Consumers use batteries every day: in laptops, GSM, GPS, watches, MP3-player, pocket-calculator, remote controls, golf-carts, cars etc. In Western Europe 30 to 40 batteries per person per year are used. And this number is still rising. On top of that there is a demand for improvement: longer lasting, smaller and lighter, cheaper and environmental friendly and recyclable. The application of the rechargeable battery is on the increase. Car manufacturers are experimenting with battery-powered cars. The real breakthrough might come with a battery that will allow cars to travel long distances on one charge.
The development of batteries started in 1800. Volta showed that there is a voltage difference between to different metals in a conducting fluid. The current source that Volta invented was build on a electro-chemical principal. Chemical energy transforms into electrical energy. Galvanic cells are therefore called electro-chemical current sources. When the chemical energy is present in the cell, the cell is usually called a battery. The word battery actually means a cascade of galvanic cells.
There are two types of batteries. Non rechargeable, the so called primary batteries, can be used only one time. Rechargeable, secondary cells, can be refuelled by adding electric energy. This will later be converted to chemical energy.
The rechargeable galvanic cell is best described as accumulator, because the cells serves as a reservoir for electrical energy. Electrical energy is no so easy to hold. In an accumulator it is done by converting to chemical energy. The first accumulators were charged by primary cells, because there were no electricity plants. From 1800 to 1866 (Siemens discovered how motion could be converted into electricity) the galvanic cells were the only source of electrical energy, that was supplied as direct current.
A different type of galvanic cells are the fuel cells. The chemical energy is stored outside the cell, only the conversion to electric energy takes place within the cell. This principal for the hydrogen-oxygen cell was discovered in 1839 by Grove. Research towards the technical realisation only started a century later. Back then manned space travel to the moon needed an independent energy-supply that lasted a long period.
The great advantage of galvanic cells is that they are silent, autonomous functioning energy systems, which can supply energy at virtually every location. Through the times a great diversity in cells has enveloped. Many thought that the concept of "two electrodes in a pot" would disappear soon. The contrary has happened; the use of batteries is very much on the up. Mostly driven by the development of electronic appliances. This asks for smaller, lighter and standardized batteries for portable equipment (digital camera’s, mobile phones or notebooks, to name just a few) and for batteries with a high energy density and large reliability. In the medical field there is a demand for implantable batteries for pacemakers, pumps en sensors. The interest for large batteries is rapidly growing. They are being used in electrical vehicles and for storage of sun power.