Batteries and Fuel Cells


By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the electrochemistry associated with several common batteries
  • Distinguish the operation of a fuel cell from that of a battery

There are many technological products associated with the past two centuries of electrochemistry research, none more immediately obvious than the battery. A battery is a galvanic cell that has been specially designed and constructed in a way that best suits its intended use a source of electrical power for specific applications. Among the first successful batteries was the Daniell cell, which relied on the spontaneous oxidation of zinc by copper(II) ions:

Zn(s) + Cu2+(aq) ⟶ Zn2+(aq) + Cu(s)

Illustration of a Daniell cell taken from a 1904 journal publication (left) along with a simplified illustration depicting the electrochemistry of the cell (right). The 1904 design used a porous clay pot to both contain one of the half-cell’s content and to serve as a salt bridge to the other half-cell.

Modern batteries exist in a multitude of forms to accommodate various applications, from tiny button batteries that provide the modest power needs of a wristwatch to the very large batteries used to supply backup energy to municipal power grids. Some batteries are designed for single-use applications and cannot be recharged (primary cells), while others are based on conveniently reversible cell reactions that allow recharging by an external power source (secondary cells). This section will provide a summary of the basic electrochemical aspects of several batteries familiar to most consumers, and will introduce a related electrochemical device called a fuel cell that can offer improved performance in certain applications.

Watch this site to learn more about batteries.