History of the Battery

The history of the battery looks at the chemistry discoveries, commercial breakthroughs and applications. All listed by year so that you can look at the development of the battery as a timeline.


Leyden Jar – developed by Ewald Georg von Kleist, this device stored static charge in a glass jar that was lined with metallic foil on the inside and outside of the container.


Battery – first used to describe an electrical energy storage device by Benjamin Franklin.


Voltaic Pile – Alessandro Volta invents the voltaic pile, an early electric battery, which produced a steady electric current. Alessandro Volta had determined that the most effective pair of dissimilar metals to produce electricity was zinc and copper, with cardboard soaked in brine between the pair. Distinctive Collections Spotlights – the voltaic pile

Electrolysis –  Sir Humphry Davy began testing the chemical effects of electricity and found out that decomposition occurred when passing electrical current through substances. 

The invention of the voltaic pile can be traced back to an argument between Volta and Luigi Galvani, Volta’s fellow Italian scientist who had gained notoriety for his experiments on frog legs.

Prof Paul Shearing gives an excellent presentation and even builds a voltaic pile in “From Galvani to Gigafactories”.


Mass Production – William Cruickshank designed the first electric battery for mass production.


Discovery of Lithium – Arfwedson and Berzelius discovered lithium by analyzing petalite ore (LiAlSi4O10)


Lithium Isolated – William Thomas Brande isolates lithium through the electrolysis of molten lithium oxide, obtaining enough of lithium to describe a shining, white, combustible metal.


Electric Car – Robert Anderson created the first full sized electric “car” by installing an electric motor and primary cell on a carriage.


Daniell Cell – John F. Daniell developed an improved battery that produced a steadier current than earlier attempts to store electrical energy. The Daniell cell provides a longer and more reliable current than the Voltaic pile. Developments of this cell are used in Telegraphy until the 1950’s. The Daniell cell has an operating voltage of roughly 1.1 volts.


First Rechargeable Battery – Gaston Planté invents the lead–acid battery. This is the first rechargeable battery, up until now all of the cells have been primary cells.


Zinc-Carbon Dry Cell – Carl Gassner patents a dry cell design that is the first practical design that can be used in any orientation.


Mass Produced Dry Cell – National Carbon Company replace the plaster of paris in Carl Gassner’s patented zinc-carbon dry cell with cardboard. This makes an easier to mass produce design.


NiCd – Waldmar Jungner invents the nickel-cadmium battery, this uses nickel as the cathode and cadmium as the anode. Waldmar also experiments with replacing cadmium with varying proportions of iron up to 100%, thus inventing the NiFe battery.


NiFe – Thomas Edison patents the nickel-iron battery.


Battery Swapping – London Electrobus Company runs busses between London’s Victoria Station and Liverpool Street, swapping the battery packs at midday to extend the operation of the bus.


Lithium has the Highest Electrode Potential – Lewes and Keyes accurately establish the Li potential as 3.0564V on the standard hydrogen electrode scale.


Sintered Pole Plate NiCd – Schlecht and Ackermann achieved higher load currents and improved the longevity of the NiCd cell by inventing the sintered pole plate.


Sealed NiCd Cell – Georg Neumann created a process to make nickel-cadmium batteries without the excessive formation of gas, allowing the production of sealed, leak-proof designs. 


First battery used in an orbital spacecraft – Silver-Zinc batteries were used in Sputnik.


First Battery on the Moon – Duracell becomes the the first battery on the moon. About Duracell


Lithium Cobalt Oxide – John Goodenough was able to expand upon previous work from M. Stanley Whittingham on battery materials, and found that by using LixCoO2 as a lightweight, high energy density cathode material, he could double the capacity of lithium-ion batteries.


Lithium Ion Rechargeable Cell – The first ever commercial lithium-ion battery is released by Sony. This cell has a gravimetric density of 80Wh/kg and a volumetric density of 200Wh/litre.

cell energy density roadmap

Cell Energy Density Roadmaps

It is interesting to look at the cell energy density roadmaps and include the production energy density of the cylindrical cell. Why the cylindrical cell? Well, it’s the most complete cell in terms of function as it has a case that contains the working forces over the lifetime. It normally has a venting system and to date it has lead on the chemistry roadmap.

Is 900Wh/kg credible when production cells have taken 30 years to move from 80Wh/kg to 300Wh/kg


18650 Cell Format – Panasonic release the CGR17500/18650 and CGP40488 cell formats. The 18650 (18mm diameter and 65mm long cylindrical cell) rapidly gets adopted for small portable devices. Panasonic History

First 18650 cell - panasonic


LFP / Lithium Iron Phosphate – LiFePO4 is identified as a cathode material belonging to the polyanion class for use in batteries. “LiFePO4: A Novel Cathode Material for Rechargeable Batteries”, A.K. Padhi, K.S. Nanjundaswamy, J.B. Goodenough, Electrochemical Society Meeting Abstracts

First Mass Produced Electric Vehicle – the GM EV1 is sold with a 16.5kWh lead acid battery pack.


First Mass-Produced Hybrid Vehicle – the Toyota Prius is the world’s first mass-produced hybrid passenger vehicle. This uses a small 1.3kWh NiMh battery to allow the engine to run at optimal load and for a small amount of EV only driving.


Laptop Fires – 9.6 million laptop batteries were recalled, including four million Dell laptops. The Sony batteries used in these laptops had tiny metal particles included at manufacture that would later cause a short circuit. When the batteries were made, the metal case of the cell was crimped closed. In that process, microscopic shards of metal could have been released into the electrolyte of the battery and, in some cases, cause a short circuit – triggering overheating or a fire. The cost of the recall to Sony was $360million.

Who Killed the Electric Car? – US documentary that explores the creation, limited commercialization and subsequent destruction of the battery electric vehicle – specifically the General Motors EV1 of the mid-1990s.


First Electric Vehicle with >200 mile Range – the Tesla Roadster is the first highway legal serial production all-electric car to use lithium-ion battery cells and the first electric car to travel more than 200 miles on a single charge. The 53kWh battery pack weighs 450kg and contains 6,831 of the 18650 format cell.


Nobel Prize in Chemistry – awarded to John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for their development of lithium-ion batteries.

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