PowerPedia:Electric battery history

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The electric battery history begins in the dawn of civilization. The earliest known artifacts that may have been batteries are the Baghdad Batteries, from some time between 250 BCE and 640 CE. The modern battery development started with the Voltaic pile developed by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in 1800. The worldwide battery industry generates US$48 billion in sales annually (2005 estimate).

The Baghdad Battery is the common name for a number of artifacts apparently discovered in the village of Khuyut Rabbou'a (near Baghdad, Iraq) in 1936. There is some evidence — in the form of the Baghdad Batteries from some time between 250 BCE and 640 CE (while Baghdad was under Parthian and Sassanid dynasties of ancient Persia) of galvanic cells having been used in ancient times. Such ancient knowledge in the history of electricity bears no known continuous relationship to the development of modern batteries. These artifacts came to wider attention in 1938, when Wilhelm König, the German director of the National Museum of Iraq, found the objects in the museum's collections, and (in 1940, having returned to Berlin due to illness) published a paper speculating that they may have been galvanic cells, perhaps used for electroplating gold onto silver objects.

The hypothesis that these devices had an electrical function, while plausible, remains unproven, as with devices discovered in Egyptian digs that are alleged to be batteries as well. There are no writings or drawings or other evidence such as wires or electroplated objects to substantiate the proposed use of the objects as electrical cells. The artifacts consist of ~130 mm (~5 inch) tall terracotta jars (with a one and a half inch mouth) containing a copper cylinder made of a rolled-up copper sheet, which houses a single iron rod. At the top, the iron rod is isolated from the copper by asphalt plugs or stoppers, and both rod and cylinder fit snugly inside the opening of the jar which bulges outward towards the middle (reverse hourglass shape). The copper cylinder is not watertight, so when the jar was filled with a liquid, this would surround the iron rod as well. The artifact had been exposed to the weather and had suffered corrosion, although mild given the presence of an electrochemical couple. This has led some scholars to believe lemon juice, grape juice, or vinegar was used as an acidic agent to jumpstart the electrochemical reaction with the two metals.

Copper and iron form an electrochemical couple, so that in the presence of any electrolyte, an electric potential (voltage) will be produced. König had observed a number of very fine silver objects from ancient Iraq which were plated with very thin layers of gold, and speculated that they were electroplated using batteries of these "cells". After the Second World War, Willard Gray demonstrated current production by a reconstruction of the inferred battery design when filled with grape juice. W. Jansen experimented with benzoquinone (some beetles produce quinones) and vinegar in a cell and got satisfactory performance.

However, even among those who believe the artifacts were in fact electrical devices, electroplating as a use is not well regarded today. The gilded objects which König thought might be electroplated are now believed to have been fire-gilded (with mercury). Reproduction experiments of electroplating by Dr. Arne Eggebrecht consumed "many" reproduction cells to achieve a plated layer just one micrometre thick. Other scientists noted that Dr. Eggebrecht used a more efficient, modern electrolyte using only vinegar, the "battery" is very feeble. An alternative, but still electrical explanation was offered by Paul Keyser. It was suggested that a priest or healer, using an iron spatula to compound a vinegar based potion in a copper vessel, may have felt an electrical tingle, and used the phenomenon either for electro-acupuncture, or to amaze supplicants by electrifying a metal statue.

Whoever made the Baghdad batteries, assuming they were in fact galvanic cells, may not have fully understood the principles. For example, it is well known that the Ancient Greeks were aware of electrostatic electrical phenomena produced by amber, but they regarded it as a mere curiosity or toy and developed no electrical theory or functional devices. For evidence of ancient Parthian knowledge of the ideas of electricity, records of its use awaits discovery in more concrete terms, such as seeing it discussed in their writings (though they may not have stated it as 'electricity', relating instead a mystical connotation) or gaining a better perception that their "batteries" were designed with a knowledge of electrical theory. A controversy also exists as to whether the Ancient Egyptians could have used such devices.

