Batteries: Life-Changing Technology We Take for Granted

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You plug in your cell phone before you turn in for the night. Inside your phone is a USB rechargeable battery that will fully charge in just a couple of hours. You expect your phone will be at 100% by the time you wake up. In fact, you probably don’t even think about. It is just something you take for granted.

Batteries are so ubiquitous in the 21st century that they are easily forgotten. We are so used to our portable electronic devices that we have a hard time imagining what life was like without them. It turns out that life was a whole lot different. It is not unreasonable to say that the introduction of batteries changed the world.

 

  • Batteries and Transportation

 

A small number of inventors – Waldemar Jungner and Thomas Edison being two of them – were working on early wet cell batteries at the turn of the 20th century. Their batteries were primitive but effective. So effective that the first lead-acid battery for automotive use appeared on a Cadillac in 1912.

Equipping a car with a battery was a game-changer. First, it paved the way for the electric starter motor. Second, the battery made it possible to begin adding electric components like headlights and electric horns. Fast forward 100 years and all of the electric components in a modern car are powered by a battery and alternator. Imagine driving your car without a battery. It wouldn’t work.

Battery-equipped vehicles were utilized throughout World War II. They were key to industrial and commercial expansion before, during, and after the war. You could make the case that postwar America was built on motor vehicle transportation, making the battery even more important.

 

  • The Miniature Battery Revolution

 

While car companies were relying on wet cell lead-acid batteries to keep cars on the road, other inventors were quietly working on dry cell batteries. The first commercially available dry cell was introduced in the 1950s. Not only did it offer better performance compared to wet cell batteries, but it was also significantly smaller. The age of miniature batteries had arrived.

This started what has been called the miniature battery revolution. Batteries got smaller and smaller until they were capable of powering transistor radios, flashlights, and hundreds of other portable devices. All of the batteries were alkaline until the introduction of NiMH batteries in the 1970s.

 

  • Battery Powered Everything

 

Alkaline and NiMH batteries gradually introduced us to newer and better ways to be portable. From radios to walkie-talkies, more consumer goods were being transitioned to battery power. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the next big change came. That big change was the development of lithium-ion technology.

Lithium-ion batteries, also known as Li-ion batteries, changed everything we knew about portability. For starters, lithium is comparably light. It is so light that Li-ion batteries are as much is 30% lighter than alkaline and NiMH batteries. A Li-ion battery of the same size has greater energy density as a result.

Li-ion batteries also last longer; they can be charged 1,000 times or more. They even charge more quickly and discharge rather consistently. This makes them ideal for battery powered everything.

The introduction of Li-ion batteries opened the door to battery powered communication devices, computers, hand tools, vacuum cleaners, lawnmowers, and on and on. Even better, Li-ion batteries are the foundation of electric vehicle design. Although Li-on batteries aren’t readily available everywhere just yet, you can find them online through companies like Pale Blue Earth.

What started out as a primitive wet cell battery more than 100 years ago has evolved into the incredibly versatile lithium-ion battery. And while we might take batteries for granted, they have profoundly changed the world.

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