Facts That Figure: Batteries

Facts That Figure: Batteries

By: C.G. Hoffman

Chanukah is coming soon, and you know what that means. You’re going to need lots of… batteries!

It might be that Benjamin Franklin was the first to coin the term “battery,” as he was known for experimenting with the little known force of electricity. It was named after a military term used for a group of munitions or cannons, usually six large guns together with the artillerymen and equipment needed for a large scale offense.

The first true battery was invented in 1800 by the Italian Alessandro Volta, who gave us the word “volt.” He built his battery by stacking together discs of copper and zinc, separated by cloth soaked in salted water. Wires attached to both ends carried the charge, which was chemically stored in the “battery.”

How long can a battery run? Well, sometimes, seemingly forever! A bell at Oxford University has been ringing continuously since 1840! Nobody knows exactly what kind of battery it runs on, and experts say it will eventually run out, but so far it has rung over 10 billion rings!

The year 1859 heralded the first rechargeable battery, invented by Gaston Planté, a French physician. In the following years, other inventors improved on batteries by introducing various kinds, such as the nickel-cadmium (NiCd) battery, which remained the only rechargeable battery for almost a century.

The lead-acid battery was invented by Martha C. Weston in 1859 when she was only 17! Production of her battery didn’t start until 1917. It is still the battery most commonly used in cars.

The battery most used in modern times is the alkaline battery, first commercially introduced in the 1960’s. The “D” battery was first introduced in 1917 by the Eveready company, for use by its new product that would change the world, or at least summer in bungalow colonies: The flashlight, or “torch” as it’s called in England.

One of the most successful advertising campaigns of all time, was when the Energizer company introduced the pink Energizer bunny. Consumers started buying into their slogan that Energizer batteries were the batteries that keep on “going and going and going and going…” The original campaign was actually intended as a joke to poke fun at their main rival, Duracell, which had used a pink bunny in their advertising. However, both stood to gain from the campaign, as studies showed that consumers consistently mixed up the two, and were buying more of both Energizer and Duracell!

Don’t throw away your old batteries, use them to… grow food? An Australian company is recycling old batteries and turning them into fertilizer for crops! By separating out the components that are toxic, their method takes micro-nutrients available in alkaline batteries and puts them into soil, which it enriches with zinc and manganese oxide.

The average battery has a lifespan of 6 years. (Not in our house!)

The most popular size battery is the “AA” or “Double A” battery. It is mostly used to power small electronics such as kitchen gadgets, wall clocks or toys.

The battery industry was worth over $61 billion by 2018.

The famous billionaire entrepreneur, Elon Musk keeps on coming up with daring ideas to challenge the old ways we are used to doing things. One of the ways he hopes to change the way we use electricity, is with his Powerwall®. The Powerwall® is essentially a huge pack of batteries mounted to a wall, meant to be used in conjunction with solar panels. They store accumulated electricity, and, in case of a blackout, can power lights and small appliances for a number of hours. 

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