VisBlue - What Is a Redox Flow Battery?
Batteries... What are they?
Batteries… Where to start? Our daily lives have become so dependent on batteries, yet most of us hardly notice it or think about the presence of batteries in our different communities and societies. If we did not have batteries, we wouldn’t be able to carry our phones and laptops everywhere or drive our cars without manually cranking them.
In all simplicity, batteries allow us to extract, store, and use electrical energy, be it portable and convenient by physically carrying it around or taking advantage of it in larger applications of a stationary nature.
We believe that all battery types out there deserve a little love and recognition. Therefore, we have dedicated this guide to raise awareness regarding all the different types of batteries we rely on in our everyday life.
What are batteries? How do batteries work? What are batteries made of?
To concisely sum up how batteries work, the chemical energy of a battery is converted into electricity through the chemical reaction of said battery’s components. Let’s go into more detail.
Every single battery type consists of the following three elements: an anode (the negative side of a battery/negative electrode), a cathode (the positive side of a battery/positive electrode), and an electrolyte. The electrolyte is best explained as a material, usually in liquid or gel form, that reacts chemically with the anode and cathode sides of the battery.
Simply put, batteries are made up of a collection of one or more electrochemical cells with external connections. These cells make a chemical reaction which then creates a flow of electrons through a circuit. The electrons can only flow when the anode and the cathode side of a battery are connected, be it by a sort of conductor or a wire.
Oxidation and reduction
But how do we use the chemical reaction that happens in a battery to our advantage?
When an electrical circuit is connected to a battery a chemical reaction between the anode side and the electrolyte happens. From this reaction, electrons are produced and released into the circuit. This process is known as oxidation.
While this is happening, a similar reaction happens between the cathode side and the electrolyte. Here, this reaction needs extra electrons, which it gets from the previously transpired reaction between the anode side and the electrolyte. This process is known as reduction.
As stated, for the reduction process to transpire, the electrons from the oxidation side (anode side) need to be transported to the reduction side (cathode side). So, when a chemical reaction happens between the anode and the electrolyte the electrons flow out from the anode and then into the cathode, where another chemical reaction occurs.
So, simply put, batteries operate via reactions of an electrochemical nature: oxidation and reduction. The oxidation and reduction processes include the exchange of electrons between the chemical elements in the anode and cathode.
When one of these chemical elements, either the anode or cathode, loses one or more electrons, the oxidation process takes place. When one of these chemical elements gain one or more electrons, the reduction process takes place.
All batteries use a certain element as their anode and another as their cathode with a specific type of electrolyte. When a battery is charging, the roles of the electrodes are switched (the electrodes’ reactions are reversed), which means that the anode changes into the cathode and the cathode changes into the anode.
The three e's: electrons equal electricity
In general, the transportation of electrons from the anode to the cathode is not an easy process. The electrons want to travel from the anode to the cathode through the battery itself but cannot due to the hindrance of the electrolyte.
The electrolyte makes the electrons’ journey difficult, but by connecting the battery to an electrically conductive circuit, the electrons become free to flow from the anode to the cathode through the wires of the circuit. The friction that is created from this flow of electrons produces electricity and it can be used to power anything from light bulbs to vehicles and so on.
In other words, when electrons flow, they create an electrical current, which ultimately can power an object.
When the anode or cathode stops reacting to the electrolyte, the battery cannot produce electricity anymore. This ultimately means that the battery is dead.
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