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Gaston Planté and the Importance of
the First Rechargeable Battery in the 21st Century

(Planté,
3)

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Every generation
is defined by a key invention, an invention that changes the way we live and
not only at that time but continues to do so in future years. One such
invention is the first rechargeable/ secondary battery, the lead-acid cell
invented by the physicist, Gaston Planté, in 1859 (Planté). It inevitably
transformed our world, maybe not at first, but it was soon used in hundreds of
different devices and from his design, the improvements that have been made
have led to inventions such as cars, phones, laptops, etc. Furthermore, his battery
slowly but surely made attaining and utilising renewable energy a possibility
and the impact that his battery as well others have had on economies all around
the world is immeasurable.. It is undisputedly one of the most important
inventions to date but the question that needs answering is why is it such an
important invention in history and why is it so important in today’s day and
age?

            Gaston
Planté’s development of the lead-acid cell, unknown to him at that time, was a
huge stepping stone for science and technology. The first discovery of
secondary currents was observed shortly after the invention of the Voltaic Battery
at the beginning of the 19th century by a French scientist named
Gautherot (Planté, 11). He discovered that the “platinum or silver wires which
had been used to decompose saline water by this battery (Voltaic Battery),
possessed the property, after having been cut off from the battery itself, of
giving an electric current of short duration”, meaning a secondary current was
visible although it only appeared for a very short duration (Planté 11).
Another physicist named Ritter also discovered this same phenomenon and made a
secondary battery, “inactive in itself” that could reverse the current for a
moment if powered by the voltaic battery (Planté, 12). It was from these
discoveries and the work of these scientists that Planté was able to build and
perfect his battery.

Planté’s battery
was extremely unique when first introduced into society. Up until this point
primary cells were the only batteries in existence, batteries that could not be
recharged and once a current had passed through it and all available power had been
expelled, they were rendered useless and thrown away as waste (Maglab). At that
time in 1859, the Daniel Cell was the most successful battery, but this battery
produced a low voltage of only 1 volt and was limited by the fact that the chemical
reaction within the battery could not be reversed (Maglab). The major difference in Planté’s battery compared to those previous, was
that he was able to recharge his battery as the chemical reaction within it was
reversible (Gonzalez). Thus, when a current is passed through the cell, the
chemical reaction runs to completion (discharge), but the important aspect of
this lead-acid battery was that if you ran a reverse current through it, the chemical
reactions are reversed, restoring the battery back to its original power and
thus charging the battery (Gonzalez).

            After having experimented with many metals and figuring
out which metals would have the highest secondary electromotive force (E.M.F.)
(“the voltage developed by any source of electrical energy such
as a battery or dynamo” (Google
Definitions)), Planté discovered that the “E.M.F. of a voltameter with lead
plates in water acidulated with sulphuric acid, was higher and more lasting
than that of any of the other metals” (Planté, 30). From this discovery, Planté
made his first lead-acid cell which is depicted in figure 2 below. The lead
acid cell contains two separate lead plates, a lead anode, and a lead dioxide
cathode wrapped into coils, separated from each other by cloth and immersed into
a glass jar filled with nine tenths water and one tenth sulphuric acid (Planté,
31). Once electricity is passed through the cell, the anode and the cathode “react
with the acid to create
lead sulfate. The reaction at the lead anode releases electrons while the reaction
at the lead dioxide cathode consumes them, producing a current” (Gonzalez).
From this point, the electrodes and the charge within the battery can be transferred
to a device that needs electricity (Maglab).

Figure 2 (Kurzweil)

           

Chemical equations within lead-acid
Cell (Kurzweil)

 

At positive
plate (cathode)

PbO2 + 3H+ + HSO4? + 2e? ? PbSO4 + 2H2O

 

At negative
plate (anode)

Pb + HSO4? ? PbSO4 + H+ + 2e?

 

Cell
reaction: (discharge= forward reaction, charge= back reaction)

PbO2 + Pb + 2H2SO4
 2PbSO4 + 2H2O

 

The equation at the cathode
and the equation at the anode add together to form the overall cell reaction
(Kurzweil).

The chemical equations mentioned above are what made Planté’s battery
functional and ultimately led to the creation of the first successful secondary
battery. Once Planté had made this first lead-acid cell, he proceeded to create
a stronger secondary battery depicted in figure 3. This secondary battery
contained 9 lead acid cells in a series circuit (Gonzalez). By increasing the
number of cells within the battery, it allowed for a higher voltage capacity.

