discharged with each use. Provides different voltages and charge rates, but the cadmium component is toxic.
- Lithium-ion, which is widely used in consumer electronics. These batteries are used in smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, power tools, and even electrical vehicles such as cars and aircraft.
- Lithium-ion Polymer, which come in pouch formats and are lighter than other rechargeable batteries. Due to its lightweight, it can be used in thin laptops, radio-controlled aircraft, and wireless video game console controllers.
The advent of the rechargeable battery has benefitted consumer and industrial electronics immensely. Moreover, Planté’s initial design was the basis for the lead-acid battery commonly found in modern automobiles.
Today, people depend on so many electronic devices for work, play, or a combination of both. Thanks to the efforts of innovators like Gaston Planté, we have greater confidence in our devices; we can literally go anywhere without having to worry about the battery—just make sure it receives a full charge occasionally.
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