Batteries by Stan Gibilisco

In electricity, one important form of potential energy exists in the atoms and molecules of some chemicals under special conditions.

Early in the history of electrical science, laboratory physicists found that when metals came into contact with certain chemical solutions, voltages appeared between the pieces of metal. These were the first electrochemical cells.

Lead-Acid Battery

A piece of lead and a piece of lead dioxide immersed in an acid solution (Fig. 7-1) will show a persistent voltage. This can be detected by connecting a galvanometer between the pieces of metal. A resistor of about 1,000 ohms should always be used in series with the galvanometer in experiments of this kind; connecting the galvanometer directly will cause too much current to flow, possibly damaging the galvanometer and causing the acid to "boil."

The chemicals and the metal have an inherent ability to produce a constant exchange of charge carriers. If the galvanometer and resistor are left hooked up between the two pieces of metal for a long time, the current will gradually decrease, and the elec#trodes will become coated. The acid will change, also. The chemical energy, a form of potential energy in the acid, will run out. All of the potential energy in the acid will have been turned into kinetic electrical energy as current in the wire and galvanometer. In turn, this current will have heated the resistor (another form of kinetic energy), and escaped into the air and into space.

Lithium Ion Battery

Lithium cells have become popular since the early eighties. There are several variations in the chemical makeup of these cells; they all contain lithium, a light, highly reactive metal. Lithium cells can be made to supply 1.5 V to 3.5 V, depending on the particular chemistry used. These cells, like their silver-oxide cousins, can be stacked to make batteries.

The first applications of lithium batteries was in memory backup for microcomputers. Lithium cells and batteries have superior shelf life, and they can last for years in very-low-current applications such as memory backup or the powering of a digital liquid-crystal-display (LCD) watch or clock. These cells also provide energy capacity per unit volume that is vastly greater than other types of electrochemical cells.

Lithium cells and batteries are used in low-power devices that must operate for a long time without power-source replacement. Heart pacemakers and security systems are two examples of such applications.

About the Author

Stan Gibilisco is one of McGraw-Hill's most prolific and popular authors, specializing in electronics and science topics. His clear, reader-friendly writing style makes his science books accessible to a wide audience, and his background in research makes him an ideal editor for professional references and course materials. He is the author of The Encyclopedia of Electronics; The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Personal Computing; and several titles in the popular Demystified library of home-schooling and self-teaching books. His published works have won numerous awards. The Encyclopedia of Electronics was chosen a "Best Reference Book of the 1980s" by the American Library Association, which also named his McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Personal Computing a "Best Reference of 1996." Stan Gibilisco maintains a Web site at

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