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How Do Batteries Work? What is it about the batteries that gives them power?

Katy Perry

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We use batteries every day in one form or another. They could be dry cell batteries, rechargeable batteries in electronic devices, or your car battery. Batteries are practically everywhere nowadays. In fact, our society has become totally dependent upon them. They are so ubiquitous that most people take them for granted. Most people do not consider how they actually work. What is it about the batteries that gives them power?

Defining Battery Terms

In order to explain how batteries work, you will need to know about some common battery terms so that you can understand what’s inside them. Just like it wouldn’t be possible to explain how the sun works without knowing the types of gasses it’s made of, explaining how batteries work would be impossible if you don’t know some specific battery terms.

Following are some common battery terms:

  • Anode: It is a negatively charged electrode that sends electrons to cathode.
  • Cathode: It is a positively charged electrode that accepts electrons sent by anode.
  • Electrolyte: This is an ionic solution that reacts when two above-mentioned electrodes give them positive/negative charges.
  • Separator: A separator prevents short-circuit by preventing electrons from flowing inside the battery. If electrons are allowed to flow freely inside the battery then the battery would short-circuit. So, the separator forces the electrons to flow through the wires, which as a result creates electricity and powers the attached device.
  • Electricity: Electricity is the flow of electrons via a conductive path e. g. a wire.

How Do Batteries Work? – It’s a Chemical Reaction

Both anode and cathode are located at opposite ends of a battery. Both of them are immersed in an electrolyte fluid. In a typical alkaline battery, the one electrode is comprised of manganese dioxide while the other is comprised of zinc. Both of these electrodes have to be made out of different types of material then its counterpart. This is because it will allow them to react with the chemical differently from each other, hence allowing the electricity to be drawn out of the battery. If both electrodes were made out of the same material, then there wouldn’t be a difference in voltage and no electricity could be taken from the battery.

When a chemical reaction occurs between the ions of the electrolytes and the metal they are comprised of, one becomes the positively charged cathode (because of proportional deficiency of electrons) while the other becomes the negatively charged anode (because it has an excess buildup of electrons). This creates an electrical difference between the cathode and the anode. Now the electrons that are in excess in anode want to move toward cathode which is electron-starved.

A separator is used in the battery to make sure that they don’t make this journey within the battery, causing a short-circuit. When you attach a device to the battery, you are creating a path or a circuit through which the electrons can easily travel from anode to cathode. While they make this journey, the device that is attached to the battery basically siphons off a bunch of them as a power source.


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