 

Figure 3 (Kurzweil)

 

The battery itself was
extremely large and unconventional, and had a surface area of ten square meters
(Planté, 31). Although it was heavy, big, unconventional and certainly not
portable, its functionality was its defining quality. The best-selling battery
before the lead-acid battery, was the Daniel Cell which only had a voltage of
1.0 volt, whereas each cell in the Planté’s battery produced a voltage of 2.0
volts, double that of the Daniel Cell (Maglab). Once 9 of these cells were
combined in a series circuit, it greatly increased the voltage to that of 18
volts, making it an extremely powerful battery at that time and showing its
importance in society (Maglab). Although powerful, the battery was only able to
deliver large currents for a short amount of time and in short bursts and thus
could not be used for very many purposes. It’s main uses when first introduced
include powering the
lights in train carriages while stopped at stations and used as stand-by
generators at electric companies (Maglab).

            Although
the invention of the lead-acid cell was revolutionary, many improvements had to
be made in order to make it longer lasting and reliable. It was the French
physicist Camille Faure who understood that the lead dioxide “cathode shortened
the life of the battery as it had minimal active material for chemical
reaction” (Maglab). After making the necessary changes to Planté’s original
design by increasing the surface area of the electrodes using lead paste, the
battery could produce the same amount of power for a longer time before it had
to be recharged (Maglab). In today’s day and age the lead-acid cell and battery
is still used predominantly in automobiles, forklifts and in marine and
uninterruptable power sources as it is considered to be very “dependable and
inexpensive on a cost-per-watt-base” (Battery University).

It is because of Planté’s discovery
and idea that the 21st century is filled with amazing devices that
now consume our world. From Plante’s first secondary battery, many people understood
the value of the secondary battery and its potential and began to make
improvements on it, making the batteries more functional, longer lasting,
powerful and smaller. It is Planté’s discovery that made these new designs such
as the nickel-cadmium battery, the nickel-metal-hydride battery and the
lithium-ion batteries possible (Battery University).

 

 

 

 

 

Table 1: Characteristics of Commonly used Rechargeable
Batteries (Battery University)

 

In Table 1, it
shows the characteristics of each battery and how each has continued to become
more powerful and reliable. From the lead-acid cell which has a voltage of 2V
and a specific energy of 30-50 Wh/kg, cycle life of 200-300 cycles and high
toxicity, batteries such as the lithium-ion have been perfected based on
Planté’s design and as a result have a higher voltage of up to 3.7 volts, a
cycle life of 1000-2000 cycles, specific energy of 150-250 Wh/kg and low
toxicity, all these modifications making these new batteries more powerful,
efficient and safe resulting in a much larger cost, but allow them to be
utilised in new ways in new devices (Battery University). It is because of
batteries such as these that were developed from Planté’s first invention, that
has led society to where it is today with incredible technology that we use
constantly such as, cars, laptops, phones, etc. These devices and batteries
would have most likely always been discovered, but it is because of Planté’s
first secondary battery and when he discovered it that made it possible to have
these inventions available to us now and not later in the future.

Planté’s
invention as well as improvement of his invention and other batteries based off
his design have to led to a huge battery industry. In 2014 in the US, the
global battery market size was 62 billion dollars mainly due to automotive
applications which predominantly utilises secondary batteries (Grand View
Research). This shows what a huge industry the battery industry is and the
massive affect that it has had on the US economy and employment rates in the
US, as a countless number of jobs are needed for those who create and
manufacture these batteries. In graph 1 below, it shows the predicted revenue
from the battery market from certain batteries in North America. Notably,
secondary batteries fall under all of the listed categories (Grand View
Research). It is also evident from the graph that Planté’s lead-acid cell is
still in high usage, producing around 4 billion dollars in 2015 and predicted
to reach above 6 billion by 2024 (Grand View Research). The secondary
Lithium-ion battery is predicted to have the highest growth in revenue from
around 4 billion in 2015 to 7 billion in 2024 (Grand View Research). Overall
the battery market in North America continues to be in high demand having a
total revenue in 2015 of approximately 14 billion and predicted to reach just
under 30 billion in 2024, more than doubling the revenue un only 9 years (Grand
View Research). These statistics show just how much of an impact the lead-acid
cell and the improvements from Planté’s design have had on the US economy and
will continue to have on the US economy. It can also be predicted that there
will be a similar increase in revenue in the battery market in other countries.

