Batteries are thought to have been used for thousands of years, with the earliest discovery being the ‘’Baghdad batteries’’ believed to be roughly 2000 years old.
Today, battery technology can be found everywhere, from mobile phones and digital cameras to boats, cars, and planes. Batteries have not only changed the way we live in the modern era, but they’ll also be essential in shaping future generations’ lifestyles. Indeed, battery technology’s applications are so wide that it has become crucial to any kind of technological advancement.
While the term ‘’ battery’’ was first used by American inventor Benjamin Franklin, the first true battery was developed by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in 1800. Since then, significant progress has been made, paving the way for our modern lifestyles.
If you want to know more about how battery technology has evolved, keep reading as we talk you through some key milestones and advancements in the battery technology domain over the last century.
– 1903 – Nickel-iron
In 1899, Swedish scientist Waldemar Jungner created the nickel-iron battery. In 1903, American inventor Thomas Edison patented Jungner’s invention hoping it would become the most common battery used for cars.
Nickel-iron rechargeable batteries are still used today, especially in the mining and remote telecommunication industries, as they boast a long battery life, feature a high Depth of Discharge (DoD), and are durable. They can also last for years even after overcharging or short-circuiting.
– 1946: Nickel-cadmium
In 1899, Waldemar Jungner also invented the nickel-cadmium battery (NiCd). The nickel-cadmium battery featured nickel and cadmium electrodes and it was the first battery to use an alkaline electrolyte. It was light and rechargeable and was, therefore, an instant success in an era where mobile devices such as portable radios were thriving. In 1906, Jungner opened a factory to manufacture the batteries, and 1946, marked the beginning of nickel-cadmium battery production in the United States. While sales of nickel-cadmium batteries have progressively been restricted around the world for the last 30 years due to cadmium toxicity, they’re still used for camcorders and portable computers.
– 1955: Alkaline cells
Lew Urry, a Canadian chemical engineer, invented the disposable alkaline cell in 1955. The first alkaline batteries were sold in 1959. Their popularity is due to brands such as Energizer, and approximately 80% of all batteries sold today are alkaline batteries.
Urry’s invention truly revolutionized our way of life. Indeed, it featured an incredible battery life and a high energy density, making the development of portable electronic devices possible and paving the way for our modern, portable lifestyle.
– 1972: AGM – Absorbent Glass Mat
In 1859, French physician Gaston Planté created the flooded lead-acid battery, the first rechargeable battery for commercial use. In 1972, Gates Rubber Corporation patented the first AGM cell, where the electrolyte is held in the glass mats in a suspended form rather than freely flooding the plates in a liquid form, thereby avoiding spillage. AGM batteries uses include motorbikes, boats, racing cars, and solar power systems.
– 1981: Lead-acid gel batteries
While AGM batteries were an advancement from lead-acid batteries in that they were designed to avoid spillage, they were not completely efficient at handling vibration. Therefore, in 1981, Otto Jache’s and Heinz Schroeder patented lead-acid gel batteries. These batteries contain a silicone gel to replace the liquid electrolyte found in flooded lead-acid batteries and were designed to sustain jarring and jolting, a major issue in Powersports.
– 1989: Nickel metal-hydride
As mentioned above, Cadmium’s toxicity turned Nickel-cadmium into an environmental hazard, pushing countries to start limiting their usage in the ’80s. Therefore, in 1989, Stanford R. Ovshinsky developed an improved version featuring a higher energy density and environmental compatibility with the Nickel metal-hydride battery (NiMH). NiMH batteries have a wide range of applications, including electric vehicles and portable products.
– 1991: Lithium-ion
In 1991, Akira Yoshino, a Japanese chemist, developed the first lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which was commercialized by Sony. As the trend was evolving towards wireless, cordless, and portable, Yoshino designed a small, lightweight, and rechargeable battery that would make the existence of mobile phones, tablets, and laptops possible.
With high energy and power density, lithium-ion batteries are technically superior to Alkaline cells. As mobile phones and other mobile electronics became mass-market products, the cost of production decreased, leading to their widespread use for portable electronics, electric vehicles, and power tools.
– 1996 – 2008: Lithium-ion derivatives
Since the invention of lithium-ion batteries, many other different types have been developed, such as Lithium-ion Aluminium Cobalt Oxide, Lithium-nickel Manganese Cobalt, or Lithium-Titanate. They all excel in different aspects of performance, such as life cycles, specific energy or charge rate, and therefore, have many different applications.
– 1997: Lithium polymer
The lithium-ion polymer battery (LiPo) is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery where a polymer electrolyte has replaced a liquid electrolyte. The battery can bend and has a low self-discharge rate, providing manufacturers with incredible benefits such as being able to produce batteries in any desired shape. They’re used in a wide range of industries, including personal electronics, aircraft, and electric vehicles.
According to a study published by the European Patent Office in 2020, patenting activity in the electricity storage industry has increased by 14% per year on average between 2005 and 2018. Therefore, as the need to transition to clean energy grows, the race is on for the next battery technological breakthrough!