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Abstract

A battery is simply an electrochemical cell or cells that convert a stored chemical energy into electrical energy. The use of batteries dates back to nearly 2000 years ago. In 1800, a scientist by the name Alessandro Volta invented the first battery by piling up layers of silver, paper soaked in salt, and zinc. More layers could be piled together to produce the required voltage. Several other inventors have in the past contributed greatly to what we have today. For instance, John Frederic Daniell from Britain developed a much better battery called a ‘Daniell cell’ that overcame the challenge of Volta’s ‘voltaic pile’, which could not produce current for a long period of time. Nowadays, the importance of batteries comes down to what the consumer is using the battery for since most of the devices in our regular daily life require a battery regardless of the shape, color, or size it comes in (Crompton, 2000).

Self-Charging Battery

Focus of paper

The purpose of this research is to examine the developments in the batteries’ field from the Volta’s voltaic pile to the lithium-ion battery.

Introduction

The works of Luigi Galvani is perhaps the most crucial development in the eventual discovery and use of batteries. Galvani came close to discovering the principle of batteries, but narrowly missed it by misjudging the current flow as a reaction in the muscles of a frog. Galvani conducted an experiment in which he used the legs of a frog in contact with two different metals immersed in a liquid, which acted as an electrolyte. He observed that the muscles in the frog’s legs twitched due to the current running through the electrolyte, two different metals and into the frog’s legs making them twitch. This discovery of a current flow between different metals in a liquid was later explored by many other scientists and inventors to produce the basic arrangement in a battery in use today. Luigi Galvani was later more successful in making a lot of contributions to science, for instance, he is credited for discovering the galvanometer named after him that is used to measure electricity.

Figure 1.

A sketch showing a layout of the experiment done by Luigi Galvani in his attempt to discover the principle behind the flow of current.

It is believed that batteries started to be used as early as 2000 years ago. A story is told of the Parthian Empire who lived in Fertile Crescent at around 190 BC and the members of which probably used batteries in their time. Railway builders working near Baghdad unearthed a tomb, which was identified to belong to the Parthian Empire. Along with the relics, archeologists found a vase, which was later analyzed in1938 by Dr. Wilhelm Konig from Germany who identified the vessel as a battery that was probably used in generating some current. The clay jar was sealed at its opening with a rod of iron protruding from inside the jar. Tests carried on the jar revealed that the jar was containing an acidic liquid, perhaps vinegar, and showed that it was used to produce about 1.4 to about 2 volts. It is believed that the people belonging to the Parthian empire are the first to have used batteries probably for a number of reasons ranging from electroplating precious metals to medicinal or religious purposes. There have been a lot of developments in the manufacturing of batteries for use in our daily lives. The following is a brief history of the developments and inventions that have contributed to the standard batteries in use today (Payne, 2003).

Alessandro Volta-1800

As mentioned earlier, one of the major contributors to today’s batteries is Alessandro Volta who made a simple battery by pilling up silver, paper soaked in salt, and zinc to produce voltage that could be tapped and used. More voltage could be produced by increasing the number of piles. The challenge to this battery was that more piles increased the weight, which squeezed out the salt from the cloth, making it ineffective. It also seemed to last for a very short period of time since the metals corroded very fast.

Aside from inventing the voltaic pile, Volta is also regarded for coming up with the electrochemical series, which can be used to rank different metals according to the potential they produce when they are immersed in an electrolyte. His work earned him a lot of recognition to the extent of naming the SI unit for electric potential or voltage after his name.

John Frederic Daniell-1820

To overcome the challenge in the voltaic pile of not producing voltage for long as well as the hydrogen bubbles that it kept on producing, Daniell invented the ‘Daniell cell’. Daniell’s battery used copper and steel immersed in two electrolytes of copper sulphate and zinc sulphate to produce volts that were used to power telegraph machines, telephones, and even doorbells for a very long time.

Raymond Gaston Planté-1859

He used two lead metal sheets as electrodes with a flannel piece as a separator immersed in dilute sulphuric acid to generate voltage. The battery was charged and discharged to produce current for the use. The main challenge to this battery is the collusive nature of the sulphuric acid.