 

 

 

North America battery market revenue by
product, 2013 – 2024 (USD Billion) (Published 2015)

 

Graph 1 (Grand View Research)

Furthermore,
Planté’s invention of the secondary battery has greatly helped society in
preserving the environment. His first lead acid cell caused people to begin using
his battery which created less waste than primary cells. This is because once
primary cells have been completely discharged, they are useless and end up
being thrown away, leaving hazardous toxic chemicals wherever they may end up (Maglab).
Furthermore, lead-acid cells have rates of recycling up to 98%(Maglab). The
lead within the cells and the plastic and glass from the exterior part of the
battery are all recycled and the sulphuric acid within the battery is
neutralised so that it is no longer harmful and toxic (Maglab). Planté
unknowingly made a very environmentally friendly battery and made the idea of renewable
energy in the future a possibility.

Planté not only
made his battery more environmentally friendly by making it reusable and
rechargeable, but his development of the battery put a firm idea into people’s
heads that sustainable and renewable energy is possible, a type of energy that
does not have waste products, is continuous and is produced naturally from
renewable sources. Not only this but it was Planté’s battery that allowed for
the storage of electricity which ultimately makes renewable energy sources such
as wind energy, solar energy and water energy possible and attainable to use as
electricity (Maglab). In order to use electricity formed from clean and
renewable sources such as those sources mentioned above, it “requires
efficiently distributed electrical storage by high-power and high-energy
secondary batteries using abundant, low cost materials in sustainable process”
(Xu et al.). Furthermore, by utilising the secondary battery to harness
electricity from wind, solar and water energy, Planté has unknowingly helped
the world drastically in the fight against climate change. Although there are
other ways to harness and store the electricity from renewable sources, the
secondary battery is one very effective way to store and utilise the energy
from these sources (Xu et al.). By using the secondary battery in this way, it
has many important advantages for those who use it and for the environment.
Firstly, by using rechargeable batteries to harness nature’s energy and convert
it into electricity, it will aid in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and it
will also save those who use renewable energy lots of money as the initial
construction of devices such as solar power and wind turbines may be rather
expensive, but in the long run can help drastically diminish costs of
electricity (The Alternative Daily). It will aid in the diversification of our
energy supply, thus reducing reliance on foreign oil and other fossil fuels
which are polluting the air and contributing to climate change (The Alternative
Daily). Furthermore, utilising renewable energy will create more jobs for
scientists and those installing the devices and the implementation of renewable
energy technology is only predicted to rise due to the effect of climate change
on the planet (The Alternative Daily). It will also aid in improving public
health as a study from the Clean energy and Climate Change Office of the U.S.
Enivironmental Protection agency discovered that Americans spend an estimated
$361.7 to 886.5 billion every year on our health for conditions due to the
usage of fossil fuels (The Alternative Daily). By using renewable energy
sources, this number will steadily decline and many people will not have to
suffer from these problems. Improvements from Planté’s first battery allowed
these sources to be harnessed and will continue to aid us and fight the war
against climate change in the future.

Although there
are many positives to utilising Planté’s secondary battery as well as the other
secondary batteries in existence, there are also many negative consequences
that can come from the utilisation of these batteries. One such example is
pollution from automobiles. Although the battery does not actually create this
pollution, it aids the vehicle and engine to function which in turn do create pollution,
thus the battery indirectly creates pollution. One serious case of automobile
pollution is in the United States where in 2013 vehicular transportation was
the largest source of air pollution (Union of Concerned Scientists). The
pollution from these cars creates carbon monoxide and other harmful by-products
which can cause respiratory infections, cancer, birth defects and brain and
heart problems (Union of Concerned Scientists). Furthermore, it deteriorates
the environment and contributes to global warming and climate change.

Thus, although
Planté’s invention has contributed to the development of pollution, people are
beginning to notice the effects of these fumes and are starting to find
solutions. One such solution is the electric car, just like the car brand,
Tesla. Tesla cars are not fuelled by petroleum, they are powered by very
powerful lithium ion secondary batteries and therefore they run purely off
electricity, creating no fumes and waste whatsoever (Tesla). Thus, it is true
that Plantés battery and the batteries that followed it, aided in creating
pollution, but now these batteries are being used to create more eco-friendly
devices and vehicles in order to help and preserve our environment.

