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Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Battery

Having learned to generate and use electricity, we quite naturally thought how great it would be if we could somehow store it so we could use it when we wanted. With power stations producing it constantly, it's easy enough just to plug something into the supply, but there must be a lot of electricity which just flows straight past us and doesn't get used, which is why power stations reduce output at night - or at least that's the simple way to look at it ! What was - and still is - needed was some sort of storage device which you could carry with you and plug into when you needed some power.
In 1786 an Italian gentleman Luigi Galvani was messing about with some frogs legs, touching them with metal, and noticed that they twitched, even though they were no longer attached to the frog ! He didn't realise it at the time, but he had discovered an electric current. In 1800 Alessandro Volta made a pile of metals and cloth and soaked them in salt, and found he could produced an electrical flow. This was the first battery. Over a couple of hundred years his invention has been improved upon so that we can now buy batteries for our portable electrical appliances, and this has made life a lot easier - think of torches for example, and the thousands of portable communication devices we use. And yet I feel that no-one has yet come up with a really good means of storing power. Batteries don't last very long, and get thrown away when they're used up, wasting valuable raw materials. And think about electric cars - how far can you drive before you need to charge 'em up ? There's a lot of development needed in this field. We need small but very powerful portable electric sources - then our lives would really be improved. So come on you inventors, get on with it !

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