Georges Leclanché-1866

The batteries that are in use today and come in packages labeled “heavy duty" or "transistor power” are an improvement on the dry cells invented by the French scientist Georges Leclanché. They are an improvement of the earlier fashion that was called wet cells invented by Georges. The wet cells were very easy to manufacture since they only needed a few materials and a simple method. They also had a very long life making them very desirable in powering a number of devices that were in use at the time. They contained electrodes immersed in liquid electrolytes, which gave it the name ‘wet’. Since the battery contained a liquid, it presented a challenge since it was immobile, it could not be used in many different positions, and moving it could spill the electrolyte. Replacing the liquid electrolyte with a moist ammonium chloride paste led to it being referred to as a dry cell. It was made up of a cup-like vessel of zinc, which also acted as the anode while containing the rest of the parts of the cell. A mixture of black carbon and manganese dioxide was used as the cathode in the ratio one to eight. The carbon was connected to the top of the battery to form the positive terminal. This battery made a lot of sales and dominated the market until about 1960s when the newer fashions of alkaline batteries took over the market dominance.

Camille Faure-1881

Instead of using lead sheets as electrodes, Camille used lead metal and lead oxide paste to boost the capacity of the battery to produce current. Later developments to this battery have led to the current lead batteries that are commonly used in autos. The development of new materials that could be used as separators was very crucial in maintaining the battery since they could hold the grid of lead intact as well as prevent shorting out in the battery by keeping the positive and negative terminal well apart while keeping out particles falling off the plates.

Thomas Edison-1899-1907

The American created an alkaline cell using iron and nickelic oxide as the anode and cathode materials respectively and potassium hydroxide electrolyte. The modern nickel-cadmium and alkaline batteries stemmed from Edison’s idea and still use potassium hydroxide as the electrolyte. These batteries could supply a charge of between 1 to 1.34 volts. In addition, they could withstand overcharging for a long period of time or being uncharged for long without getting damaged. Their durability and efficiency made them more suited for industrial and railroad construction use.

Jungner and Berg-1900

They used cadmium as a substitute of the iron used by Thomas Edison to produce a nickel-cadmium battery that could withstand very low temperatures, had the ability to self-discharge, and could be charged. Its ability to discharge itself to a lower degree compared to the Edison’s battery made it very famous.

Lew Urry-1949

While working at Eveready Battery Company, Lew created the alkaline-manganese battery with the ability to produce more energy and in high currents. Developments of these batteries have seen more energy stored in smaller packages, thus increasing their efficiency and effectiveness in meeting their uses.

Samuel Ruben-1950

The production of the zinc-mercuric oxide battery is attributed to the work of Samuel Ruben while working for the P.R. Mallory Co., which was later incorporated into Duracell International in 1964. Later, mercury was eliminated from being used in batteries because of its toxic nature, which causes a lot of harm to the environment through contamination.

One of the most recent contributions is the development of a ‘self-charging’ battery. In 2004, the Inventions Submission Corporation (ISC) announced that some scientists have invented a battery that could recharge itself without requiring any particular equipment or external current and which could be produced in all sizes and shapes just like the ordinary batteries (Electronic Products & Technology, 2004, June/July issue).

In almost all the above developments, the inventors seemed to be addressing one problem – developing a battery that could store energy tapped from another source and store it for a certain period of time until needed. The theory behind this is the direct conversion of energy from its initial form, say mechanical energy to chemical energy. The devices did not have to convert the energy first to electrical form. To generate energy, they had to tap it from such sources as coal, solar, or water in motion. This means that the batteries can only store energy, but cannot generate any at all. The question is whether a single gadget can generate and store energy at the same time without the need of an external source.

