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The Dry Cell
Apr 12, 2018

Up untilthe late 1800s, the electrolyte in batteries was in a liquid state. This made battery transportation a very careful endeavor, and most batteries were never intended to be moved once attached to the circuit.

In 1866, Georges Leclanché created a battery using a zinc anode, a manganese dioxide cathode, and an ammonium chloride solution for the electrolyte. While the electrolyte in the Leclanché cell was still a liquid, the battery’s chemistry proved to be an important step for the invention of the dry cell.

Carl Gassner figured out how to create an electrolyte paste out of ammonium chloride and Plaster of Paris. He patented the new “dry cell” battery in 1886 in Germany.

These new dry cells, commonly called “zinc-carbon batteries,” were massed produced and proved hugely popular until the late 1950s. While carbon is not used in the chemical reaction, it performs an important role as an electrical conductor in the zinc-carbon battery.

In the 1950s, Lewis Urry, Paul Marsal, and Karl Kordesch of the Union Carbide company (later known as “Eveready” and then “Energizer”) replaced the ammonium chloride electrolyte with an alkaline substance, based on the battery chemistry formulated by Waldemar Jungner in 1899. Alkaline dry cell batteries could hold more energy than zinc carbon batteries of the same size and had a longer shelf life.

Alkaline batteries rose in popularity in the 1960s, overtook zinc-carbon batteries, and have since become the standard primary cell for consumer use.

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