The battery- most used and reliable power source- looks very similar to what we would consider technology. Metallic, shiny, and loaded with patents, the battery is the epitome of technology. It may not look that sophisticated, just a piece of metal with a bump or two on either end, but it has made the population more reliant on technology. Batteries are made of metal, steel or nickel in most cases, which makes them good conductors of electricity- the fundamental function of the battery. Batteries have become an essential technology that is deeply relied on in our culture. Adopted because of a need and to solve power problems, batteries were invented and proposed into the culture. You could use plug-ins in just the same way as a battery, but in this way, the technology is still portable for the busy, always-on-the-go professions in the technological era we find ourselves in today. It took countless inventions, some with patents and others without to find the right battery for every task, technology, and problem being faced and there are still many more inventions to come.
To speak of how reliant we are on the battery, think of something that would need batteries around your dorm, apartment or house today. Typical answers would be toothbrush, flashlight, or radio, but did you think of the technology sitting in your pocket, allowing you to text, call, and skype friends or family? What about the one sitting in your backpack, allowing you to access the internet, type papers, and play games? You probably don’t think about it much because we take these batteries for granted every day. They are an “essential” part of our lives because without them technology like our cellphones would likely not exist. We rarely think of what are lives would be like without batteries; no more cellphones, no more portable laptops, no more cars, planes or buses. Life would be more difficult, but would it really?
We are so reliant on the battery, believing it makes life easier. The battery has slowly been integrated into every aspect of our lives, from the medical field to leisure time, there is at least one item that requires the use of a battery. There are several items people use every day linked to battery use; cars, phones, pacemakers and toys. As far as pacemakers go, people would literally not be able to live without batteries, and people think they would not be able to live without their phones and cars. This reliance drives home the idea that human culture looks for the easiest way to do things, but most of the time this “easy” way in the long run is extremely complex. People could easily walk or bike to and from their destination, but stepping on a gas pedal seems easier. It takes no resources or effort, other than physical ability, to walk from place to place. Resources are put into building a bicycle, like rubber for the tires and steel or titanium for the frame and physical ability to get the bike moving. Cars have so much more that go into them. Materials for the car itself, much like the bike, it needs rubber for tires and some sort of metallic frame, but there are also resources needed for the car battery, engine, radio, A/C, automatic windows, etc. Then there is the fuel. The expensive, environment-harming gas that goes into making the car move. Sure, the car gets you farther and seems easier, but in the long run is the more complex and is more of an impactful method of transportation.
Gas is not the only thing affecting the environment when it comes to cars. Batteries from the car, and other technologies that use them, have a lasting impact on the environment as well. The most often looked at way of disposal of the materials in batteries is through recycling. This is best for recycling of materials and keeping the batteries out of landfills, but in the end is more harmful for the environment. Recycling procedures put a lot of unnecessary fuels into the air, further harming the environment. If there was a way to make recycling materials more fuel efficient, recycling would be the best option for battery disposal. Throwing batteries away also poses a risk to the environment because there are traces of mercury in every battery, because it is a naturally occurring element, which could do damage to the groundwater and could potentially affect aquatic life. Destroying batteries poses similar risks to recycling and landfills. Burning the materials puts unnecessary fuel into the air and the ash from the material could get into the groundwater and harm aquatic life (Xará, 2015). The market for them is continuously growing for all the new technology that still instills the need for the batteries, so it is very important to create newer and better versions of the battery to last longer, cost less and are more suitable for the environment once they have been used up. Extensive research and development is being done on the technology and is getting to a stage where it seems very likely that relatively safe and reliable lithium-ion batteries will soon be on board hybrid electric and electric vehicles and possibly in solar panels to harness the energy being brought in by the ingenious power generator. However, the safety of the technology is still a concern and costs are still extremely high to do sufficient research on how to produce such a battery.