Work Description

A typical battery is made up of three main parts: a negative electrode (anode) usually made of carbon, a positive electrode (cathode), which is usually made of Lithium cobalt oxide, and an electrolyte. A reaction of the electrodes with the electrolyte involving the exchange of ions and electrons is responsible for the supply of charge that a battery is used for. In addition, the battery has a separator, which keeps the two electrodes apart and has tiny perforations that can allow the exchange of ions from the positive to the negative electrodes and vice versa, as well as a collector, which aids the passage of electrons from one electrode to the other one through the outside path when the battery is charging or when it is in use, i.e. discharging.

What Happens in Cells to Produce Electricity?

When a chemical reaction is taking place between two elements, energy is given off. This energy can be converted to give heat and work or a mixture of both. Using two containers, it can be shown that electrons can be collected from an oxidation reaction and transferred to a reduction reaction through an external path, in this case a wire. This path can be used to measure the amount of energy given off in the reaction and can be used as electrical energy to do work, i.e. power a device (Dhameja, 2001).

The above system can be used to demonstrate an electrochemical reaction involving two half reactions, i.e. oxidation and reduction. To do this, a piece of zinc metal is used as the anode and platinum wire as well as the cathode and both are immersed in Zn2+ ion and HCl solutions respectively. In this system, two containers represent two half-reactions. In one half-reaction, the zinc atoms from the anode react with the solution to produce electrons in the form of Zn2+ ions, which turn into solution. These electrons flow through the outside path and the circuit and combine with the platinum wire, giving it a negative charge. Hydrochloric acid, HCL, gives positively charged hydroxyl ions, which are attracted to this negative charge, making them migrate to the platinum wire as well. When these H+ ions come into contact with the wire, they combine with hydrogen atoms to form H2 molecules.

Zinc metal is oxidized to produce Zn2+ ions in the first half-cell making the cell positively charged while the H+ ions are reduced in the second half-cell to produce a negative charge in the cell. This creates a disequilibrium state in two ends. To restore equilibrium, the reaction at the anode, the Zn2+ ions turn into solution, releasing electrons in the process. These electrons are negatively charged. The electrons flow through the wire connecting the two electrodes to the platinum electrode where they react with the positively charged hydroxyl ions to form H2 molecules.

The flow of electrons through the wire from one electrode to the other is a result of a potential difference between the two half-cells. This difference causes the electrons to flow until all of them are exhausted and there is no difference anymore. At this point, the battery is said to be fully discharged and an external force must be applied to reverse the reaction by triggering the backward flow of the electrons.

Charging and Discharging Lithium Batteries

Lithium batteries contain lithium ions, which are responsible for charging and discharging the batteries. They move from one electrode to the other when the battery is charging (when the battery is taking in power) and the other way when discharging (when power is being drawn or used up from them), i.e. the lithium ions move back in the opposite direction.

  1. When the battery is charging, it draws in power, which causes the lithium ions to migrate from the anode to the cathode passing through the electrolyte. Electrons also migrate from the cathode to anode through the outside path round the circuit. These ions and electrons meet at the negative terminal to form lithium, which is deposited at the anode.
  2. This process continues until there is no more flow of the ions and electrons, signifying that the battery has been fully charged.
  3. When the battery is in use, i.e. when current is being drawn from it, the lithium ions move back in the opposite direction from the cathode to the anode while the electrons migrate from the negative terminal to the positive terminal using the outside path while powering electronic devices. Lithium is formed at the cathode where the ions and electrons combine.
  4. The battery is said to be fully discharged when movement of these ions and electrons is exhausted.

The above process describes the process of converting mechanical energy into electrical energy, which can then be used for driving electronic devices. The process involves a battery, which is solely used for the storage of energy that is obtained from an external source that charges the battery. It therefore does not generate energy. Another separate device is thus needed to generate the energy, which will be used to charge the battery.

Different devices have always been used for generating energy and storing it. These two processes have been the source of power that we use the world over to drive different gadgets ranging from wrist watches to cars. To achieve these two processes, two devices are required. One of the devices is tasked with converting energy from its mechanical form to electricity while the second device processed the electrical energy into chemical energy, which can be easily stored. There have been a lot of dramatic developments in the technology used to make batteries since the days when the Voltaic pile was developed. This has been a result of the necessity created by a portable world, which is becoming more and more reliant on a source of power that allows its people to have a source of power on the go. Over the years, engineers have always used the above processes involving different devices for different processes to achieve numerous tasks. Recently, a group of scientists has demonstrated that it is possible to develop a gadget that can be used in converting mechanical energy to electrical energy without the need to convert it first to chemical energy. They have been successful in demonstrating that a single device can perform these functions by replicating a power cell, which has the ability to charge itself.

