Battery Working Principle: How does a Battery Work?

Working Principle of Battery

A battery works on the oxidation and reduction reaction of an electrolyte with metals. When two dissimilar metallic substances, called electrode, are placed in a diluted electrolyte, oxidation and reduction reaction take place in the electrodes respectively depending upon the electron affinity of the metal of the electrodes. As a result of the oxidation reaction, one electrode gets negatively charged called cathode and due to the reduction reaction, another electrode gets positively charged called anode.

The cathode forms the negative terminal whereas anode forms the positive terminal of a battery. To understand the basic principle of battery properly, first, we should have some basic concept of electrolytes and electrons affinity. Actually, when two dissimilar metals are immersed in an electrolyte, there will be a potential difference produced between these metals.

It is found that, when some specific compounds are added to water, they get dissolved and produce negative and positive ions. This type of compound is called an electrolyte. The popular examples of electrolytes are almost all kinds of salts, acids, and bases etc. The energy released during accepting an electron by a neutral atom is known as electron affinity. As the atomic structure for different materials are different, the electron affinity of different materials will differ.

If two different kinds of metals are immersed in the same electrolyte solution, one of them will gain electrons and the other will release electrons. Which metal (or metallic compound) will gain electrons and which will lose electrons, depend upon the electron affinity of these metals. The metal with low electron affinity will gain electrons from the negative ions of the electrolyte solution.

On the other hand, the metal with high electron affinity will release electrons and these electrons come out into the electrolyte solution and are added to the positive ions of the solution. In this way, one of these metals gains electrons and another one loses electrons. As a result, there will be a difference in electron concentration between these two metals.

This difference in electron concentration causes an electrical potential difference developed between the metals. This electrical potential difference or emf can be utilized as a source of voltage in any electronics or electrical circuit. This is a general and basic principle of battery and this is how a battery works.

All batteries cells are based only on this basic principle. Let’s discuss one by one. As we said earlier, Alessandro Volta developed the first battery cell, and this cell is popularly known as the simple voltaic cell. This type of simple cell can be created very easily. Take one container and fill it with diluted sulfuric acid as the electrolyte. Now we immerse one zinc and one copper rod in the solution and we connect them externally by an electric load. Now your simple voltaic cell is completed. Current will start flowing through the external load. voltaic cell
Zinc in a diluted sulfuric acid gives up electrons as below:

These Zn + + ions pass into the electrolyte, and each of the Zn + + ions leaves two electrons in the rod. As a result of the above oxidation reaction, the zinc electrode is left negatively charged and hence acts as a cathode. Consequently, the concentration of Zn + + ions near the cathode in the electrolyte increases.

As per the property of electrolyte, the diluted sulfuric acid and water have already disassociated into positive hydronium ions and negative sulfate ions as given below:

Due to the high concentration of Zn+ + ions near the cathode, the H3O+ ions get repelled towards the copper electrode and get discharged by absorbing electrons from atoms of the copper rod. The following reaction takes place at the anode:

As a result of the reduction reaction taking place at the copper electrode, copper rod gets positively charged and hence it acts as an anode.

Daniell Cell

The Daniell cell consists of a copper vessel containing copper sulfate solution. The copper vessel itself acts as the positive electrode. A porous pot containing diluted sulfuric acid is placed in the copper vessel. An amalgamated zinc rod, dipped inside the sulfuric acid, acts as the negative electrode.
Daniell Cell
The diluted sulfuric acid in the porous pot reacts with zinc and as result hydrogen gets elaborated. The reaction takes place as below:

The formation of ZnSO4 in the porous pot does not affect the working of the cell until crystals of ZnSO4 is deposited. The hydrogen gas passes through the porous pot and reacts with the CuSO4 solution as below:

Copper so formed gets deposited on the copper vessel.

History of the Battery

In the year of 1936 during the middle of summer, an ancient tomb was discovered during construction of a new railway line near Bagdad city in Iraq. The relics found in that tomb were about 2000 years old. Among these relics, there were some clay jars sealed at the top with the pitch. An iron rod, surrounded by a cylindrical tube made of a wrapped copper sheet was projected out from this sealed top.
Parthian battery

When discoverers filled these pots with an acidic liquid, they found a potential difference of around 2 volts between the iron and copper. These clay jars were suspected to be 2000-year-old battery cells. They named the pot as Parthian battery.

In 1786, Luigi Galvani, an Italian anatomist, and physiologist got surprised to see that when he touched dead frog legs with two different metals, the muscles of the legs contracted.
Luigi Galvani Experiment of Frog Leg
He could not understand the actual reason otherwise he would have been known as the first inventor of the battery cell. He thought that the reaction might be due to a property of the tissues.

voltaic pile

After that, Alessandro Volta realized the same phenomenon on cardboard soaked in salt water instead of frog legs. He sandwiched a copper disc and a zinc disc with a piece of cardboard soaked in salt water in between them and found a potential difference between the copper and zinc.

After that in 1800, he developed the first voltaic cell (battery) constructed of alternating copper and zinc discs with pieces of cardboard soaked in brine between them. This system could produce a measurable current. We consider Alessandro Volta’s Voltaic pile as the first “wet battery cell”. Thus, the history of battery began. From that time until today, the battery remains a preferable source of electricity in our many daily life applications.
Daniell cell

The main problem with the Voltaic pile was that it could not deliver current for a long time. A British inventor John F. Daniell solved this problem in 1836. He invented a more developed version of the battery cell which is known as the Daniell cell. John F. Daniell immersed one zinc rod in zinc sulfate in one container, and one copper rod in copper (II) sulfate in another container.

A U shaped salt bridge bridges the solutions of these two containers. A Daniell cell could produce 1.1 volts, and this type of battery lasted much longer than the Voltaic pile. In 1839, Sir William Robert Grove, a discoverer, and the man of science designed the fuel cell. He mixed hydrogen and oxygen within an electrolyte solution and created electricity and water. The fuel cell did not deliver enough power, but it is helpful. Bunsen (1842) and Grove (1839) created enhancements to battery that used liquid electrodes to supply electricity.

lead-acid battery
In the year 1859, Gaston Plante; first developed the lead-acid battery cell. The lead-acid battery was the first form of rechargeable secondary battery. The lead-acid battery is still in use for many industrial purposes. It is still the most popular to be used as a car battery. In 1866, a French engineer, Georges Leclanche, developed a new kind of battery. It was a carbon-zinc wet cell battery known as the Leclanche cell.

Crushed manganese dioxide mixed with a few carbons forms the positive electrode and a zinc rod forms as the negative electrode. He used an ammonium chloride solution as a liquid electrolyte. After some years, Georges Leclanche himself improved his design by replacing liquid ammonium chloride solution with ammonium chloride.

Hence, he invented the first dry cell. In 1901, Thomas Alva Edison discovered the alkaline accumulator. Thomas Edison’s primary battery had iron as the anode material (-) and nickel oxide as the cathode material (+). The above content is just one portion of the endless history of the battery.

Step by Step Development in History of Batteries

Developer/Inventor Country Year Invention
Luigi Galvani Italy 1786 Animal Electricity
Alessandro Volta Italy 1800 Voltaic Pile
John F. Daniell Britain 1836 Daniell Cell
Sir William Robert Grove Britain 1839 Fuel Cell
Robert Bunsen German 1842 used liquid electrodes to supply electricity
Gaston Plante France 1859 Lead Acid Battery
Georges Leclanche France 1866 Leclanche Cell
Thomas Alva Edison United States 1901 Alkaline Accumulator
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