How Button Batteries Work: An Experiment

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Button batteries, sometimes known as penny ones, are among the smartest, cleverest devices in the battery world. Yet we take them for granted as they power watches, calculators, led flashlights, remote controls and so on. We also find them inside our computers where they energize our bios settings and real-time clocks. Yet, how many of us understand how button batteries function? Let’s find out how button batteries work.

How Button Batteries Work Inside Their Casings

A button battery works the exact same way as AA and AAA ones. They have a round diameter, and two electrodes of complementary metals. A separator that technicians call electrolyte sits between them, and controls the flow of ions that make the electricity.

All good so far: Now … imagine we compressed an AAA or an AA battery while keeping everything intact and working. That was the giant leap in imagination scientists took, when they invented the modern lithium button battery.

how button batteries work

Zinc-Air Button Battery: Francis E Williams: GNU 1.2

A:Separator, B: zinc powder anode and electrolyte, C: anode can, D: insulator gasket, E: cathode can, F: air hole, G: cathode catalyst and current collector, H:air distribution layer, I: Semi permeable membrane

However, Not All Button Batteries Are Equally As Good

There are a number of counterfeit button batteries on the market selling for lower prices than famous brands. While some pack in crude blisters on cardboard, others look just like the real thing. Manufacturers warn they fail shortly, and could harm devices. The best workaround is buy your button batteries from a trusted source.

How to Make a ‘Button Battery’ for a School Project

Here’s an experiment for making button batteries out of quarter coins, kitchen foil, and blotting paper soaked in vinegar as the electrolyte. The demonstrator builds a pile of them in series to create sufficient energy to power a torch bulb. It’s a useful way of demonstrating how button batteries work in principle.

So now you know how button batteries work in detail, and how to build a simple one yourself. The first person to do so was Alessandro Volta, and he did that way back in 1799. However, after that, battery design went in different directions. Necessity is the mother of invention. The P.R. Mallory Company produced the first commercial button batteries in the 1950’s, in order to power newfangled transistorized hearing aids.


Batteries Have Different Shapes for Various Reasons

Advice for Parents: Do a Penny Battery Audit

Preview Image: Zinc-Air Button Battery

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About Author


I tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will not deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time. My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast. I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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