Chemistry » Electrochemistry » Batteries and Fuel Cells

Summarizing Batteries and Fuel Cells

Key Concepts and Summary

Batteries are galvanic cells, or a series of cells, that produce an electric current. When cells are combined into batteries, the potential of the battery is an integer multiple of the potential of a single cell. There are two basic types of batteries: primary and secondary. Primary batteries are “single use” and cannot be recharged. Dry cells and (most) alkaline batteries are examples of primary batteries.

The second type is rechargeable and is called a secondary battery. Examples of secondary batteries include nickel-cadmium (NiCd), lead acid, and lithium ion batteries. Fuel cells are similar to batteries in that they generate an electrical current, but require continuous addition of fuel and oxidizer. The hydrogen fuel cell uses hydrogen and oxygen from the air to produce water, and is generally more efficient than internal combustion engines.


alkaline battery

primary battery that uses an alkaline (often potassium hydroxide) electrolyte; designed to be an exact replacement for the dry cell, but with more energy storage and less electrolyte leakage than typical dry cell


galvanic cell or series of cells that produces a current; in theory, any galvanic cell

dry cell

primary battery, also called a zinc-carbon battery; can be used in any orientation because it uses a paste as the electrolyte; tends to leak electrolyte when stored

fuel cell

devices that produce an electrical current as long as fuel and oxidizer are continuously added; more efficient than internal combustion engines

lead acid battery

secondary battery that consists of multiple cells; the lead acid battery found in automobiles has six cells and a voltage of 12 V

lithium ion battery

very popular secondary battery; uses lithium ions to conduct current and is light, rechargeable, and produces a nearly constant potential as it discharges

nickel-cadmium battery

(NiCd battery) secondary battery that uses cadmium, which is a toxic heavy metal; heavier than lithium ion batteries, but with similar performance characteristics

primary battery

single-use nonrechargeable battery

secondary battery

battery that can be recharged

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