The History And Future Of Storage Batteries

Batteries have been around for a very long time. As far back as 1749, to be exact, when Benjamin Franklin coined the term during his experiments with electricity. However, it was really in 1780 when people first started making real progress with how electricity is stored.

The history of the battery

You may have heard of Alessandro Volta, the scientist after whom the unit of measurement ‘volt’ is named. Volta invented the world’s first real battery in the year 1800 which became known as the ‘voltaic pile’, a stack of copper and zinc discs separated by brine soaked cloth or cardboard. The brine acted as an electrolyte - in other words, a substance which produces a solution that can conduct electricity.

The voltaic pile could produce a continuous and stable electric current, without losing charge over time when not in use. Sounds great! But the model was flawed due to high amounts of corrosion and a short lifespan. The rest of the first half of the 19th century was filled with various other scientists working to create their own batteries which could be used practically.

Battery Diagram

The first rechargeable battery

Until the mid-1800s, all batteries were limited by the fact that once their chemical reactions were exhausted, the battery was drained permanently. But this changed in 1859 when French physicist Gaston Planté invented the lead-acid battery. In doing so, Planté had created a way to reverse chemical reactions by passing a reverse current through the battery - in other words, recharging it! Though the lead-acid battery has its drawbacks, the breakthrough was so significant that these types of batteries are still in use today - most commonly in cars.

The invention of the lithium-ion battery

The invention of the lithium-ion battery came quite late in the 20th century, with significant developments only really beginning in the 1980s. The first rechargeable lithium-ion battery was created in 1985 by a team in Japan, led by chemist Akira Yoshino, and commercialised by Sony in 1991.

Lithium-ion batteries are some of the most common batteries in use today. This is because lithium is a very lightweight metal and it has a high electrochemical potential, meaning its energy-to-weight ratio is excellent. When it comes to domestic battery storage, in particular, the invention of the lithium-ion battery was huge as it allows homeowners to store a large amount of electricity in a small amount of space.

Modern-day storage battery systems include the Tesla Powerwall, which was first launched in 2015(1). Qualities such as having a high energy density, low self-discharge rate, and (important for domestic use) being low maintenance, have meant that lithium-ion batteries have surged in popularity for solar battery storage.

Future battery technology

What does the battery of the future look like? And just how will we be using it? If the world is to hit its renewable energy targets and take real action against climate change, battery storage systems will have to play a key role.

The very nature of renewable energy sources means that the amount of electricity being generated at any one time is highly variable. Fluctuations in wind speeds, the amount of sunshine, and wave intensity are unavoidable and mean that electricity production from these sources is subject to peaks and troughs. But for our society to function we need to have continuous and stable delivery of electricity, which battery storage systems can facilitate. By using battery storage, utility companies have a reliable way to collect and retain excess electricity which they can then supply during low generation times.

If we look further afield to developing countries, storage batteries have an important role to play there too. Currently, there isn’t widespread use of battery storage in places such as sub-Saharan Africa, where 600 million residents still do not have access to an affordable and reliable source of electricity. However, due to the climate and geographic location, there is significant potential for the use of solar and wind power, so introducing efficient battery storage systems to these areas will be key for increasing the uptake of renewables in third world countries.

If we look at how the batteries themselves can be developed, there is still broad scope for improvement. A good battery should:

    • Be cost-effective
    • Be resilient to weather conditions
    • Be safe for the people and environment around it
    • Be simple to operate and maintain
    • Have a long lifespan

Therefore it’s these qualities which scientists are working to improve over the next few years. Reducing the amount of heat that batteries give off and making them more eco-friendly are both areas of focus.

Some scientists suggest that iron oxide could hold to key to advancing battery storage further. It is claimed that using iron oxide in a lithium ion battery could increase the amount of storage by up to 3 times as much. Iron oxide is also very low cost, environmentally abundant and generally non-toxic, so unlocking its potential for use in storage batteries would be a huge step forward for energy usage around the world.

Storage batteries have changed the way we use electricity and make it much easier for people to power their homes using renewable energy sources. Find out more about our top of the range storage batteries and in-house installers that are Rated 5* Which? Trust Traders now.

1. Source from TechCrunch

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