We tend to think of rechargeable batteries as a fairly recent invention. Perhaps that’s because we think only in terms of those miniature, consumer cells that run our electronic devices. But there is a lot more to the battery world than AA, AAA, and 9 V batteries. It turns out that rechargeable batteries are older than you might think.
Unsure of the history of the rechargeable battery? A good place to start educating yourself is under the hood of your car. There you’ll find a lead acid battery that not only provides the energy necessary to start your car, but also powers all of its on-board electronic devices. That lead acid battery traces its roots back to the mid-19th century and a French physicist by the name of Gaston Planté.
Storing Useful Energy
Though it has been suggested that primitive batteries may have been used in the ancient Middle East, there is no proof of a working battery that old. The first record we have of a working battery dates back to 1800 and an Italian scientist by the name of Alessandro Volta.
Volta’s invention was capable of continuously generating electrical current as long as the right chemical solution could be maintained. It was, in essence, a battery. However, its primitive design prevented Volta’s battery from having any practical use. Gaston Planté set out to change that.
Planté wanted a device that could store enough energy to actually be useful. He also wanted something that could be recharged as needed, eliminating the need to continually feed the device so that it could produce electricity. To make a long story short, Planté came up with the lead acid battery.
Revolutionizing the Automobile
Gaston Planté’s lead acid battery was an important invention, though no one knew how important for several decades. In the short term, the battery had a major flaw in that it was only capable of producing electricity in short bursts. That made Planté’s invention unsuitable for long-term power needs. But not long after Planté introduced it, the first automobile came to be.
The earliest production automobiles of the early 20th century relied on hand cranking to start. It didn’t take long for engineers to wonder if the Gaston Planté lead acid battery could eliminate the laborious process. One thing led to another, and the rest is history. Lead acid batteries became the de facto standard for automobiles.
Recharging As You Drive
What you might not know is that the lead acid battery in your car does more than provide juice to get it started. All of the electronic devices in your car also run off that battery. So do the headlights, turn signals, etc. You wouldn’t know it because the car’s alternator continuously recharges the battery as you drive. If the alternator fails, your car will quickly drain its battery and subsequently shut down.
Today’s electric cars go one step further. The batteries that power them are not lead acid batteries, they are lithium-ion. According to Utah-based Pale Blue Earth, lithium-ion is the perfect choice for electric vehicles due to its high energy density, consistent discharge rate, and long life.
Pale Blue Earth’s USB rechargeable batteries are, more or less, miniature versions of the lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars. You know how reliable lithium-ion batteries are if you use them frequently – and you do if you have a cell phone and laptop computer.
Rechargeable batteries are an important part of modern life. Yet they are not a modern invention. Gaston Planté’s rechargeable lead acid battery is now about 160 years old. How cool is that?