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    Battery Experiments

    Battery Background Information


    An electrical battery is a combination of one or more electrochemical cells, used to convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy.


    A battery is a device that can store electricity. Some are rechargeable, and some are not. They store direct current (DC) electricity.

    A battery really means two or more wet or dry cells connected in series for more voltage, or in parallel for more current, although people often call a cell a battery. AA, AAA, C, and D batteries all have 1.5 volts. The voltage of a cell depends on the chemicals used while the amount of power or current it can supply also depends on how large the cell is; a bigger cell of a given type can supply more amps, or for a longer time.

    The chemical reactions that occur in a battery are exothermic reactions and, thus, produce heat. For example, if you leave your laptop on for a long time, and then touch the battery, it will be warm or hot. However, the batteries used in laptops are called Lithium batteries and they do have a fire hazard (A few years ago, dell laptops that that were powered by lithium batteries began to catch fire, though this event was rare.).

    Batteries come in lots of different shapes and sizes and voltages. It is possible, but not easy, to run wires to use an odd size battery for an odd purpose.

    Batteries are always more costly/expensive than mains electricity. But mains electricity is not suitable for things that are mobile.

    Bicycles have tail-lights that can be operated by batteries, and sometimes by a little generator powered by the wheels.

    Hand and foot generators can be used to replace batteries, but they can be tiresome.

    Wind-up generators are now available to power small clockwork radios, clockwork torches, etc.

    Since clockwork clocks have been around for hundreds of years, and batteries for two hundred, it is amazing that no-one thought of a clockwork torch until recently.

    Rechargeable batteries are recharged by reversing the chemical reaction that occurs within the battery. Although, a rechargeable battery can only be recharged a given amount of time (recharge life). Even iPods, with built in batteries, cannot be recharged forever. Moreover, each time you recharge a battery, its ability to hold a charge is degraded a bit. Never attempt to recharge a non-rechargeable battery, the battery acids inside will most likely leak out.

    History: The very first batteries were invented in the middle east around 1000 B.C.

    The first battery was invented in 1800 by Alessandro Volta. Nowadays, his battery is called the voltaic pile.

    Later batteries were bottles with a fluid and some metal rods in them. People had to be careful not to turn these batteries upside-down so the fluid would spill.

    In modern batteries, the fluid is "soaked up" in a kind of paste. And everything is put in a completely tight case: Because of this case, nothing can spill out of the battery.

    Topics of Interest

    See also:

    An electrical battery is a combination of one or more electrochemical cells, used to convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Since the invention of the first Voltaic pile in 1800 by Alessandro Volta, the battery has become a common power source for many household and industrial applications. According to a 2005 estimate, the worldwide battery industry generates US$48 billion in sales each year, with 6% annual growth.

    Batteries may be used once and discarded, or recharged for years as in standby power applications. Miniature cells are used to power devices such as hearing aids and wristwatches; larger batteries provide standby power for telephone exchanges or computer data centers.


    The name "battery" was coined by Benjamin Franklin for an arrangement of multiple Leyden jars (an early type of capacitor) after a battery of cannons. Strictly, a battery is a collection of two or more cells, but in popular usage battery often refers to a single electrical cell.

    In 1780 the Italian anatomist and physiologist Luigi Galvani noticed that dissected frog's legs would twitch when struck by a spark from a Leyden jar, an external source of electricity. In 1786 he noticed that twitching would occur during lightning storms. After many years Galvani learned how to produce twitching without using any external source of electricity. In 1791 he published a report on "animal electricity." He created an electric circuit consisting of the frog's leg (FL) and two different metals A and B, each metal touching the frog's leg and each other, thus producing the circuit A-FL-B-A-FL-B...etc. In modern terms, the frog's leg served as both the electrolyte and the sensor, and the metals served as electrodes. He noticed that even though the frog was dead, its legs would twitch when he touched them with the metals.

