Please Explain: Batteries

Friday, June 18, 2010

Batteries help power our world. They’re in everything from watches to iPods to smoke detectors to electric cars. On today’s edition of Please Explain, we’ll find out what they’re made of and how they work. We're joined by Jeremy P. Meyers, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering/Materials Science & Engineering, University of Texas at Austin; and M. Stanley Whittingham, Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science & Engineering, and Director, Institute for Materials Research, SUNY at Binghamton.

Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering/ Materials Science & Engineering
University of Texas at AustinJ


Jeremy P. Meyers and M. Stanley Whittingham

Comments [10]

peter from New Jersey

If (please don't) you take a cell apart, you'd find chemical 'A' and chemical 'B' layered in a set of plastic films (like sandwich wrap).
Part of the price difference is the thinness and quality of this film, and also the concentrations of the chemicals.
For those high-drain applications, use the better battery, and (if you do as I do) move the exhausted ones down a chain to the TV remote.
If you buy for the remote control... buy the Cheap ones! You'll use a few more, but the price can be 1/4 of the better ones!

Jun. 18 2010 03:27 PM
Alvin from Manhattan

Philip, there is a difference: The less expensive off-brand batteries often have less capacity (total energy), and, most important, have higher internal resistance. There's not much difference in low-drain applications such as an iPod, but there's a world of difference in high-drain devices such as digital cameras. BTW, I've noticed that Duracell alkalines tends to have lower internal resistance (i.e., is better) than Eveready Energizer alkalines in heavy-drain applications.

Jun. 18 2010 02:00 PM
Nunzio from Hoboken, NJ

I recall Chrysler showed a race car a number of years ago that was an electric powered by a very high revving flywheel. I wonder if the guests could speak a bit on how that works and how practical it might be as a way of storing and releasing energy

Jun. 18 2010 01:59 PM
donna from brooklyn

lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder. dies the brain chemistry function like a battery??

Jun. 18 2010 01:57 PM
Philip from Windsor Terrace

Other than price, is there a noticeable difference between different brands of batteries, such as Duracell and Radio Shack?

Jun. 18 2010 01:54 PM
camille from midwood

I also want to say that I did have an old battery that was inside my tape recorder explode. It scared me and took a few days before I realized what happened. It broke the casing of the tape recorder.

Jun. 18 2010 01:46 PM
camille from midwood

Which stores take back used batteries? Can you name some?

Jun. 18 2010 01:42 PM
AD Cherson from NY

What is the difference between a fuel cell and battery? What is a microbial fuel cell?

Jun. 18 2010 01:32 PM
Alvin from Manhattan

There's one important aspect of batteries that is critical high-tech products but is seldom discussed: Internal resistance. For digital cameras and other high-drain devices, this is the most important determinant of battery life, and the lower the resistance the better. It varies from one battery type to another: NiMH rechargeables and lithium disposables have lowest resistance, and alkalines are higher, especially as they are used up.

Jun. 18 2010 01:22 PM
peter from New Jersey

I think something is strange about pricing of disposable batteries- they can be found from 20c to 85c - depending on source, package size and manufacturer. The price rose dramatically when the Everready brand was acquired and taken private. The price was raised (I think) to pay the borrowing costs... like a sub-prime mortgage the consumer pays for!

I encourage my 2 children to make the most of every battery. I teach them as follows:
When used with motors, they last until the motor demands more than the battery retains, but the battery is NOT fully drained.
When used with Lamps (flashlights) they drain more completely. When used with LED's, (or remote controls) they can be drained almost completely.
Thus, a hierarchy is established... and our batteries are migrated from motors to remote controls. Or they get returned to the recharger.
(almost all of ours are NiMH rechargeables)

Looking forward to learning of the chemistry.

Jun. 18 2010 10:52 AM

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