Batteries 101: Battery Chemistry

Batteries 101: Battery Chemistry


Your smartphone, laptop and LAVATUBE are all powered by the same thing and that is chemistry.

There are many different types of batteries out there, ranging in countless diverse sizes and capabilities, and yet they all function with the same fundamental concept, that a battery is a device that can store electrical energy as a form of chemical energy and can convert that energy into electricity.

You may think that batteries are a modern invention, but actually chemical batteries have been around since approximately 200 BC! Wilhelm Konig just outside of Baghdad, Iraq first discovered the oldest known chemical battery in 1938. They were known as “Baghdad Batteries”.

They were simple clay jars that contained a copper cylinder that enclosed an iron rod. Scientists have found evidence of an acid inside these jars, and while there are still differing opinions on exactly what the jar was used for (not necessarily used as a battery)—exact replicas made of the jars have the power to create about 0.8-2 volts of electricity.  


It was not until the 1800s that Alessandro Volta an Italian physicist officially invented the first battery.  Volta’s invention was credited as the first electrochemical cell. It consisted of two electrodes: one made of zinc and the other out of copper. The electrolyte inside was sulfuric acid mixed with water or saltwater brine.

Due to the differences in the chemicals, the zinc rod becomes the negative electrode and the copper rod becomes the positive electrode. Because there are two differing chemicals with the presence of an electrolyte, the chemical reactions inside the battery allows for the flow of an electric current if the two terminals are connected. The “volt” or “voltage” was named after him.


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How does a battery hold and release a charge?


Batteries are made up of 3 components:


Anode (negative charge)

Cathode (positive charge)



The simple explanation:

Because of the chemical reactions in the battery, the anode builds up an excess of electrons. This creates an electrical difference between the anode and cathode ends. Electrons want to rearrange themselves and displace the extra electrons in the cathode, but the electrolyte prevents the electrons from traveling directly to the cathode within the battery.

So when the circuit is closed, as in there is a conductive path (the blue line in the diagram below) between the cathode and anode, the electrons can then travel successfully to the cathode. The electrons traveling are what provide the light bulb, your ecig or smartphone with the electricity that powers it.

Over-time the electro-chemical relationship between the anode and cathode will stop providing the electrons (runs out of reactants), or basically stop providing electricity. This is what happens when a battery “dies”. But with rechargeable batteries, the process is reversed by an electrical energy from an outside source, restoring the battery’s charge.


Curious about your eCig’s batteries? Learn more here: The Vaping Guide to eCig Batteries >


Here is a great .gif adapted from MPowerUK that demonstrates what happens inside of a battery when it is being used (discharge) and when it is hooked up to a power source to be charged up again.



6 Different Types of Battery Chemistries Currently Used Today:


Battery Chemistry


Used In

Nickel / Cadmium

First invented in 1899, has moderate energy capacity. This chemistry combination is used for batteries that need to be long lasting, with a high discharge rate where temperature range is essential.

Two-Way Radios

Medical Equipment

Power Tools


Can store more energy than nickel/cadmium batteries. Used to be used in cellphones and laptops but not anymore.

Power Tools


Very heavy, but has a long lasting energy life. Most cars, trucks, and vans use a 1-volt 6 cell; negative grounded lead acid battery to start their gasoline or diesel engines.

Personal Vehicles (cars, trucks, tractors, SUVs, boats, lawnmowers, etc)

Hospital Equipment


Emergency Lighting


Lithium is the lightest of all metals and has the greatest electrochemical potential. Because one cell can hold up to 3.6 volts versus the need for 3 cells in other chemical blends (costs less to manufacture and is compact). Lithium-ion cells are also known to cause little harm to the environment when disposed.

Portable electronic devices




Very similar to lithium-ion but can be manufactured smaller and is lighter. Its energy load is a little less than a lithium-ion battery, but because it can be manufactured in any shape and thickness it can be used in many more items. Lithium-Ion-Polymer batteries also offer more in terms of safety has a more stable chemical makeup and more resistant to being overcharged.



Electronic Cigarettes

Very thin portable electronic devices

Reusable Alkaline

Has a limited cycle life (usually not rechargeable) and does not have that great of a capacity to hold energy. But it has a very long shelf life in comparison to other battery chemistries.

Portable entertainment devices (stereos, speakers, etc.)