Battery Facts

 

Volta
1800
Daniell
1835
Leclanche
1866
Jungner
1899
Ruben
1930
Today
????
1780
Galvani
1830
Sturgeon
1859
Plante
1887
Gassner
1903
Edison
1950
Urry

 

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

As with several of Thomas Edison’s later projects, such as his effort to mine iron ore and his quest to create synthetic rubber, his attempts at improving the battery did not lead to the results he hoped for. Edison started his work on the battery in the 1890s, just after the motor car had been introduced. At that time, the petrol engine was still unreliable, and steam and electric cars sold in larger numbers. One problem with electric cars, however, was that the lead-acid batteries that they used were extremely heavy. Another was that the acid corroded the lead inside the battery, shortening the useful life of the battery.

Edison began looking for a way to make batteries lighter, more reliable, and at least three times more powerful so that they could become the basis of a successful electric car. Edison and his team conducted tests of all sorts of metals and other materials, looking for those that would work best in batteries. The tests numbered in the thousands and lasted until 1903, when he finally declared his battery finished. The battery used potassium hydroxide, which reacted with the battery’s iron and nickel electrodes to create a battery with a strong output that was reliable and rechargeable.

As usual, Edison announced the new battery with great fanfare and made bold claims about its performance. Manufacturers and users of electric vehicles, which now included many urban delivery and transport trucks, began buying them. Then stories about battery failures started coming out. Many of the batteries began to leak, and others lost much of their power after a short while. The new nickel-graphite conductors were failing. Engineers who tested the batteries found that while lightweight, the new alkaline battery did not significantly out-perform an ordinary lead-acid battery.

Edison shut down the factory immediately, and between 1905 and 1908, the whole battery was redesigned. Edison came up with a new design, and although the new battery used more expensive materials, it had better performance and more power. By 1910, battery production was again underway at a new factory near the West Orange, NJ laboratory.

However, it was too late for the electric car. Edison’s friend Henry Ford had introduced the lightweight, inexpensive Model T in 1909, which helped make the petrol engine the standard for the automobile.