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Batteries

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Batteries

Did you know that electric cars have batteries that have as much energy as 20,000 AA batteries?! Batteries come in all shapes and sizes, and most of us use electrical devices that get their energy from batteries, whether we see the batteries (in flashlights) or not (in phones). We all know that batteries provide electricity, but what are batteries exactly, how do they supply energy, and what are their physical properties? This article answers all these questions!

To understand what batteries are, we first need to understand what an electrical cell is.

Electrical cells

An electrical cell is an object that holds chemical energy. This can be done in numerous ways, none of which are important to understand to grasp the electrical behaviour of cells. It suffices to know that some chemical interaction causes the cell to have a difference in electric potential (potential difference or voltage) between two points of the battery, which we call its poles. The positive pole is defined as the pole that positive charges are repelled by, and the negative pole is the pole that is not the positive pole.

A voltage or potential difference between two points is how much energy a unit charge gains when travelling between those two points.

Let a particlehave twice the charge of a particle. This means it interacts with electromagnetic fields twice as much as particle, so particleis twice as affected by the potential difference of a cell, so it will experience twice the force. Thus, when travelling from one pole to the other, particlewill experience twice as much work on it as particlewill. The result is that particlegains twice as much energy as particle.

We see that the energy gained divided by the charge is the same for both particles! This quantity is the same for all particles, and it is only a property of the cell. Therefore, we can give it a name (voltage, or potential difference) and assign it as a property of the cell.

Definition of Batteries

The definition of a battery is entirely based on that of an electrical cell. In general, a battery is any system of one or more cells joined in a combination of parallel and serial joints, but at the level of this article, the following definition is adequate.

A battery is a system of two or more cells that are joined in series.

As a result, a battery has a positive and a negative pole, and the potential difference of a battery is the sum of the potential differences of the individual cells inside the battery, given that the cells are joined facing the same way (meaning the negative end of one cell is connected to the positive cell of another cell).

Batteries batteries positive poles StudySmarter

Batteries with an indication of the positive pole by a +-sign, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

How do batteries work?

Batteries contain cells that contain chemical energy, which causes a voltage between its poles. If we put a particle with a positive charge near the positive pole of a battery, it will be pushed to the negative pole of the battery by the voltage (see the figure below). This means that the battery does work on the particle (because it exerts a force over a distance), so the battery loses energy in this process. This energy came from the chemical energy inside the battery: the battery converted its chemical energy into work. Thus, after this process, the battery contains less chemical energy.

Batteries Schematic image of a battery StudySmarterA battery exerting a force on a positive charge, pushing it from the positive pole to the negative pole in the process, StudySmarter Originals.

The displayed percentage of your phone battery is a measure of how much chemical energy is left inside the battery of your phone. If you use your phone a lot, it will require more work (because charged particles must be pushed around to operate your phone), so more chemical energy from the battery must be converted to work. As a result, your phone will die earlier.

Properties of batteries

The chemical design and composition of a battery will dictate how much chemical energy it contains, and thus how much electrical energy the battery can provide. It will also dictate how large the potential difference is between the poles of the battery.

Remember that the voltage determines how much energy a unit charge gains when travelling through the voltage difference. The workdone on a particle with a chargethat travels through a voltageis given by the product of the charge and the voltage,

(because voltage is energy gained divided by the charge of a particle). A battery with a higher voltage will thus put a larger force on a charge than a battery with a lower voltage will put on the same charge.

The battery capacity is the total charge it can displace from one pole to the other. This is measured in SI-units in(coulomb), but it is commonly measured in(ampere-hours). The total chemical energyis the total amount of work the battery can do (assuming a 100% efficiency for simplicity), so the total chargethat the battery can displace from one pole to the other pole is given by

.

In short, batteries have properties such as battery capacity, voltage, and energy capacity.

Battery symbol in physics

In physics and electrical engineering, there exist symbols for every element in an electrical circuit, and cells and batteries are no exception. See the figure below for the symbols for an electrical cell and a battery.

Batteries symbols for cell and battery StudySmarterAbove is the symbol of an electrical cell, and below is the symbol of a battery, Wikimedia Commons.

We see that the symbol for a battery is a graphical representation of what a battery is, namely a couple of electrical cells joined in series.

Functions and examples of batteries

Batteries are commonly used in electrical devices, such as phones, digital watches, laptops, and cars. In all cases, the function of a battery is to provide electrical energy to a system. What purpose this energy has differs from case to case. In phones, watches, and laptops, this energy is mainly used to operate the system and make a screen light up, while in cars, this energy is used to power the starter motor, headlights, and indicators, among other things. In electric vehicles, the energy from the battery is used mainly to power the electric motors to make the car move.

