History of the Battery * Battery Technology * Lead-acid * Nickel-Cadmium * Rechargeable Battery

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History of the Battery

rechargeable battery

The first rechargeable batteries, lead-acid batteries, were invented in 1859 by Gaston Planté, a French physicist. The electrification of Europe and America in the late 19th century sparked the use of storage batteries for telegraphy, portable electric-lighting systems and back-up power. But the biggest market was probably hybrid cars. At the turn of the century battery-powered vehicles were a common sight on city streets, because they were quiet and did not emit any noxious fumes. But electric cars could not compete on range. In 1912 the electric self-starter, which replaced cranking by hand, meant that cars with internal-combustion engines left electric cars in the dust.

Nickel-cadmium cells came along around 1900 and were used in situations where more power was needed. As with lead-acid batteries, nickel-cadmium cells had a tendency to produce gases while in use, especially when being overcharged. In the late 1940s Georg Neumann, a German engineer, succeeded in fine-tuning the battery's chemistry to avoid this problem, making a sealed version possible. It started to become more widely available in the 1960s, powering devices such as electric razors and toothbrushes.

For most of the 20th century lead-acid and nickel-cadmium cells dominated the rechargeable-battery market, and both are still in use today. Although they cannot store as much energy for a given weight or volume as newer technologies, they can be extremely cost-effective. Small lead-acid battery packs provide short bursts of power to starter motors in virtually all cars; they are also used in large back-up power systems, and make up about half of the worldwide rechargeable-battery market. Nickel-cadmium batteries are used to provide emergency back-up power on planes and trains.