This Day in History: Thomas Edison Patents the Alkaline Battery

If Thomas Edison were to be resurrected into today’s world he would be in for quite a surprise. As one of the leaders of the electricity revolution, Edison patented the Alkaline Battery 112 years ago from today, on July 31, 1906. However, the modern landscape for battery technologies is a far cry from the period in which they were first created. In the last one-hundred and twelve years we have seen immense improvements in the efficiency of battery technologies, and most recently, enormous drops in prices, which make projects like utility-scale storage possible. These batteries are incredibly ubiquitous – used in computers, cell phones, radios, electric vehicles, and of course, grid-scale energy storage. Much of the electronic and electrical world we see today is owed to the foresight and intelligence of Edison’s great thinking over a century ago.

Edison’s 1906 patent was actually a useful improvement to the alkaline battery technology. He noticed the presence of sulfides in the battery solution due to the rubber insulators and supports on the battery. Therefore, Edison conceived of a new alkaline battery with desulphurized rubber insulators in order to increase its efficiency and lifetime. The patent schematic[1] is reproduced below:

Edison was a prolific inventor; in fact, he was granted 147 total patents relating to batteries in his lifetime. A century later, we find ourselves in an exciting period of time where these battery technologies continue to be improved and widely deployed to promote grid reliability and emissions reductions – thanks to Edison and a large number of scientific innovators just like him.

[1] http://edison.rutgers.edu/battpats.htm

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