As electrical generators, the "Baghdad batteries" would be inefficient when compared to modern devices. However, if placed in appropriate network arrays, these artifacts could produce a qualitative power output. Luigi Galvani formulated a similar electrochemical couple experiment in the 1780s and, 20 years later, Alessandro Volta developed enough theory to convert Galvani's simple experiment into the efficient voltaic pile, producing around 30 volts of continuous current (but Volta's devices were much larger than known Baghdad relics). Within two or three more years Sir Humphry Davy was using voltaic piles that produced 1,000 volts and enough current to run an arc lamp.

The Discovery Channel program MythBusters determined that it was indeed plausible for ancient peoples to have used the Baghdad Battery for electroplating or electrostimulation. However, the batteries which they reproduced did not produce a substantial amount of energy and had to be connected in series in order to test the myths. On Mythbusters' 29th episode (which aired on March 23, 2005), the Baghdad battery "myth" was put to the test. Ten hand-made terracotta jars were fitted to act as batteries. Lemon juice was chosen as the electrolyte to activate the electrochemical reaction between the copper and iron. (Oddly enough, it was discovered that a single lemon produced more voltage than one of the batteries). When all of the batteries were linked together, they produced upwards to 4 volts. Then, the major question was, “What were these ancient batteries used for?"

The show’s research staff discovered three possible reasons: Electroplating, Medical pain relief (through Acupuncture), and Religious experience. It was discovered that the “linked" batteries indeed had sufficient power to electroplate a small token. For acupuncture, the batteries produced a “random" pulse that could be felt through the needles however, it began to produce a painful burning sensation when the batteries were grounded to two needles at once. For the religious experience aspect of the batteries, a replica of the fabled Ark of the Covenant was constructed, complete with two angels. Instead of linking the angels’ golden wings to the low power batteries, an electric fence generator was connected. When touched, the wings produced a strong feeling of tightness in the chest. Although the batteries themselves had not been used, it was surmised that, due to the apparent lack of knowledge of electricity, any form of electrical sensation from them could equate to the “divine presence" in the eyes of ancient people. In the end, the Baghdad battery myth was found "plausible" on all three accounts.

In 1748, Benjamin Franklin, engaged in fundamental electrical researches, employed the term battery to describe an array of charge storage devices, or capacitors, known at that time in the form of the Leyden jar. Daniel Gralath had been the first to combine several Leyden jars in parallel to obtain a larger stored charge. The word battery had been in use to describe arrays of cannon on land and at sea, which could more effectively batter, or beat, a foe.

In 1786, while studying the biological effects of electricity, Luigi Galvani discovered a device which could produce an electric current by chemical means far greater than the current produced by earlier electrostatic generators, although at a lower voltage -- the galvanic cell. This was a circuit consisting of two dissimilar metals in contact, their other ends exposed to salt water. (Two identical metals in contact will produce no electrochemical effect.) The nature of galvanic cells (often called voltaic cells, or electrochemical cells) was partly elucidated by Volta in the 1790's. In 1800 Volta piled up a series array of galvanic cells to invent the Voltaic pile. Many Europeans still use the word pile to describe a voltaic pile -- what in English is now called a battery. (The term battery has come into disuse in the context of capacitors rather we speak of a bank of capacitors.) In 1801, Volta demonstrated the Voltaic cell to Napoleon Bonaparte (who later ennobled him for his discoveries).

The scientific community at this time called this battery either a pile (because Volta had simply piled one cell upon another), or an accumulator (because it stored charge), or an artificial electrical organ. All electrochemical cells produce a current of electrons that flow only in one direction, known as direct current.

The dry pile was a high voltage low current semi-permanent battery developed in the early 1800s and constructed from silver foil, zinc foil, and paper. Foil disks of about 2cm dia. were stacked up several thousand thick and then either compressed in a glass tube with endcaps and a screw assembly, or simply stacked between three glass rods with wooden endplates. It is a type of Voltaic pile, with an output potential in the kilovolt range. In effect it was a electrostatic battery. It was referred to as a dry pile because no electrolyte other than atmospheric humidity was present.