Types of batteries

The chemical energy inside a battery can come from a wide variety of chemical compositions, and the transfer of chemical to electrical energy can happen via a lot of different chemical or physical reactions inside the battery. This means that there are a lot of different types of batteries.

Let's list three of the most common battery types.

A lithium-ion battery works on the basis of the movement of lithium ions through the battery causing chemical energy loss and electrical energy gain. These batteries are often found in your electrical devices, and electric vehicles.

Batteries lithium-ion battery StudySmarterA lithium-ion battery that goes in a phone, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0.

A nickel-cadmium battery works on the basis of a chemical reaction between nickel oxide hydroxide and metallic cadmium which produces resultant chemicals and energy. Some electrical devices, like drills, make use of this type of battery. These nickel-cadmium batteries are rechargeable.

Batteries nickel-cadmium battery StudySmarterA nickel-cadmium battery with charging information on it, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

An alkaline battery works on the basis of a chemical reaction between zinc and manganese dioxide. These batteries are not rechargeable. Some electrical devices, like radios and flashlights, use this type of battery.

Batteries alkaline batteries StudySmarterSome alkaline batteries in their familiar shapes, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

Batteries - Key takeaways

  • An electrical cell is an object that holds chemical energy. There is a potential difference, or a voltage, between its two poles.
  • A battery is a system of two or more cells that are joined in series.
    • The potential difference of a battery is the sum of the potential differences of the individual cells inside the battery.
  • A battery converts its chemical energy into work done on charged particles through the potential difference it creates.
  • Batteries have properties such as battery capacity, voltage, and energy capacity. Battery capacity has units of charge, and it is equal to the energy capacity divided by the voltage. In general,.
  • The symbol for a battery is a schematic drawing of a couple of cells that are joined in series.
  • The function of a battery is to provide electrical energy to a system.
  • There are different types of batteries, which we distinguish by looking at their chemical composition and how they transfer chemical energy into electrical energy.

Frequently Asked Questions about Batteries

The most basic way to view a battery is as a system of two or more electrical cells that are joined in series.

Batteries contain chemical energy, which causes a voltage between its poles. This voltage can push charged particles over some distance, which is how the chemical energy is transferred into useful work.

Chemical energy is stored inside a battery. Different types of batteries use different types of chemical energy.

A battery has properties like voltage (in V), battery capacity (in C or Ah), and energy capacity (in J or Wh).

There are more than 3 types of batteries, but common battery types are lithium-ion, nickel-cadmium, and alkaline.

Final Batteries Quiz

Question

What causes the voltage over an electrical cell?

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Answer

The chemical energy inside the cell.

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Question

What is another word for potential difference?

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Answer

Voltage

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Question

What does it mean for two points to have a potential difference between them?

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Answer

It means that a unit charge gains energy when travelling between those two points. The amount of energy gained per unit charge is the value of the potential difference.

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Question

Does a charged particle gain less or more energy when travelling through a bigger potential difference?

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Answer

More

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Question

Define what a battery is.

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Answer

A battery is a system of two or more (electrical) cells that are joined in series.

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Question

Is the voltage of a battery always equal to the sum of the voltages of the cells it contains?

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Answer

No, it depends on the configuration of the cells.

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Question

What is the name of the positive pole of a battery?

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Answer

Anode

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Question

What is the name of the negative pole of a battery?

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Answer

Cathode

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Question

When a charged particle is moved because of a battery, what effects does this have on the battery?

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Answer

Its chemical energy decreases.

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Question

How many vertical line segments does the symbol for a battery contain?

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Answer

4 (or 5, if you include the line segment of the +-sign)

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Question

What is the function of a battery?

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Answer

The function of a battery is to provide electrical energy to a system.

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Question

Which pole of a battery are electrons attracted to?

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Answer

Electrons are negatively charged, so they are attracted to the positive pole of cells and batteries.

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Question

Let there be a battery with a voltage V and a particle with a positive charge C. The distance between the poles of the battery is d. The particle travels from the anode to the cathode. What would cause the chemical energy of the battery to decrease even more?

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Answer

A larger charge C

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Question

Bonus: name three types of batteries.

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Answer

Own answer. Good answers are: lithium-ion, nickel-cadmium, alkaline, dry cell.

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Question

What is the formula for work done by a potential difference V on a charge C?

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Answer

W=VC

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