A battery is one or more electrochemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. Since the invention of the first battery (or “voltaic pile”) in 1800 by Alessandro Volta, batteries have become a common power source for many household and industrial applications. According to a 2009 estimate, the worldwide battery industry generates £32 billion in sales each year with 3% annual growth.
There are two types of batteries: primary batteries (disposable batteries), which are designed to be used once and discarded, and secondary batteries (rechargeable batteries), which are designed to be recharged and used multiple times. Batteries come in many sizes, from miniature cells used to power hearing aids and wristwatches to battery banks the size of rooms that provide standby power for telephone exchanges and computer data centres.
Inside the battery itself, a chemical reaction produces the electrons. The speed of electron production by this chemical reaction (the battery’s internal resistance) controls how many electrons can flow between the terminals. Electrons flow from the battery into a wire, and must travel from the negative to the positive terminal for the chemical reaction to take place. That is why a battery can sit on a shelf for a year and still have plenty of power — unless electrons are flowing from the negative to the positive terminal, the chemical reaction does not take place. Once you connect a wire, the reaction starts. The ability to harness this sort of reaction started with the voltaic pile.