The modern revolution in portable electronic devices, such as mobile phones, digital cameras and laptop computers, has only been made possible by recent rapid advancement in rechargeable battery technology.
It’s amazing to think that the first commercial Lithium Ion battery only appeared in 1991. In just 17 years this technology has become ubiquitous and has revolutionised many aspects of daily life. However Li-ion batteries weren’t the first rechargeables, and they certainly won’t be the last.
A rechargeable battery is, basically, a device in which a reversible chemical reaction is used to store electrochemical energy. There are many different types of chemical battery, and over the years advances in chemistry and physics have lead to the discovery of ever more efficient reactions.
Chemical batteries as a means of producing and storing electrical energy have a very long history indeed. There is some evidence to suggest that some unusual artefacts discovered in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and dating from the first century CE, may in fact be primitive batteries, possibly used for electroplating.
However the true purpose of these artefacts, nicknamed the “Baghdad Battery” is disputed, so the invention of the battery as we know it is usually credited to Italian scientist Alessandro Volta (from whose name we get the Volt, the unit of electrical potential), who developed the Voltaic Pile in 1800, building on the earlier work of fellow Italian Luigi Galvani.
The original Voltaic battery was a stack of zinc and copper (or silver) disks interspersed with cloth or cardboard soaked in an electrolyte solution, usually sulphuric acid. These batteries were used in electrical experiments throughout the first half of the 19th century, but had serious disadvantages. They were very heavy, consisting largely of stacks of metal plates and liquid, they contained sulphuric acid which is highly toxic and corrosive, and they were not rechargeable, which made them expensive to use.