Batteries are stores of energy created by the interaction of different elements at the atomic level. Since the first battery was invented in 1799 using only copper and zinc, researchers have harnessed many other elements, each with its unique properties, for use in batteries.

Some elements, like lithium and nickel, can be used to make many types of batteries. Others like, vanadium and cadmium, are, as of today, only used in one type of battery each. And the vast majority of elements, like the noble gases, don’t have the right chemical properties or, like silver and gold, are just too expensive to use in batteries.

Briefly described here are the important battery types, including key historical examples, the most common forms used today, and the cutting-edge chemistry that could be game-changers in the future.

Inside every battery, there are four components: two electrodes (anode and cathode), a separator (to prevent shorting), and an electrolyte (to move charges between the electrodes). For the periodic table, we focused on the elements that make up the cathode, the anode, and the “carrier,” the stuff that moves the charge between the electrodes (which is often something in the electrolyte).

To be sure, this is not an exhaustive list of batteries, but here are the chemical makeup and common applications for each individual battery type:

You may also find this link to Caplor’s salt water battery and journey of interest – click here.

Voltaic Pile

Invented in: 1799

Anode: Zinc (Zn)

Cathode: Copper (Cu)

Carrier: H+

Applications: not in commercial use

Italian chemist Alessandro Volta invented the Voltaic Pile to win an argument with biologist Luigi Galvani. Volta wanted to prove to Galvani that electricity was generated by metals and not from some animal spirit, as he believed then.

Lead acid

Invented in: 1859

Anode: Lead (Pb)

Cathode: Lead dioxide (PbO2)

Carrier: H+ and HSO4

Applications: Gasoline cars, back-up energy storage

Lead-acid was the world’s first rechargeable battery. It was used to power electric cars in the 19th century, and it is still present in most gas-powered cars for ignition and running electronics.

Nickel cadmium

Invented in: 1899

Anode: Cadmium (Cd)

Cathode: Nickel oxide hydroxide (NiO(OH))

Carrier: OH

Applications: Electronic devices

NiCd batteries powered portable devices of the 1990s, from camcorders to the first mobile phones. But cadmium is a highly toxic element, and thus NiCd’s use declined after lithium-ion batteries were developed.

Nickel iron

Invented in: 1901

Anode: Iron (Fe)

Cathode: Nickel oxide hydroxide (NiO(OH))

Carrier: OH

Applications: Railways, back-up energy storage

Though Thomas Edison was the first to sell these batteries in the US, it was invented by a Swede named Waldemar Jungner. The batteries were sold until the 1970s.

Nickel zinc

Invented in: 1932

Anode: Zinc (Zn)

Cathode: Nickel oxide hydroxide (NiO(OH))

Carrier: OH

Applications: Tiny portable electronics, power tools

Thomas Edison got a patent for the nickel-zinc battery in 1901, but it wasn’t used in commercial applications until 1932.

Rechargeable alkaline (AA, AAA)

Invented in: 1950

Anode: Zinc (Zn)

Cathode: Manganese dioxide (MnO2)

Carrier: OH

Applications: Electronic devices

Often called “pencil cells,” alkaline batteries powered many of the early portable devices. Today, some common devices, like TV remote controls and digital clocks, still use alkaline batteries.

Nickel hydrogen

Invented in: 1977

Anode: Hydrogen (H2)

Cathode: Nickel oxide hydroxide (NiO(OH))

Carrier: OH/H2O

Applications: Satellites

Nickel hydrogen batteries can operate at temperatures as low as –30°C, which make it attractive for use in space applications.

Vanadium flow battery

Invented in: 1986

Anode: V(II)/ V(III) redox couple

Cathode: V(IV)/V(V) redox couple

Carrier: H+

Applications: Back-up energy storage

The battery uses large vats of liquids to store the anode and cathode materials, which are brought into electrical contact only when the battery is being charged or discharged.

Nickel metal hydride

Invented in: 1990

Anode: Metal /water

Cathode: Nickel oxide hydroxide (NiO(OH))

Carrier: OH

Applications: Hybrid cars, electronic devices

The NiMH battery is present in every Toyota Prius, which is the world’s most popular hybrid car. It has the ability to charge and discharge quickly and do so thousands of times without breaking apart.

LCO (Lithium cobalt oxide)

Invented in: 1991

Anode: LiaC6

Cathode: LibCoO2

Carrier: Li+

Applications: Electronic devices, all phones and laptops

The LCO battery is what made the smartphone age possible. The battery is present is most of the billions of smartphones sold so far.

Sodium sulfur

Invented in: 1993

Anode: Sodium (Na)

Cathode: Sulphur (S8)

Carrier: Na+

Applications: Back-up energy storage

The sodium sulfur battery operates at a temperature of 300°C. The world’s largest “virtual” battery plant in UAE uses these types of batteries.

LFP (Lithium iron phosphate)

Invented in: 1996

Anode: LiaC6

Cathode: LibFePO4

Carrier: Li+

Applications: Electric cars, electric buses, electric trucks

The LFP battery is less energy dense but also cheaper to produce than other types of lithium-ion batteries, which makes it ideal for use in electric buses, where volume or weight isn’t as much of a constraint as it is in cars.

NCA (Nickel cobalt aluminum oxide)

Invented in: 1999

Anode: LiaC6

Cathode: LibNi0.8Co0.15Al0.05O2

Carrier: Li+

Applications: Electric car

Tesla deploys NCA batteries in its electric vehicles. NCA batteries are on par with NMC batteries in the amount of energy they can store by weight or volume.

LMO (Lithium manganese oxide)

Invented in: 1999

Anode: LiaC6

Cathode: LibMn2O4

Carrier: Li+

Applications: Power tools

LMO batteries are able to deliver lots of energy in a short time, which makes them useful in equipment like drills.

LTO (Lithium titanate)

Invented in: 2008

Anode: Li4-aTi5O12

Cathode: LibFePO4

Carrier: Li+

Applications: Fast-charging stations, forklifts

LTO batteries are high-power batteries, which makes them suitable for use at fast-charging stations.

NMC (Nickel manganese cobalt oxide)

Invented in: 2008

Anode: LiaC6

Cathode: LibNi1–x–yCoxMnyO2

Carrier: Li+

Applications: Electric cars

The battery is widely used in electric cars today. Among different types of lithium-ion batteries, NMC cathodes pack the most amount of energy by volume and weight.

Lithium sulfur

Invented in: 2008

Anode: Li

Cathode: Sulphur (S8)

Carrier: Li+

Applications: Electric planes

Lithium sulfur batteries have only been shown to work in some applications, but haven’t proven to work well in real-world environments. Because lithium-sulfur batteries can pack in many times more energy per unit weight, its reliable commercial versions could make electric flight possible.

Zinc bromine

Invented in: Unknown

Anode: Zinc (Zn)

Cathode: Bromine (Br2)

Carrier: Zn2+ and Br

Applications: Back-up energy storage

This battery is made up of cheap ingredients, but requires a large amount of the elements involved, so takes up a lot of space. That makes it ideal only for use as bulk back-up storage.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Accreditations

We are accredited with a number of codes, practises and are also partnered with reputable companies within the renewable energy sector
Fronius Service Partner
Tesla Powerwall
Solar Edge
Mitsubishi
N F U
Chamber Business Awards
Renewable Energy Consumer Code
Solar Trade Association
Kingspan
Farmers Weekly
Advance Solar Installer
Choose How You Move
Herefordshire Housing

Let us help you on your renewable energy journey

Sign up for our latest energy news!