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Producing and Measuring Elecrical Quantities
Cells and Batteries

Section 1-4 Batteries

A battery is a voltage source that uses chemical action to produce the voltage. In many cases the term battery is applied to a single cell, such as the flashlight battery. In the case of a flashlight that uses a battery of 1.5 volts, the battery is a single cell. The flashlight that is operated by 6 volts uses four cells in a single case and this is a battery composed of more than one cell. There are three ways to combine cells to form a battery.

Combining Cells

In many cases, a battery-powered device may require more electrical energy than one cell can provide. The device may require either a higher voltage or more current, and in some cases both. Under such conditions it is necessary to combine, or interconnect, a sufficient number of cells to meet the higher requirements. Cells connected in series provide a higher voltage, while cells connected in parallel provide a higher current capacity. To provide adequate power when both voltage and current requirements are greater than the capacity of one cell, a combination series-parallel network of cells must be used.

Series-Connected Cells. Assume that a load requires a power supply of 6 volts and a current capacity of 125mA. Since a single cell normally supplies a voltage of only 1.5 volts, more than one cell is needed. To obtain the higher voltage, the cells are connected in series as shown below.

(A) Pictorial view of series-connected cells;
(B) Schematic of series connection.

View B is a schematic representation of the circuit. The load is shown by the resistance symbol and the battery is indicated by one long and one short line per cell.

In a series hookup, the negative electrode (cathode) of the first cell is connected to the positive electrode (anode) of the second cell, the negative electrode of the second to the positive of the third, etc.

The positive electrode of the first cell and negative electrode of the last cell then serve as the terminals of the battery. In this way, the voltage is 1.5 volts for each cell in the series line. There are four cells, so the output terminal voltage is 1.5 x 4, or 6 volts. When connected to the load, 125mA flows through the load and each cell of the battery. This is within the capacity of each cell. Therefore, only four series-connected cells are needed to supply this particular load.


When connecting cells in series, connect alternate terminals together (- to +, - to +, etc.) Always have two remaining terminals that are used for connection to the load only. Do not connect the two remaining terminals together as this is a short across the battery and would not only quickly discharge the cells but could cause some types of cells to explode.


Parallel-Connected Cells. In this case, assume an electrical load requires only 1.5 volts, but will require 500mA of current. (Assume that a single cell will supply only 125mA.) To meet this requirement, the cells are connected in parallel, as shown below in view A and schematically represented in view B. In a parallel connection, all positive cell electrodes are connected to one line, and all negative electrodes are connected to the other. No more than one cell is connected between the lines at any one point; so the voltage between the lines is the same as that of one cell, or 1.5 volts. However, each cell may contribute its maximum allowable current of 125mA to the line. There are four cells, so the total line current is 125mA x 4, or 500A ampere. In this case four cells in parallel have enough capacity to supply a load requiring 500mA ampere at 1.5 volts.

(A) Pictorial view of parallel-connected cells;
(B) Schematic of parallel connection.


Series-Parallel-Connected Cells. The figure below depicts a battery network supplying power to a load requiring both a voltage and a current greater than one cell can provide. To provide the required 4.5 volts, groups of three 1.5-volt cells are connected in series. To provide the required 500 mA of current, four series groups are connected in parallel, each supplying 125 mA of current.

(A) Pictorial view of cells connected series-parallel;
(B) Schematic of series-parallel connection.

The connections shown have been used to illustrate the various methods of combining cells to form a battery.

Some batteries are made from primary cells. When a primary-cell battery is completely discharged, the entire battery must be replaced. Because there is nothing else that can be done to primary cell batteries, the rest of the discussion on batteries will be concerned with batteries made of secondary cells.

Battery Construction

Secondary cell batteries are constructed using the various secondary cells already described. The lead-acid battery is one of the most common batteries in use today and will be used to explain battery construction. The nickel-cadmium battery is being used with increasing frequency and will also be discussed.

This figure shows the makeup of a lead-acid battery. The container houses the separate cells. Most containers are hard rubber, plastic, or some other material that is resistant to the electrolyte and mechanical shock and will withstand extreme temperatures. The container (battery case) is vented through vent plugs to allow the gases that form within the cells to escape. The plates in the battery are the cathodes and anodes that were discussed earlier. In the second figure, the negative plate group is the cathode of the individual cells and the positive plate group is the anode. As shown in the figure, the plates are interlaced with a terminal attached to each plate group. The terminals of the individual cells are connected together by link connectors as shown in the first figure. The cells are connected in series in the battery and the positive terminal of one end cell becomes the positive terminal of the battery. The negative terminal of the opposite end cell becomes the negative terminal of the battery.

The terminals of a lead-acid battery are usually identified from one another by their size and markings. The positive terminal, marked (+) is sometimes colored red and is physically larger than the negative terminal, marked ()

The individual cells of the lead-acid battery are not replaceable, so in the event one cell fails the battery must be replaced.

The nickel-cadmium battery is similar in construction to the lead-acid battery with the exception that it has individual cells which can be replaced. The cell of the NiCad battery is shown below.

The construction of secondary cell batteries is so similar, that it is difficult to distinguish the type of battery by simply looking at it. The type of battery must be known to properly check or recharge the battery. Each battery should have a nameplate that gives a description of its type and electrical characteristics.

Capacity and Ratings of Batteries

The capacity of a battery is measured in ampere-hours (A-Hr). The ampere-hour capacity is equal to the product of the current in amperes and the time in hours during which the battery will supply this current. The ampere-hour capacity varies inversely with the discharge current. For example, a 4 A-Hr battery will deliver 4A for 1 hour or 1A for 4 hours.

Storage batteries are rated according to their rate of discharge and ampere-hour capacity. Most batteries are rated according to a 20-hour rate of discharge. That is, if a fully charged battery is completely discharged during a 20-hour period, it is discharged at the 20-hour rate. Thus, if a battery can deliver 20 amperes continuously for 20 hours, the battery has a rating of 20 amperes x 20 hours, or 400 A-Hr. Therefore, the 20-hour rating is equal to the average current that a battery is capable of supplying without interruption for an interval of 20 hours.



David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015