Batteries are ever-present in our lives. They power our mobile devices, keep our energy distribution systems efficient and increasingly provide energy for vehicular motive power. The realization that electrical energy can be stored and used and the innovations that have made energy storage more viable as a method for delivering power to devices are major steps forward for humanity. These realizations and innovations are not as recent as you might think. In fact, they might well be truly ancient.
The oldest known battery is arguably older than the lightbulb, the combustion engine or the pen. The Baghdad battery was found by German archeologist Wilhelm Konig in 1938. It is a 5-inch long clay jar containing an Iron rod and evidence of an acidic liquid. These are all hallmarks of a device that could store electricity – in other words, a battery.
It is theorized that the device could have been used for gilding objects: covering them with liquid gold using electricity. The device is thought to be over a thousand years old. There is some evidence that the device might not have been a battery at all. Some theorists believe that it may have been several unrelated objects retrospectively deemed to be part of the same item.
The Voltaic Pile
One of the first batteries that we absolutely know for certain were power storage and delivery devices was the voltaic pile. Italian scientist Alessandro Volta published news of his invention in 1799. The voltaic pile was a battery made up of stacked alternating layers of Copper and Zinc surrounded by acidic brine. If a wire was linked to the top and bottom of the pile a charge could be coaxed from it.
In 1899, the first rechargeable battery was invented. It was comprised of Nickel Oxide and Cadmium. Originating in Sweden, this kind of battery was initially a ‘wet’ cell – meaning that it was reliant upon liquidus electrical conductors. Work began on sealed ‘dry’ NiCd batteries in 1932.
NiCd batteries are still used in many electrical devices and can be purchased from websites like Octopart.
You most likely have a Lithium-Ion battery in the laptop or mobile device you are reading this article on. Lithium-Ion cells have largely replaced NiCd batteries in modern commercial electronics. The first Lithium-Ion battery was released by Sony in 1991.
The Rise Of The Electric Vehicle
Tesla and other vehicle manufacturers are pioneering a new age of electric travel that could, in theory, be more environmentally friendly (depending upon the source of our electricity). Electric vehicular travel is actually older than you might think. The first electric train, for instance, started running in 1883. Electric cars were common on the streets of New York in the early 20th Century. They used relatively volatile batteries that required bespoke charging stations. Ultimately, these pioneering electric vehicles were killed off by the availability of cheap oil.
Modern electric cars use amazing batteries. Tesla cars have a range similar to modern petroleum-fueled vehicles. There have been recent developments in making electric vehicle battery technology far more affordable