From copper to lithium – a parade of inventions
Alessandro Volta: In the Voltaic Pile, the cell was designed with three types of conductors: a copper plate and a zinc plate and in between them a piece of cardboard or similar that had been soaked in salt water and thus was conductive. This wet pile produced a small constant electric current. This unit of current has become known as one unit of voltage, 1 volt. Several piles could be assembled side by side and connected in a series and thus the desired current was achieved.
Michael Faraday: In the first half of the 19th century, Englishman Michael Faraday came to contribute to the development of batteries. One of his main discoveries was electrolysis, where he coined the terms anode, cathode, electrode, separator and electrolyte. He also created a forerunner to an electric motor. The unit of electrical capacitance, a farad, has been named in honour of Michael Faraday.
John Daniell: John Daniell was a British chemist who improved the electronic cell by using copper and zinc in a container filled with sulfuric acid. This cell produced an even voltage that was much more efficient than Volta’s solution.
Gaston Planté: Solutions that produced electric current were great inventions, but it would be even better if batteries could be rechargeable. In the second part of the 19th century, Frenchman Gaston Planté invented a rechargeable battery, or accumulator: the lead-acid battery. This technology is still used today in car batteries.
The technology in a rechargeable battery is based on chemical energy being converted to electric energy when the battery is being used. When the battery is being charged, the electric current/voltage is converted to chemical energy.
Carl Gassner: Frenchman Carl Gassner invented the first dry battery with zinc and carbon. The term dry battery comes from a thickening agent that keeps the electrolyte in place, allowing for the battery to be operated in any orientation without spilling.
Georges Leclanché: Frenchman Georges Lesclanché invented Lesclanché’s wet cell, made of zinc and manganese dioxide, which could be manufactured at low cost.
Waldemar Jungner: At the very end of the 19th century, Waldemar Jungner from Sweden invented the first alkaline battery, which originally consisted of nickel and iron and was rechargeable, and later of nickel and cadmium, which generated twice as high capacity.
As cadmium is an environmentally harmful substance, there has been an EU directive in force since 2006 which, with a few exemptions, bans NiCd batteries in consumer products.
Lithium is a metal that has attracted interest from many scientists. Experiments with lithium started already in the 1910s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the first lithium-batteries appeared on the market. They were then non-rechargeable.
Akira Yoshino: In 1985, Akira Yoshino from Japan, together with his team, constructed the first prototype for a lithium-ion battery. The work was based on research by American chemist John Goodenough and the French scientist Rachid Yazami. Lithium-ion batteries were developed rapidly and were introduced to the market by Sony in 1991.
The three main components in a lithium-ion battery are the anode (made from carbon, commonly graphite), the cathode (a metal oxide, for example lithium cobalt oxide) and the electrolyte (lithium salt in an organic solution). Lithium-ion batteries are more stable than conventional lithium batteries and have a major advantage in that they are rechargeable.
Lithium-ion batteries are available for both small and large applications, from cameras, clocks, mobile phones, etc. to trucks and cars (for example, the Tesla Roadster electric car). By tailoring the battery pack, consisting of small, powerful, durable, environmentally friendly battery cells, you can create attractive energy solutions in the most diverse forms, even as power sources in larger contexts.
Batteries in most computers, mobile phones and other small electronic devices are a version of lithium-ion batteries called lithium-polymer batteries or LiPo batteries, which were introduced in 1997. A polymer is used both as a separator and to hold the electrolyte. The components of the battery are laminated together and form a flexible and shapeable battery. What is gained in flexibility is, however, lost in capacity compared to the common lithium-ion battery.
This long journey through research and development has made it possible to replace the old, heavy and environmentally harmful lead-acid batteries with battery cell packs based on lithium-ion technology. Alelion’s lithium-ion batteries provide a simple and environmentally friendly technique of constructing a large number of battery cells to form battery packs with sufficient power to power vehicles, such as trucks and cars.