Rechargeable Batteries, A History

first rechargeable batteryThe early days of rechargeable batteries were like many first steps in the field of technology, with a combination of engineers and chemists working together to create something that was part ingenuity, part technology, and that strange magic of inspiration. The early batteries were often oversized and underpowered. Anyone that grew up in a home with the first cordless phones, as well as the first laptops, or cellular devices can fondly recall how awkward they were with bulky antennas, and either immense battery packs that looked like several batteries strapped into shrink wrap with two wires running out of them. Naturally, this is precisely what they were, but very little work was put toward aesthetics, and batteries would often suffer from “Battery Memory” the phenomenon that would be a cross for battery packs for years to come.

If you’re interested in learning more about the past and present of rechargeable batteries, and how they have greatly impacted technology and the environment, please read below:

The first rechargeable batteries that came onto the scene was the Nickel Cadmium battery or NiCad. developed in 1899, the NiCad batteries were the first

The first rechargeable battery that came onto the scene were the Nickel Cadmium battery or NiCad, an innovation that appeared as early as 1859. The NiCad batteries were the first useful rechargeable batteries that could operate in standard battery formats. They are mostly obsolete now — both for capacity and eco reasons — but at the time, they were an immense leap forward in the arena of rechargeable batteries. The most notable drawback to the NiCad was that it was underpowered and often died quickly. It also suffered from the Memory Effect which would cause a battery placed into a charger to reset from that point, rather than fully depleting the charge it had stored up. Many frustrations accompanied the NiCad battery when devices would no longer hold any charge to the memory effect.

In addition, Nickel and Cadmium did not breakdown into the environment safely and would biodegrade into hazardous chemicals that could leak into groundwater, affecting drinking water supplies, as well as animal and plant life. Making any landfill that holds them highly toxic.

The middle child of rechargeable history is the Alkaline rechargeable. They were the first true rechargeable batteries as they are thought of in their current form. They held a great deal of power, but were not good in the long haul, requiring more frequent charging which would yield lesser power.

It was an improvement over the NiCad, but still not an acceptable solution.

The innovation that came next was the Nickel-Metal Hydride, or NiMH. Most rechargeable batteries today use NiMH because it is both safe for the environment, and doesn’t suffer from underpowering or memory defects. It also degrades very slowly, which is what makes it superior to the alkaline batteries that are still available. While the Alkaline rechargeable start out bearing more power than the NiMH, each cycle sees a degradation of power, and rapidly it will not hold a charge for very long.

With the advent of NiMH, rechargeable batteries of all kinds were revolutionizing the way people could do things. The consoles of game controllers could now be wireless, able to draw power from a simple battery that didn’t need wires to be hung across the room. Laptops could survive for varying amounts of time depending on the power draw settings. This allowed for great advents in the field of consumer mobile electronics, as now cell phones could be used for hours and still be able to fit in a person’s pocket. No longer requiring a block battery pack attached to it.

The latest stage in rechargeable batteries is the Lithium Ion form (or Li-ion for short). They use an ionic charge that was very similar to their pure Lithium counterparts. Most non-rechargeable batteries use Lithium in its metallic form as it can hold a large charge over a long period of time. Li-ion expanded on this concept by using a more stable form of Lithium that could be recharged. This was accomplished by using forms of the Lithium metal that had electrons either added to or removed from the atoms, making them less combustible. They are the rechargeable battery that has the highest power output as well as the longest charge. They degrade about half as fast as even NiMH batteries, as well as being able to pack in a whopping 3.7 Volts of power, rather than the 1.2 V common in most NiMH batteries.

The problem with Li-ion batteries is when they are discarded, they will still biodegrade into harmful chemicals, similar to their non-rechargeable counterparts. This makes them unattractive from a green world standpoint.

Only recently have the Li-ion become available in standard battery sizes. Li-ion batteries also require special adapters that will allow them to be charged safely. They are costly and while they were powerful, the cost is still higher than most of their counterparts, but dropping all the time. While their power and lifespan makes them attractive, average consumers will balk at the cost and the requirement for very special chargers, as opposed to the more economical and simple chargers used by the NiMH style batteries.

What makes the invention of the rechargeable battery truly shine, and a special marvel of modern technology is their assistance in the areas of public service and protection.

Formerly, police from around the world were required to carry bulky battery packs and awkward radios that would often die when they were in the field. They would be unable to alert their dispatch of potential crisis while in the field because they would not realize they had a dead battery until too late. Lives of many brave men and women were lost due to something as simple as a dead battery. Catastrophes could have been avoided if people had been able to communicate.

This also becomes highly important when one considers rescue workers that need to coordinate their movements. Tsunamis decimate Asia’s coastline, Tornados ravage America, and all sorts of natural disasters – from volcanic eruptions to hurricanes – buffet the people in Australia. Now, groups such as the American Red Cross, Japan’s Disaster Relief, and Australian Relief and Mercy services are now better able to deal with these calamitous acts of god. Where they would have previously been weighted down with oversized batteries that would malfunction in adverse weather conditions, now they have simple devices with outstanding waterproofing that can withstand the utmost abuse of the elements without suffering ill effects.

In short, these simple little batteries save lives.

Not just in basic ways of allowing a police officer to reach his or her home office, but also in evacuating large populations safely, as soon as information is transmitted. These little power hounds were even part of the mobile electronics that helped to fight the dictatorship in Egypt. No longer do those that live in disenfranchised nations, or even people far out of reach in Australia’s own outback, need to be cut off from the world. They now have tons of energy in the palm of their hand that connects them to an international network, showing that what one may not be able to accomplish alone, a world running on battery power can accomplish together.

From the first moment when a person in a lab asked why is it we need to sacrifice power for portability, it has been an ever changing landscape. While the new tablet PC’s and cellular phones are impressive feats in their own right, whether they were running on a massive Li-ion battery or a sleek little NiMH, they would be nothing more than useless pieces of plastic without the ever evolving landscape of power made possible by the portable battery. From downloading the freshest app, to fighting wildfires raging out of control, giving thanks to the little device that makes everything portable run is good for the soul.

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