In today’s day
and age the invention of the secondary cell and battery is invaluable to
society, and life would be drastically different without it. It is because of
Planté’s invention and the improvements made to his invention that we are able
to live the life that we do today and experience and use the incredible
technology such as automobiles and phones and more, all powered by secondary
batteries. Planté’s battery has and will continue to aid us in the fight
against climate change and will continue to promote acquiring electricity from
renewable sources that have very few waste products and will pull people away
from using fossil fuels which pollute the atmosphere and harm our environment.
His invention, has in part, created a booming battery industry worth billions
of dollars in hundreds of different countries, allowing for the employment of
millions of people and the stimulation of various economies. In addition, these
secondary batteries are continuing to be used to create new products that will
benefit society with very little consequences. It is Planté’s first original
large, unconventional lead-acid battery that has made all this possible and
that is why his invention is extremely significant and will continue to change
the world for the better now and into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

 

Primary Sources

Planté, Gaston. The storage of electrical energy:
and researches in the effects created by currents combining quantity with high
tension: Translated from the French by Paul Bedford Elwell. Whittaker,
1887,
gdc.galegroup.com/gdc/artemis/MonographsDetailsPage/MonographsDetailsWindow?disableHighlighting=false=DVI-Monographs=1==BBCN%3ANICN%3ANCUK%3AACLU%3AAMFN%3AGDSC%3AAHSI%3AAPOA%3ABPHC%3ABNCN%3ACFER%3ACPPC%3ADMHA%3AECON%3AECCO%3AFTHA%3AILN%3AINDA%3AINDP%3AIHTO%3ALBRT%3ALSNR%3AMLFP%3AMMLF%3AMOML%3AMMLP%3AMMLT%3AMOME%3ANCCO%3ANCNP%3APIPO%3APNCH%3ASABN%3ASMIT%3ASTHA%3ATGRH%3ATTDA%3ATLSH%3AUSDD%3ASCRB%3AWMNS=view=LG
%22English%22-query=KE gaston
plante==e==normal=1===KE
gaston plante==GDCS==prin77918==GALE%7CBCHDCT982457007=AdvancedSearch==

 

 

 

Secondary Sources

 

Kurzweil, P. “Gaston Planté
and his invention of the lead–acid battery—The genesis of the first practical
rechargeable battery.” ScienceDirect, 14 Jan. 2010, www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.princeton.edu/science/article/pii/S0378775310000546

 

Gonzalez, Rowan. “The
Evolution Of Rechargeable Batteries.” Computer Stories, Computer Stories,
5 Apr. 2017, computerstories.net/the-evolution-of-rechargeable-batteries-16213

 

 “Planté
Battery – 1859.” MagLab,
nationalmaglab.org/education/magnet-academy/history-of-electricity-magnetism/museum/plante-battery

 

 

“BU-107: Comparison Table of Secondary
Batteries.” Secondary
(Rechargeable) Batteries – Battery University,
batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/secondary_batteries

 

“BU-201: How does the Lead Acid Battery
Work?” Lead-Based Batteries Information – Battery University,
batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/lead_based_batteries

 

 

Xu et al., Chengjun. “Secondary batteries with
multivalent ions for energy storage.” Scientific
Reports, 14 Sept. 2015, www.nature.com/articles/srep14120.pdf

 

 

 

Daily, The Alternative. “6 Benefits of
Renewable Energy We Need to Consider.” The
Alternative Daily, 23 Mar. 2016, www.thealternativedaily.com/benefits-of-renewable-energy/.

 

“Battery Market Analysis By Product (Lead Acid,
Li-Ion, Nickle Metal Hydride, Ni-Cd) By Application (Automotive, Industrial,
Portable) And Segment Forecasts To 2024.” Grand
View Research, May 2016, www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/battery-market

 

“Cars, Trucks, and Air Pollution.” Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/vehicles-air-pollution-and-human-health/cars-trucks-air-pollution#.Wl5S_60ZORs

 

Tesla, Inc, www.tesla.com/about

 

 

 

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