The Evolution of Battery Technology
In its purest definition, a battery is a device that creates electrical energy by converting stored chemical energy. Battery technology is in a huge variety of products – from digital watches to electric cars, batteries power many of the devices that enrich our daily lives – but it hasn’t always been this way and battery evolution could be a significant factor in a sustainable future.
Where Batteries Began
Benjamin Franklin coined the term “Battery” in 1749, whilst using linked capacitors to experiment with electricity.
It would not be until 1800 that Allesandro Volta would report the findings from his work in the previous year on “The Voltaic Pile” – the world’s first electrical battery that could provide a continuous electrical current to a circuit. The Voltaic Pile was compiled of discs of copper and zinc in a stack that were separated by pieces of cloth that were doused in salt water.
Early flaws and Iterations
Although The Voltaic Pile was the first step, it had several flaws – the first of which being that the weight of the discs would cause the electrolyte to leak and cause a short-circuit. This issue was solved by William Cruickshank, who turned the design on its side and laid it out in a box – and in doing so invented the Trough Battery.
Another issue was that the current would produce hydrogen bubbles that would form on the surface of the copper – these hydrogen bubbles would reduce the battery’s effectiveness, which already would only last an hour at best. The issue was solved by John Frederic Daniell, inventor of the Daniell Cell – who used a secondary electrolyte to absorb the hydrogen.
The next step – Rechargeable
Whilst early iterations of battery technology were crucial in refining how the current could effectively flow, it was the invention of the rechargeable battery that would change things forever.
In 1859, 25-year-old French physicist, Gaston Planté created the first lead-acid battery. A breakthrough in battery technology – it was the first time that a battery could be recharged via a reverse current being passed through it.
The invention of rechargeable batteries meant that battery production became much more efficient – as the parts of the battery would not need to be replaced frequently – and the practical applications could be widened to a plethora of products.
Whilst Plantés batteries were initially only used to power train carriages whilst stationary – We still use rechargeable lead-acid batteries today in a number of applications including cars, motorcycles, electric wheelchairs and even the electric scooters that we are increasingly seeing on our streets.
Where batteries are today
Battery powered products are everywhere. Look around your home and the chances are high that you will be able to spot more than one item that is powered with a battery. In settings such as the home, offices, retail spaces and industrial spaces, batteries have been used for decades – with the battery-type differing from space-to-space.
Consumers / Domestic Use
The three main battery types that consumers see today are the commonly used alkaline, nickel metal hydride and lithium-ion. These batteries are the smaller ones we may find in our tv remotes, electric shavers, video game controllers etc.
Alkaline batteries were the first batteries that became commercially available to the public in the 1950’s after they were created by Thomas Edison and Waldemar Jungner – albeit not together. They are generally the cheapest batteries to buy with a consistent level of power output, right up to the last second of their life cycle – however, they lack in sustainability as they are not easy to recycle.
Nickel Metal Hydride
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries were patented in 1986 and ever since have been used in many automotive applications. Whilst they are fully rechargeable, giving around 500 charges – they are unfortunately a more expensive option and do not retain the same consistent level of performance as an Alkaline battery.
Since the huge rise in consumer electronics that has taken place over the last 30 years, Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) batteries have become the most common type of battery found today in consumer products – such as in mobile phones, video game controllers and electric toothbrushes. They are fast to charge, with no loss in performance and can be charged around 1000 times during their life cycle.
Industrial batteries are much larger and much more rugged than the smaller batteries used for consumer products. These kinds of batteries do not generally need to have the selling points of smaller, consumer batteries such as portability and rechargeability – they just need to output a lot of power and in some cases, be able to withstand extreme environments. Some examples of applications for industrial batteries include forklifts, GPS tracking systems, oceanographic equipment and electric drills.
How battery technology can effect change
With a focus on moving mankind towards sustainable energy sources, big names in industries such as the automotive industry are moving away from environmentally harmful sources of energy such as oil and are gravitating towards electrical power as a means of reducing their impact on the planet.
Whilst these highly publicised shifts in industry are amazing and could push humanity in the right direction, it can be easy to see this news and adopt an attitude of “they’ve got it covered” – whereas the reality is that more can always be done on a local level.
Thinking globally and acting locally is the key and taking a closer look at our own carbon footprints to make changes in places that we may not have previously thought of is easier than it might seem.
Taking up the battery technology challenge
EGO’s Power+ battery system is powered by our patented 56V Arc technology which has been refined over years of research and development to a point where it performs like no other battery. EGO Power+ tools are cleaner, quieter and safer than petrol powered tools – eliminating the need to store dangerous and flammable fuel whilst drastically reducing your works impact on the environment – and with its Keep Cool™ phase change material, it can work harder and more efficiently.
In The Report, we published recently we found 89% of tools used by UK councils are petrol powered, resulting in the use of 600,000 litres of fuel being used each year. We found that the emissions of a standard leaf blower exceed that of a Ford Fiesta – with leaf blowers being used all over the country to maintain our public spaces, parks and schools.
Using leaf blowers as an example – these are not only limited to UK council use, with many people owning them at home to use on their own properties. This means that a significant change to the UK’s carbon footprint could be made by switching to the use of battery powered leaf blowers that can be recharged, and do a more efficient job than that of their petrol-powered predecessors.
From the Voltaic Pile to the lithium batteries being used to power smart devices – battery evolution has come a long way, but there is still more that can be done. As humans open their eyes to the impact that our day-to-day decisions can have on the planet, more and more of us are looking to ways that we can move away from dangerous fuel sources to those that take less of a toll on our environment – the revolution will be battery powered.