An electric battery, electric accumulator or simply battery, is a device consisting of one or more electrochemical cells that can convert stored chemical energy into electrical current. Each cell consists of a positive electrode, or anode, a negative electrode, or cathode, and electrolytes that allow ions to move between the electrodes, allowing current to flow out of the battery to perform its function, powering an electrical circuit.
Batteries come in many shapes and sizes, from the miniature cells used in hearing aids and wristwatches, to the room-sized battery banks that provide backup power for telephone exchanges and data center computers.
On March 20, 1800, Alessandro Volta informed the Royal Society of his invention of the nametag that now bears his name. Three years later, in 1803, Johann Wilhelm Ritter built his electric battery; like many others that followed, it was a theoretical and experimental prototype, with no possible practical application. Already in 1836 John Frederic Daniell invented the Daniell battery, based on the Volta battery, but which prevented the accumulation of hydrogen. Shortly afterwards, in 1844, William Robert Grove invented his own battery, which represented an evolution and increase in power with respect to the previous ones, widely used in the telegraphic networks of the United States until 1860.
In 1860, Gaston Planté built the first model of lead-acid battery with pretensions of being a usable device, which was only relatively true, so it was not successful. By the end of the 19th century, however, electricity was rapidly becoming an everyday item, and when Planté again publicly explained the characteristics of his accumulator in 1879, it was much better received, so that it began to be manufactured and used almost immediately, initiating an intense and continuous process of development to perfect it and avoid its shortcomings, a process that still continues in the first decades of the 21st century.
In 1887, Carl Gassner patented the so-called dry cell, because it did not have a free liquid electrolyte, but a plaster paste from Paris. At the same time, in 1887 Frederick William Ludwig Hellesen developed his own dry cell design. It has been claimed that Hellesen’s design preceded Gassner’s. The first industrially manufactured dry cell for the general public emerged from Gassner’s model, replacing plaster of Paris with spiral board and with zinc and carbon electrodes.
At the end of the 19th century, in 1899, the Swedish scientist Waldemar Jungner invented the nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) battery, a rechargeable battery that had nickel and cadmium electrodes in a solution of potassium hydroxide (caustic potash, KOH). It was marketed in Sweden in 1910 and arrived in the United States in 1946. Jungner himself experimented to replace cadmium with iron in different proportions, work that was later taken up by Thomas Alva Edison, who, based on the work of the former, patented in 1903 another type of battery with iron and nickel electrodes whose electrolyte was also potassium hydroxide. They began to be commercialized in 1908 and still they are produced, as much the original models as evolved models of other manufacturers.
In the middle of the next century, in 1955, the engineer Lewis Urry, trying to find a way to increase the useful life of the zinc-carbon batteries, modified the electrodes arriving at the development of the well-known ones like alkaline batteries, although with a manufacture of greater cost. Urry’s battery consisted of a manganese dioxide cathode and a zinc anode powder with an alkaline electrolyte. These batteries were launched on the market in 1959.
Experimentation with lithium batteries began in 1912 with G. N. Lewis, but it was not until the 1970s that the first batteries were marketed. Today, various batteries are used with lithium at the anode and different substances at the cathode: iron sulfide, manganese dioxide, sulfur dioxide, thionyl chloride, carbon mono-fluoride, etc.
Despite the development of nickel-hydrogen technology in the 1970s for commercial communications satellites, the first nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries did not appear on the market for current uses until 1989.
In the 1980s, American chemist John B. Goodenough led a Sony research team that would eventually produce the lithium-ion battery, which was rechargeable and more stable than the pure lithium battery. In 1996, the lithium-ion polymer battery was launched, in which the electrolyte is housed in a solid polymer compound and the electrodes and separators are laminated together, allowing flexible packaging.