In 1800 William Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle used a battery to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen. Sir Humphry Davy researched this chemical effect at the same time. Davy researched the decomposition of substances (called electrolysis). In 1813 he constructed a 2,000-plate paired battery in the basement of Britain's Royal Society, covering 889 ft² (83 m²). From this experiment, Davy deduced that electrolysis was the action in the voltaic pile that produced electricity. In 1820 the British researcher John Frederic Daniell improved the voltaic cell. The Daniell cell consisted of copper and zinc plates and copper and zinc sulfates. It was used to operate telegraphs and doorbells. Some early battery researchers called the Daniell cell a gravity cell because gravity kept the two sulfates separated. The name crowfoot cell was also commonly used because of the shape of the zinc electrode used in the batteries. Between 1832 and 1834 Michael Faraday conducted experiments with an iron ring, a galvanometer, and a connected battery. When the battery was connected or disconnected, the galvanometer deflected. Faraday also developed the principle of ionic mobility in chemical reactions of batteries. In 1839 William Robert Grove developed the first fuel cell, which produced electrical energy by combining hydrogen and oxygen. Grove developed another form of voltaic cell using zinc and platinum electrodes. These electrodes were exposed to two acids separated by a diaphragm.

The Bunsen cell, invented by Robert Bunsen.In the 1860s Georges Leclanché of France developed the carbon-zinc battery. It was a wet cell, with electrodes plunged into a body of electrolyte fluid. Rugged and easily manufactured, it also had a reasonable shelf life. An improved version called a dry cell was later made by sealing the cell and changing the fluid electrolyte to a wet paste. The Leclanché cell is a type of primary (non-rechargeable) battery. Also in the 1860s, Raymond Gaston Planté invented the lead-acid battery. He immersed two thin solid lead plates separated by rubber sheets in a dilute sulfuric acid solution to make a secondary (rechargeable) battery. However, the original invention had a short shelf life. Around 1881 Émile Alphonse Faure, with his colleagues, developed batteries using a mixture of lead oxides for the positive plate electrolyte. These had faster reactions and higher efficiency. In 1878 the air cell battery was developed. In 1897 Nikola Tesla researched a lightweight carbide cell and an oxygen-hydrogen storage cell. Thomas Edison also got into the act, in 1900 developing the nickel storage battery, and in 1905 developing the nickel-iron battery.

In 1898 Directory:Nathan Stubblefield received a There was an error working with the wiki: Code[1] for a cell made of cloth-insulated copper wire and iron wire wound in a coil, which was to be buried in damp earth: this electrolytic coil is referred to as an "PowerPedia:Earth battery". ...

The Earth battery, in general, generated power early on for telegraph transmissions and formed part of a tuned circuit that amplified the signalling voltage over long distances.

For complete text covering this period of Battery history, see PowerPedia:Earth battery.

During World War II Samuel Ruben and Philip Rogers Mallory developed the mercury cell, and in the 1950s Ruben improved the alkaline manganese battery. In the early 1950s Russell S. Ohl developed a wafer of silicon that produced free electrons, and in 1954 Gerald L. Pearson, Daryl M. Chapin, and Calvin S. Fuller produced an array of several such wafers, making the first solar battery or solar cell. In 1956 Francis Thomas Bacon developed the hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell. In 1959 Lewis Urry developed the small alkaline battery at the Eveready Battery Company laboratory in Parma, Ohio. In the 1960s German researchers invented a gel-type electrolyte lead-acid battery.

The Clark cell, invented by Josiah Latimer Clark, was for many years used for as standard cell to provide a voltage standard. It was replaced by the Weston cell in 1905, which was employed until 1972. Since that time, the United States standard of voltage has been set by the Josephson junction voltage standard, which requires the use of superconductors (and thus low temperatures). Here, measurement of the frequency of current oscillation across a junction leads to a determination of the voltage difference across that junction.

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See also

PowerPedia:Electric battery

Directory:Earth Batteries


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