    Within a year, Volta realized the frog's moist tissues could be replaced by cardboard soaked in salt water, and the frog's muscular response could be replaced by another form of electrical detection. He already had studied the electrostatic phenomenon of capacitance, which required measurements of electric charge and of electrical potential ("tension"). Building on this experience, Volta was able to detect electric current through his system, also called a Galvanic cell. The terminal voltage of a cell that is not discharging is called its electromotive force (emf), and has the same unit as electrical potential, named (voltage) and measured in volts, in honor of Volta. In 1800, Volta invented the battery by placing many voltaic cells in series, literally piling them one above the other. This Voltaic pile gave a greatly enhanced net emf for the combination, with a voltage of about 50 volts for a 32-cell pile. In many parts of Europe batteries continue to be called piles.

    Although early batteries were of great value for experimental purposes, in practice their voltages fluctuated and they could not provide a large current for a sustained period. Later, starting with the Daniell cell in 1836, batteries provided more reliable currents and were adopted by industry for use in stationary devices, particularly in telegraph networks where they were the only practical source of electricity, since electrical distribution networks did not then exist. These wet cells used liquid electrolytes, which were prone to leakage and spillage if not handled correctly. Many used glass jars to hold their components, which made them fragile. These characteristics made wet cells unsuitable for portable appliances. Near the end of the nineteenth century, the invention of dry cell batteries, which replaced the liquid electrolyte with a paste, made portable electrical devices practical.

    How batteries work

    A battery is a device that converts chemical energy directly to electrical energy. It consists of a number of voltaic cells; each voltaic cell consists of two half cells connected in series by a conductive electrolyte containing anions and cations. One half-cell includes electrolyte and the electrode to which anions (negatively-charged ions) migrate, i.e. the anode or negative electrode; the other half-cell includes electrolyte and the electrode to which cations (positively-charged ions) migrate, i.e. the cathode or positive electrode. In the redox reaction that powers the battery, reduction (addition of electrons) occurs to cations at the cathode, while oxidation (removal of electrons) occurs to anions at the anode. The electrodes do not touch each other but are electrically connected by the electrolyte. Many cells use two half-cells with different electrolytes. In that case each half-cell is enclosed in a container, and a separator that is porous to ions but not the bulk of the electrolytes prevents mixing.

    The electrical driving force across the terminals of a cell is known as the terminal voltage (difference) and is measured in volts. The terminal voltage of a cell that is neither charging nor discharging is called the open-circuit voltage and equals the emf of the cell. Because of internal resistance, the terminal voltage of a cell that is discharging is smaller in magnitude than the open-circuit voltage and the terminal voltage of a cell that is charging exceeds the open-circuit voltage. An ideal cell has negligible internal resistance, so it would maintain a constant terminal voltage until exhausted, then dropping to zero. If such a cell maintained 1.5 volts and stored a charge of one Coulomb then on complete discharge it would perform 1.5 Joule of work. In actual cells, the internal resistance increases under discharge, and the open circuit voltage also decreases under discharge. If the voltage and resistance are plotted against time, the resulting graphs typically are a curve; the shape of the curve varies according to the chemistry and internal arrangement employed.

    As stated above, the voltage developed across a cell's terminals depends on the energy release of the chemical reactions of its electrodes and electrolyte. Alkaline and carbon-zinc cells have different chemistries but approximately the same emf of 1.5 volts; likewise NiCd and NiMH cells have different chemistries, but approximately the same emf of 1.2 volts. On the other hand the high electrochemical potential changes in the reactions of lithium compounds give lithium cells emfs of 3 volts or more.

    Categories and types of batteries

    Batteries are classified into two broad categories, each type with advantages and disadvantages.

