Chemistry Question #715

Bertrand Xiao, a 15 year old male from the Internet asks on September 11, 2000,

Is there a better alternative that has yet to be discovered other than zinc to be used in a battery?

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The answer

David Harrington answered on September 11, 2000

Well, nowadays there are many different battery technologies, and most of them don't have zinc. For example the lithium batteries in your camera (the small 3V ones) have lithium instead of zinc. Zinc is not well suited to rechargeable batteries and so none of the rechargeable ones have zinc: eg the lead-acid battery in your car has lead; the usual rechargeable Nicad ones have nickel; the metal-hydride ones (in cell phones) have nickel; and there are some rechargeable ones which have lithium compounds in.

The dry cells and alkaline cells which are the "normal" non-rechargeable batteries do both have zinc in them.

For an easy way to guess what other elements might work in a battery you need to look at a chart of oxidation-reduction potentials. It's also sometimes called the "electromotive force series of the elements", and can be found in any introductory chemistry text book. This shows the relative electron "giving" or electron "taking" strength of all the elements and so you can easily guess which ones might be good as a substitute for zinc. There's nothing "yet to be discovered" in this department, unless it would be some chemical complex of elements, or something organic (that is, a new kind of plastic), since all this electromotive force stuff was figured out over 100 years ago for all the elements.

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