Quiz: What You Don't Know About Batteries

Question:

Photograph from Bilderbox/INSADCO/Alamy

You know how often you need to charge your smartphone, but how much do you really know about the batteries we rely on for energy storage?

Quiz by Marianne Lavelle

Who coined the term "battery"?

  • André-Marie Ampère
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Alessandro Volta
  • Charles-Augustin de Coulomb

In the 1760s, Franklin borrowed the military term for weapons functioning together, a "battery," to describe an array of glass jars he wired together to gather, store, and discharge an electrical charge.

How did a frog play a role in the invention of the battery?

  • A frog's swim through water showed how electrons move.
  • An early battery was used to shock a frog.
  • A frog's jump suggested the way electrons move.
  • A dissected frog's twitch signaled current moving.

Italian scientist Alessandro Volta, credited as inventor of the first practical battery in the 1800s, showed the frog's wet muscle tissue conducted current between the two different types of metal instruments.

What is the most accurate statement on how warm temperature affects batteries?

  • It causes them to overheat.
  • It increases their service lifetime.
  • It makes them charge or discharge more rapidly.
  • It makes them charge or discharge sluggishly.

In general, high temperatures cause batteries to charge or discharge faster, improving performance. But a battery’s total time in service can decrease if it is left too long in conditions that are too warm.

Which one is NOT an essential part of a battery?

  • Cathode
  • Anode
  • Acid
  • Electrolyte

Every battery has an anode, which loses electrons, and a cathode, which gains electrons, with an electrolyte—a salt bridge or conductive material—between the sides. Batteries may have an acidic or alkaline electrolyte.

One of the primary electric car challenges is said to be the tradeoff between power density and energy density in the battery. That's a choice between which two characteristics?

  • Cost and performance
  • Weight and safety
  • Battery lifetime and recharging speed
  • Acceleration and range

The power-energy density tradeoff refers to the challenge of finding a battery that offers sufficient acceleration power while storing enough energy for driving long distances between charges.

The largest consumer electronics recall ever was in 2006, involving 4.1 million Sony batteries in Dell laptops that were at risk of catching fire. What was the cause?

  • Metal particle contamination
  • Consumers leaving computers turned on
  • The batteries were past their useful life
  • Consumers overcharged the batteries

Lithium-ion cells are susceptible to thermal runaway caused by internal short circuits or collisions from the outside. The trigger for the Sony batteries was metal contamination introduced in the manufacturing process.

Sometimes systems in nature can act as batteries, storing surplus energy to be released when needed. Which of these physical systems is currently the most widespread technology in the world for large-scale electricity storage?

  • Compressed air pumped underground
  • Water pumped uphill to a reservoir
  • Heat storage in beds of packed rocks or molten salt
  • Freezing and melting of ice

Pumped hydro is widespread, with the equivalent of 22 large power plants in the United States, and large Norway mountain reservoirs storing surplus European wind energy. All of the other systems are in use, but they are not as common. (See related story: "Too Much Wind Energy? Save It Underground in Volcanic Reservoirs")

When did the world’s first rechargeable lithium-ion battery hit the market?

  • 1971
  • 1981
  • 1991
  • 2001

Sony released the world's first commercial lithium ion rechargeable battery in 1991, responding to consumer demand for a lighter weight energy storage solution for portable electronics. (See related photos: "Bolivia Seeks Economic Energy in Vast Lithium Stores")

Which of these is a relatively abundant, stable material that is a key ingredient in Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf electric vehicle batteries? Its presence may inhibit thermal runaway, but a key drawback is limited driving range.

  • Manganese
  • Lithium
  • Copper
  • Sodium

Manganese, relatively cheap and abundant, is added to the lithium-ion EV batteries to make them more stable and durable. Carmakers are seeking other formulations to increase range. (See related photos: "Seven Ingredients for Better Electric Car Batteries")

Why do policymakers want to add batteries to the electric grid?

  • To guard against power outages
  • To allow greater use of intermittent energy, such as wind and solar power
  • To reduce the need to build more power plants
  • All of the above

More energy storage on the electric grid would make it more reliable and allow more renewable energy to be added to the grid, and potentially could curb the need for new power plants. Cost has been the biggest obstacle.

What energy storage device charges faster and lasts longer than a battery?

  • Leyden jar
  • Supercapacitor
  • Superconductor
  • Semiconductor

Supercapacitors store energy as electrical charge (instead of storing it in chemical reactants, as batteries do.) They don't suffer the physical toll in charging and discharging that wears down batteries.

As of 2013, where is the world's largest battery?

  • China
  • Texas
  • Alaska
  • Germany

China announced in 2011 that it had constructed the world's largest battery energy storage station, at 36 megawatt-hours, to integrate wind and solar onto its grid. Alaska and Texas also have large grid battery installations.

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