    • Primary batteries transform chemical energy to electrical energy. When the initial supply of reactants is exhausted, energy cannot be readily restored to the battery by electrical means. Primary batteries can produce current immediately on assembly. Disposable batteries are intended to be used once and discarded. These are most commonly used in portable devices that have low current drain, are only used intermittently, or are used well away from an alternative power source, such as in alarm and communication circuits where other electric power is only intermittently available. Disposable primary cells cannot be reliably recharged, since the chemical reactions are not easily reversible and active materials may not return to their original forms. Battery manufacturers recommend against attempting to recharge primary cells.
    • Secondary batteries can be recharged; that is, they can have their chemical reactions reversed by supplying electrical energy to the cell, restoring their original composition. Secondary batteries must be charged before use; they are usually assembled with active materials in the discharged state. Rechargeable batteries or secondary cells can be recharged by applying electrical current, which reverses the chemical reactions that occur during its use. Devices to supply the appropriate current are called chargers or rechargers.

    Battery cell types

    A wet cell battery has a liquid electrolyte. Other names are flooded cell since the liquid covers all internal parts, or vented cell since gases produced during operation can escape to the air. Wet cells were a precursor to dry cells and are commonly used as a learning tool for electrochemistry. It is often built with common laboratory supplies, like beakers, for demonstrations of how electrochemical cells work. A particular type of wet cell known as a concentration cell is important in understanding corrosion. Wet cells may be primary cells (non-rechargeable) or secondary cells (rechargeable). Originally all practical primary batteries such as the Daniell cell were built as open-topped glass jar wet cells. Other primary wet cells are the Leclanche cell, Grove cell, Bunsen cell, Chromic acid cell, Clark cell and Weston cell. The Leclanche cell chemistry was adapted to the first dry cells.

    A dry cell has the electrolyte immobilized as a paste, with only enough moisture in the paste to allow current to flow. As opposed to a wet cell, the battery can be operated in any random position, and will not spill its electrolyte if inverted. While a dry cell's electrolyte is not truly completely free of moisture and must contain some moisture to function, it has the advantage of containing no sloshing liquid that might leak or drip out when inverted or handled roughly, making it highly suitable for small portable electric devices. By comparison, the first wet cells were typically fragile glass containers with lead rods hanging from the open top, and needed careful handling to avoid spillage. An inverted wet cell would leak, while a dry cell would not. Lead-acid batteries would not achieve the safety and portability of the dry cell, until the development of the gel battery.

    Battery lifetime

    Life of primary batteries: Even if never taken out of the original package, disposable (or "primary") batteries can lose 8 to 20 percent of their original charge every year at a temperature of about 20°–30°C. This is known as the "self discharge" rate and is due to non-current-producing "side" chemical reactions, which occur within the cell even if no load is applied to it. The rate of the side reactions is reduced if the batteries are stored at low temperature, although some batteries can be damaged by freezing. High or low temperatures may reduce battery performance. This will affect the initial voltage of the battery. For an AA alkaline battery this initial voltage is approximately normally distributed around 1.6 volts.

    Rechargeable batteries self-discharge more rapidly than disposable alkaline batteries, especially nickel-based batteries; a freshly charged NiCd loses 10% of its charge in the first 24 hours, and thereafter discharges at a rate of about 10% a month. However, modern lithium designs have reduced the self-discharge rate to a relatively low level (but still poorer than for primary batteries). Most nickel-based batteries are partially discharged when purchased, and must be charged before first use.

    Extending battery life: Battery life can be extended by storing the batteries at a low temperature, as in a refrigerator or freezer, which slows the chemical reactions in the battery. Such storage can extend the life of alkaline batteries by ~5%; while the charge of rechargeable batteries can be extended from a few days up to several months. In order to reach their maximum voltage, batteries must be returned to room temperature; discharging an alkaline battery at 250 mAh at 0°C is only half as efficient as it is at 20°C. As a result, alkaline battery manufacturers like Duracell do not recommend refrigerating or freezing batteries.