These scientists were motivated to make a single unit with both the capabilities to generate as well as store energy due to the challenges that come with using two sets of devices where one set generates energy while the other set stores it for the later use. This saves a lot of resources, reduces the overall weight of the source power since it is only one unit involved as well as effectively and efficiently utilize the space needed to accommodate the devices that generate, store, and supply energy to people. Combining the process of generating and storing energy in one unit also helps conserve the environment since, just like rechargeable batteries, the number of batteries disposed is greatly reduced, thus avoiding the pollution that is normally caused by these disposals. All these features make the batteries easier to be used in a variety of devices with ease and convenience. It is expected that future developments will feature even more powerful and durable batteries, which will be highly portable. Every year, a lot of research is done in a bid to come up with new and better inventions that can help utilize the world’s scarce resources more efficiently as well as conserve the environment while addressing many challenges that the ever changing world comes with. Many innovations are turning green and emphasizing developing gadgets that produce or make use of renewable energy.

The fundamental principle behind all renewable energy developments is their capability to produce or generate energy from various sources and store that energy up to the time it will be required. One such development is the self-charging battery. The theory behind the making of a self-charged battery is basically to convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy and store it until it is needed. A group of researchers have been able to come up with a single unit that can charge it and store the energy in chemical form until needed.

“This project is introducing a new approach in science which uses a genera and wide application since it not only collects energy but also keeps it stored until needed. It requires no external source of energy to charge it. It is typically used for powering small and mobile electronic devices”, according to Zhang Lin Wang, one of the researchers based at Georgia Institute of Technology and a member of the team behind the invention of the self-charging battery.

To demonstrate the mechanism behind a self-charging battery, the researchers used a button Li-on battery. They substituted the polyethylene material that was usually placed between the two electrodes to separate them with a Polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) coat. The PVDF is piezoelectric in nature and hence it has the capability to generate electricity when subjected to some pressure. The PVDF charges the battery since due to its location between the electrodes of the battery, positive ions move from the cathode electrode to the anode electrode so as to maintain an equilibrium charge between the electrodes, hence charging the battery. The PVDF, which separates the electrodes, is the one responsible for maintaining the level of voltage in the battery without the need for a source of charge from outside the battery, hence the battery is said to be self-charging (Payne, 2003).

For the battery to charge itself, the PVDF separator needs to be subjected to some pressure to generate a charge. The researchers attached the button cell to the sole of a shoe, which when walking was subjected to enough stress that generated enough energy that charged the battery. If a force with a frequency of over 2.4 Hz is used, the self-charging battery could produce a voltage within the range of 326 to 394 mV in about four minutes. This 68 mV increase in power generation when the electrodes are separated by a piezoelectric PVDF than the 10 mV it takes when the battery’s electrodes are separated by the usual polyethylene material shows how more economical it is to use a self-charging battery than a conventional one. This is about six times more efficient than the usual system, which involves the uses of two processes to convert energy form mechanical form into electrical form in two steps. This shows that a process involving a direct conversion of energy from mechanical form directly to chemical form is more efficient than the one, which converts energy from mechanical form to electrical before converting it to chemical form, thus making use of two steps, like was the case in traditional batteries. The development of the self-charging battery is poised to bring a lot of efficiency and effectiveness in the battery technology that could see a lot of resources saved.

