Electrochemical battery

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An early form of electrochemical battery called the Baghdad Battery may have been used in antiquity. However, the modern development of batteries started with the Voltaic pile, invented by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in 1800.

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.

He started doing his experiments on frogs with metals but he replaced them with electrolyte and electrodes and named the system as voltaic cell.

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.

After voltaic cell, in 1836 Daniell cell came into existence. It provided more stable current and was also accepted by the industries.

These wet cells were not portable as there liquid electrolyte used to spill. Therefore by the end of nineteenth century dry batteries came into existence in which the liquid electrolyte was replaced with dry paste making the dry batteries portable.

Working of Batteries

Electrochemical cell

In this example the two half-cells are linked by a salt bridge separator that permits the transfer of ions, but not water molecules.

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, which can be either solid or liquid. 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.

Each half cell has an electromotive force (or emf), determined by its ability to drive electric current from the interior to the exterior of the cell. The net emf of the cell is the difference between the emfs of its half-cells, as first recognized by Volta. Therefore, if the electrodes have emfs and, then the net emf is; in other words, the net emf is the difference between the reduction potentials of the half-reactions.

The electrical driving force or 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 of \mathcal{E}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

Main article: List of battery types

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

  • Primary batteries irreversibly (within limits of practicality) 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.
  • 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.

Historically, some types of primary batteries used, for example, for telegraph circuits, were restored to operation by replacing the components of the battery consumed by the chemical reaction.[34] Secondary batteries are not indefinitely rechargeable due to dissipation of the active materials, loss of electrolyte and internal corrosion.

Primary batteries

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.

Common types of disposable batteries include zinc-carbon batteries and alkaline batteries. Generally, these have higher energy densities than rechargeable batteries, but disposable batteries do not fare well under high-drain applications with loads under 75 ohms (75 Ω).

Secondary batteries

Main article: Rechargeable battery

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.

The oldest form of rechargeable battery is the lead-acid battery. This battery is notable in that it contains a liquid in an unsealed container, requiring that the battery be kept upright and the area be well ventilated to ensure safe dispersal of the hydrogen gas produced by these batteries during overcharging. The lead-acid battery is also very heavy for the amount of electrical energy it can supply. Despite this, its low manufacturing cost and its high surge current levels make its use common where a large capacity (over approximately 10Ah) is required or where the weight and ease of handling are not concerns.

A common form of the lead-acid battery is the modern car battery, which can generally deliver a peak current of 450 amperes. An improved type of liquid electrolyte battery is the sealed valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) battery, popular in the automotive industry as a replacement for the lead-acid wet cell. The VRLA battery uses an immobilized sulfuric acid electrolyte, reducing the chance of leakage and extending shelf life. VRLA batteries have the electrolyte immobilized, usually by one of two means:

  • Gel batteries (or "gel cell") contain a semi-solid electrolyte to prevent spillage.
  • Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries absorb the electrolyte in a special fiberglass matting

Other portable rechargeable batteries include several "dry cell" types, which are sealed units and are therefore useful in appliances such as mobile phones and laptop computers. Cells of this type (in order of increasing power density and cost) include nickel-cadmium (NiCd), nickel metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li-ion) cells. By far, Li-ion has the highest share of the dry cell rechargeable market. Meanwhile, NiMH has replaced NiCd in most applications due to its higher capacity, but NiCd remains in use in power tools, two-way radios, and medical equipment.

Battery cell types

There are many general types of electrochemical cells, according to chemical processes applied and design chosen. The variation includes galvanic cells, electrolytic cells, fuel cells, flow cells and voltaic piles.

Wet cell

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 Daniel 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.

Wet cells are still used in automobile batteries and in industry for standby power for switchgear, telecommunication or large uninterruptible power supplys, but in many places batteries with gel cells have been used instead. These applications commonly use lead-acid or nickel-cadmium cells.

Dry cell

A dry cell has the electrolyte immobilized as a paste, with only enough moisture in the paste to allow current to flow. Compared 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, when it was first developed it had 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.

A common dry cell battery is the zinc-carbon battery, using a cell sometimes called the dry Leclanché cell, with a nominal voltage of 1.5 volts, the same nominal voltage as the alkaline battery (since both use the same zinc-manganese dioxide combination.

The makeup of a standard dry cell is a zinc anode (negative pole), usually in the form of a cylindrical pot, with a carbon cathode (positive pole) in the form of a central rod. The electrolyte is ammonium chloride in the form of a paste next to the zinc anode. The remaining space between the electrolyte and carbon cathode is taken up by a second paste consisting of ammonium chloride and manganese dioxide, the latter acting as a depolarizer. In some more modern types of so called 'high power' batteries, the ammonium chloride has been replaced by zinc chloride.

Battery cell performance

A battery's characteristics may vary over load cycle, charge cycle and over life time due to many factors including internal chemistry, current drain and temperature.

Extending battery life

Battery life can be extended by storing the batteries at a low temperature, as in a refrigerator or freezer, because the chemical reactions in the batteries are slower. 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.


1.) Explosion

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.

When a battery is recharged at an excessive rate, an explosive gas mixture of hydrogen and oxygen may be produced faster than it can escape from within the walls of the battery, leading to pressure build-up and the possibility of the battery case bursting. In extreme cases, the battery acid may spray violently from the casing of the battery and cause injury. Overcharging—that is, attempting to charge a battery beyond its electrical capacity—can also lead to a battery explosion, leakage, or irreversible damage to the battery. It may also cause damage to the charger or device in which the overcharged battery is later used. Additionally, disposing of a battery in fire may cause an explosion as steam builds up within the sealed case of the battery.

2.) Leakage

One style of disposable battery uses 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 forms the remainder of the container. The active chemicals can then corrode or otherwise destroy the equipment that they were inserted into.

Many battery chemicals are corrosive or poisonous or both. If leakage occurs, either spontaneously or through accident, the chemicals released may be dangerous.

3.) 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 drop-off points at local retailers.

Battery chemistry

Older batteries were mostly based on rechargeable lead-acid or non-rechargeable alkaline chemistries, with nominal voltages in increments of 2.10 - 2.13 and 1.5Volts respectively, each representing one individual electrochemical cell.

New special battery chemistries have strained older naming conventions. Rechargeable NiCd (Nickel Cadmium) and NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) typically output 1.25V per cell. Some devices may not operate properly with these cells, given the 16% reduction in voltage, but most modern ones handle them well. Conversely, lithium-ion rechargeable batteries output 3.7V per cell, 23% higher than a pair of alkaline cells (3V), which they are often designed to replace. Non-rechargeable lithium-chemistry batteries, which provide exceptionally high energy density, produce about 1.5V per cell and are thus similar to alkaline batteries.

Many new battery sizes refer to both the batteries' size and chemistry, while older names do not. For a more complete list see battery types. This summary is only for types relating to battery "sizes".

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 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.

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.