    A battery explosion is caused by the misuse or malfunction of a battery, such as attempting to recharge a primary (non-rechargeable) battery, or short circuiting a battery. With car batteries, explosions are most likely to occur when a short circuit generates very large currents. In addition, car batteries liberate hydrogen when they are overcharged (because of electrolysis of the water in the electrolyte). Normally the amount of overcharging is very small, as is the amount of explosive gas developed, and the gas dissipates quickly. However, when "jumping" a car battery, the high current can cause the rapid release of large volumes of hydrogen, which can be ignited by a nearby spark (for example, when removing the jumper cables).

    Leakage: Many battery chemicals are corrosive,poisonous or both. If leakage occurs, either spontaneously or through accident, the chemicals released may be dangerous. For example, disposable batteries often use a zinc "can" as both a reactant and as the container to hold the other reagents. If this kind of battery is run all the way down, or if it is recharged after running down too far, the reagents can emerge through the cardboard and plastic that form the remainder of the container. The active chemicals can then damage the equipment that they were inserted into.

    Environmental concerns: The widespread use of batteries has created many environmental concerns, such as toxic metal pollution. Battery manufacture consumes resources and often involves hazardous chemicals. Used batteries also contribute to electronic waste. Some areas now have battery recycling services available to recover some of the materials from used batteries. Batteries may be harmful or fatal if swallowed. Recycling or proper disposal prevents dangerous elements (such as lead, mercury, and cadmium) found in some types of batteries from entering the environment. In the United States, Americans purchase nearly three billion batteries annually, and about 179,000 tons of those end up in landfills across the country.

    In the United States, the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act of 1996 banned the sale of mercury-containing batteries (except small button cell batteries), enacted uniform labeling requirements for rechargeable batteries, and required that rechargeable batteries be easily removable. California, and New York City prohibit the disposal of rechargeable batteries in solid waste, and along with Maine require recycling of cell phones. The rechargeable battery industry has nationwide recycling programs in the United States and Canada, with dropoff points at local retailers.

    The Battery Directive of the European Union has similar requirements, in addition to requiring increased recycling of batteries, and promoting research on improved battery recycling methods.

    Homemade cells

    Almost any liquid or moist object that has enough ions to be electrically conductive can serve as the electrolyte for a cell. As a novelty or science demonstration, it is possible to insert two electrodes made of different metals into a lemon, potato, etc. and generate small amounts of electricity. "Two-potato clocks" are also widely available in hobby and toy stores; they consist of a pair of cells, each consisting of a potato (lemon, et cetera) with two electrodes inserted into it, wired in series to form a battery with enough voltage to power a digital clock. Homemade cells of this kind are of no real practical use, because they produce far less current—and cost far more per unit of energy generated—than commercial cells, due to the need for frequent replacement of the fruit or vegetable. In addition, one can make a voltaic pile from two coins (such as a nickel and a penny) and a piece of paper towel dipped in salt water. Such a pile would make very little voltage itself, but when many of them are stacked together in series, they can replace normal batteries for a short amount of time.

    Sony has developed a biologically friendly battery that generates electricity from sugar in a way that is similar to the processes observed in living organisms. The battery generates electricity through the use of enzymes that break down carbohydrates, which are essentially sugar.

    A Chinese engineer Daizi Zheng developed a similar design a sugar drink powered phone using enzymes to generate electricity from carbohydrates that covers the phone’s electrical needs. It only needs a pack of sugary drink and it generates water and oxygen while the battery dies out.

    Lead acid cells can easily be manufactured at home, but a tedious charge/discharge cycle is needed to 'form' the plates. This is a process whereby lead sulfate forms on the plates, and during charge is converted to lead dioxide (positive plate) and pure lead (negative plate). Repeating this process results in a microscopically rough surface, with far greater surface area being exposed. This increases the current the cell can deliver.

    Daniell cells are also easy to make at home. Aluminum-air batteries can also be produced with high purity aluminum. Aluminum foil batteries will produce some electricity, but they are not very efficient, in part because a significant amount of hydrogen gas is produced.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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