Facts On Batteries

Batteries may have been around 2,000 years ago.

Batteries power the family car, the television remote and your laptop or cell phone. The world would be a very different place without them. But most likely the majority of people don’t know a lot about batteries outside of knowing the right size to buy when a battery needs to be replaced.

Origin

According to the Envirogadget website, the first battery was created by Alessandro Volta in 1798. His name is the source of the term “volt,” which is used to describe the amount of energy a battery can provide. Physicist Gaston Plante invented a rechargeable lead-acid battery in France in 1859. His basic design is still used today in car batteries.

How They Work

Dry cell or alkaline batteries are the standard type used in most objects. These batteries use an electrochemical reaction to convert energy to electrical power. The housing of the battery contains cathodes made of manganese dioxide and carbon that are reduced by the reaction to make energy. Electrolytes inside the battery allow the ions to move around and carry the current from the negative to the positive terminal. A collector pin made of brass conducts the electrical current to the outside of the battery to complete the circuit in the device being powered.

Rechargeable batteries work using the same chemistry, but the recharging process reverses the reaction and moves the ions back into place using electricity. Once the chemicals are all used up the battery is no longer useful. Even rechargeable batteries eventually die.

Bad Memory

Some batteries suffer from memory loss — in a way. It is a problem specific to nickel-cadmium, or NiCad, batteries such as the ones often found in remote control toys. These batteries virtually “forget” how much energy they can supply if they are recharged at the wrong time. To get the full benefit of a NiCad battery, recharge it only when it is completely drained. If only half of the power is used and it is charged again, it will only be able to produce the half it used before charging, according to the Envirogadget website.

Big Demand

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans have a big appetite for batteries. Nearly 2 billion dry cell batteries are bought each year to power various products. In addition, nearly 99 million car batteries are manufactured each year in the country.

Waste and Recycling

Battery recycling is important because the spent batteries contain heavy metals like mercury and lead that may contaminate the ground, water or air if improperly disposed of or incinerated. The average person discards eight dry cell batteries per year, according to the EPA website. There is considerable success in recycling some batteries, such as car batteries, which have a 90 percent recycling rate.