In this highly technological world with advanced machines, electronics have been woven into almost every aspect of everyday life. Batteries are integrated into the majority of any electric appliance found in the home and workplace, and therefore could be titled as one of the most important tools to ever be invented. The knowledge of how batteries operate is substantial to understand the basics of any electrical contraption.
The first evidence of batteries was dated to be from in the neighbourhood of 250B.C. These ancient batteries were discovered in archaeological digs in Baghdad, Iraq. These antiquated batteries were used in simple operations to electroplate objects with a thin layer of metal, much the same way we plate things with gold and silver. Much later, batteries were re-discovered in 1800 by a man named Alessandro Volta. The electrical unit of potential was named after him-the volt. Alessandro Volta was born in 1745 and died in 1827, and in this time period, he re-produced one of the most important parts of life. He developed the battery by alternating pieces of electrolyte soaked discs (sodium chloride), zinc, and copper plates. These plates and discs were stacked in a 1 2 3 order, and when a wire was placed on the two poles of the battery it would produce electricity.
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Battery chemistry is a complex science to gain complete knowledge about, but basic battery chemistry will be covered. “An electrochemical cell uses energy released from a spontaneous chemical redox reaction to generate electric current. The current is derived from the flow of electrons conducted through the metal and the movement of ions in a solution, called electrolytic conduction. A battery consists of a single electrochemical cell or a number of cells connected in series.”(Fisher,518) A battery could be created by using a Zinc anode and a copper cathode. An anode is a part of an electrochemical cell that releases electrons to the cathode, therefore being oxidized, and a cathode receives the electrons from the anode, therefore it undergoes reduction. So to create the Zinc/Copper battery, the Zinc rod would be placed into a Zinc Sulphate solution(ZnSO4), and the Copper rod would go into the Copper Sulphate solution(CuSO4). When the two rods are connected in some way, by wire or by deliberate touch, many things happen. Since Zinc is more easily oxidized than Copper, the electrons are transferred from the Zinc to the Copper through the wire connecting the two. During that brief time that the electrons are transferred, more Zinc ions (Zn2+) are produced in the Zinc Sulphate solution than in the Copper Sulphate solution.
This means that there is an unbalance in the equilibrium of Zinc ions to Sulphate ions (SO42), and when that happens the Zinc Sulphate solution becomes saturated with Zinc ions and won’t let any more of the Zinc rod’s electrons be released. Simultaneously, the Copper Sulphate solution is being reduced by the Zinc metal, forming more copper metal on the Copper rod. The process of changing Copper ions into solid Copper metal makes the equilibrium unbalanced on the cathode side, also forcing the flow of electrons to stop. So the only way to allow the flow of current continues is to allow the ions to move between the two halves of the cell. This is done by placing a salt bridge between the two halves; a salt bridge can be made of almost any solution of a metal salt, one of which is Sodium Sulphate.
When the salt bridge is added, negative Sulphate ions flow through the salt bridge from the Copper side to the Zinc side, therefore causing the equilibrium to balance out because the oxidized Zinc side is now replenished with a flow of ions. This will allow the reaction to continue and allow the circuit to continuously flow. The circuit will flow until either: a certain amount of Sulphate ions are in the Copper cell, a certain amount of Copper ions have been reduced, or a certain amount of Zinc metal has been oxidized. When either of these things happens the electrochemical reactions are then completed. The reduction reaction: Zn(s)===>Zn2+(aq)+2e-. The oxidation reaction: Cu2+(aq)+2e=Cu(s).
Probably the simplest battery is a Zinc/Carbon battery, and by understanding this basic battery all other ones will be understood. If there was a jar of Sulphuric acid (H2SO4) and a metal rod was placed inside of it the rod would immediately start to be eaten away by the acid, gas bubbles will start forming on the Zinc, and the rod and acid will begin to heat up. This is because the acid molecules break up into three ions, two H+ ions and one SO4- ion. The atoms on the surface of the Zinc rod lose two electrons (2e-) to become Zn++ ions. The Zn++ ions combine with the SO4 ion to create ZnSO4, which dissolves in the acid. The electrons from the Zinc atoms combine with the Hydrogen ions in the acid to create Hydrogen gas. The H2 bubbles that form on the rod are visible. Now if a Carbon rod is placed into the acid, nothing will happen.
But if a wire connects the Zinc and Carbon rod two things will change. The electrons will flow through the wire and combine with Hydrogen on the Carbon rod, so Hydrogen gas begins bubbling of the carbon rod. The second thing is that there is less heat. Some of the heat energy is turned into electron motion. The electrons go to trouble to move the carbon rod because they find it easier to combine with Hydrogen there. Eventually, the Zinc rod dissolves completely or the Hydrogen ions in the acid get used up and the battery dies.
All batteries have the same kind of electrochemical reaction; the electrons move from one pole to the other fluently. By knowing this, scientists have introduced many newer and more efficient batteries to aid the world in technology and advancement. Since batteries were first invented, they have been the root of all development of society’s progression.
Fiorino, M. Elaine, Samuel L. Levy. “Batteries: Portable Power for the Future.” The Electrochemical Society Interface. Winter 1995.
Krause, Reinhardt. “High Energy Batteries” Popular Science. Feb. 1995.
Cook, Rick. “Electric Car Showdown.” Popular Science. July 1991.
Fisher, P., P. Le Couteur. Chemistry. Don Mills, Ontario: Addison-Wesley Publishers Limited, 1989.
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