When applying pressure to the piezoelectric material, the charge, which causes the migration of the lithium ions from the cathode to the anode, continues until the battery reaches equilibrium between the electrodes. Unlike the case in ordinary batteries that do not recharge themselves, the process of charging the battery is triggered by an external source of current, while with the self-charging battery it is the piezoelectric PVDF material, which causes the movement of lithium ions in the charging process. After attaining equilibrium, the process of self-charging stops and the battery can be used to supply power when the pressure is stopped. When electric field created by the piezoelectric PVDF disappears, the ions diffuse back to the cathode electrode from the anode and a new equilibrium is reached. Just like the case of the ordinary batteries, the diffusion of lithium ions involves the electrochemical reactions of reduction and oxidation, which in this case generates voltage of about one μA that is capable of powering a small electronic gadget.

In the process of self-charging, a new compound, LiTiO, is formed with the anode, which prevents the immediate back flow of ions when the pressure is stopped. The charges are thus preserved just like in conventional batteries. This charge is stored in a chemical state and is converted into electrical energy and drawn when the power is needed. This feature makes the self-charging battery promise a lot of possibilities since it is unique in that it can store the generated energy and remain fully charged over a long period of time. For a conventional battery, the energy stored continues to decrease due to losses arising from the gradual back flow of lithium ions from the anode to the cathode even when the battery is not in use. After some time, the battery will lose all its charge.

This technology is at its initial stages and currently currents from these batteries are low and can only be used to power small electronic devices, but the researchers have showed that it is possible to increase their output larger volumes of around 1.5 V, leading to a wider range of uses. In addition, the batteries’ performance can be improved to higher efficiency levels. For instance, the flexibility of the casing can be modified to provide room for more deformations when subjected to pressure in order to produce more current (Dhameja, 2001).

Materials

Just like in most lithium batteries, a self-charging battery contains a cathode that is made from lithium-cobalt oxide (chemically written as LiCoO2) and an anode made using titanium dioxide (chemically written as TiO2 nanotubes) with a separator made of polymer named Polyvinylidene fluoride (chemically known as PVDF). Whenever pressure is applied to the battery, the Polyvinylidene fluoride separator produces piezoelectric voltage, which causes the lithium ions in the cell to migrate from the positive terminal to the negative terminal, thus charging the battery.

When this battery is assembled, it can be attached to shoe soles, which when walking applies stress to the battery that it requires to generate electricity. The batteries can also harvest energy from a wide set of activities or events such as vehicle tires, ocean waves, and any mechanical vibrations (Crompton, 2000).

Applications

The success of the project of producing self-charging batteries is likely to receive a good reception in the military. Soldiers could benefit from energy supply on the go, given the conditions in which they operate and in which they do not have sources of power in most cases. With this new technology, they can be able to recharge battery-powered equipment even in the forests as they walk. The technology can also power items like watches, which sportsmen use to time themselves when exercising or sporting as well as mobile phones for the ordinary people, especially those in rural areas where access to electricity is a challenge.

Conclusion

A battery is simply an electrochemical cell or cells that convert a stored chemical energy into electrical energy. As discussed above, the use of batteries dates back to nearly 2000 years ago when it was innovated as a way of providing some energy. In 1800, a scientist by the name Alessandro Volta invented the first battery by piling up layers of silver, paper soaked in salt, and zinc. More layers could be piled together to produce the required voltage. Several other inventors have in the past contributed greatly to what we have today. For instance, John Frederic Daniell from Britain developed a much better battery called a ‘Daniell cell’ that overcame the challenge of Volta’s ‘voltaic pile’, which could not produce current for a long period of time. Nowadays, the importance of batteries comes down to what the consumer is using the battery for since most devices in our regular daily life require a battery regardless of the shape, color, or size it comes in. The developments in the battery-making industry have been motivated by the necessities of the dynamic world, which requires a highly portable and durable source of power with the increasing number of gadgets used for numerous functions. From the ‘Baghdad battery’ (arguably the first battery), the Voltaic pile, the Daniel cell to the modern ‘self-charging’ battery, batteries have undergone numerous creative improvements in an attempt to develop the most suited unit that can reliably power the devices in our daily lives. With the world becoming increasingly conscious of the adverse effects humans have on the environment as well as the scarcity of the available resources, there is a need to embrace effective and efficient technologies that find a balance between human existence and the environment. Inventions in the field of renewable energy have proved vital in this course.

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