With the increased need for an environmentally-friendly battery, there has also been a great amount of research going into how to make batteries more eco-friendly. One source tried to find materials that were biodegradable to help reduce both the carbon footprint from creating the battery, but also how less batteries would end up in landfills. Currently, batteries use materials like zinc and potassium hydroxide for the anode, manganese dioxide, graphite, and a potassium hydroxide solution for the cathode, paper for the separator and then is wrapped in steel. Very little labor goes into the creation of these materials, a lot of chemistry however, and very little goes into combining the materials to create the battery itself thanks to the assembly line. It is mostly in the testing of the made batteries that requires human interaction with the product. Producers can get by with a staff of about 100 or so workers to create battery cells efficiently. As an example, the materials costs for a LiCoO2-based 18650 cell can be estimated at about $1.28 for the entire cell, add in labor costs, about $0.42 per battery, and for a pretty penny you can produce a battery (Daniel, 2017). The new eco-friendly battery was made from a biodegradable plastic outer shell, lemon juice acid as the electrolyte system, and paper made from cellulose to split the system into anode and cathode; all went into making the battery eco-friendly and biodegradable, and in turn more cost effective for both the consumer and producer (Plous, 2007). Using these biodegradable batteries would reduce all the risks included in each battery disposal method and reduces the carbon footprint we have made for generations already.
Biodegradability is not the only modification of the battery being researched. As is well known, many batteries operate inefficiently, if at all, at low temperatures. The invention of a flexible battery can be used in different ways; it may be wrapped around a person, similar to an electric blanket, so that the heat radiating off the body may be used to efficiently maintain the battery’s operating level under low temperature conditions. This battery type could be used to operate transistorized radio equipment under Arctic conditions, which makes it easier for all parties involved to communicate what needs to be done in those situations. Another advantage of a flexible battery is that it may be employed in applications having limited or odd shaped-space available (Coler, 1962). This source delves into creative thoughts on how to make life simpler and more efficient which is a common theme in human culture.
Life was very different before the invention of batteries. Before batteries people relied on strength to start up their cars by cranking up the engine starter. Hand cranks relied on strength and smarts of the driver at hand. The driver had to know exact hand position, exact rotation and exact strength to start their engine, and now with just a twist of a key, or push of a button in some cases, the car starts. Lamps relied on dangerous flammable fuel and flames. Oil was set on fire and placed in jars to keep the light going when it got dark, this was a cause of many house fires when these jars were knocked over. Slowly these jars got better and eventually electricity was invented allowing for lighting to be completely electric and no longer relying on the dangerous fuel. This made them no longer portable, but flashlights were created with the help of batteries and are now being produced on a large scale to continue to help with low-light situations. Clocks were very inaccurate relying on gravity to swing their pendulums the exact same way every second. If gravity ever changed, or the clock was bumped the time would be off. With batteries, there are no opportunities for timing to be off because of bumping or gravity. There is an opportunity for timing to be off when the battery dies, but with the lifespan of the battery, it is more likely to need a new watch before the battery ran out.
With the invention of the battery technology like cellphones, laptops, cameras and so much more have been created. Laptops rely on batteries for all their functions and can be plugged in to work as well, but are meant to be portable which is why they rely on a battery and not on plug-ins alone. Digital cameras are powered by batteries in order to edit a photo, post the photo to social media, and share with others. Other cameras prior to digital cameras used light exposure to create the picture, but this makes them not able to be shared or edited. Alarms, such as fire or carbon monoxide, rely on the battery and warn owners if there are any dangers with in the house. With the reliability on batteries, alarms will still work if the power goes out in the house unexpectedly and will still protect homeowners from being completely vulnerable to a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Remotes in general require batteries, remotes use transmitters of light or other means to control the technology they are remotes for. Television remotes send out LED transmissions and have a different pattern for each function and the television recognizes the pattern and responds accordingly. Without the battery, remotes would not be used and televisions would require manual transmissions of such functions by pushing the corresponding buttons on the television itself. Portable radios work in the similar fashion as remotes in that they use transmissions from satellites or others to bring in music, podcasts, and news stories through them. Both portable and car radios rely on the battery to allow their receptors to receive these transmissions and play the transmission through its speaker. The motorized wheelchair was a huge invention and would never had been thought of without the invention of the battery. It has improved the quality of life for people who are wheelchair bound for the rest of their lives, it gives them a sort of independence that would not be had with a mechanical wheelchair and makes them feel more confident with their situation. There are so many other technologies that were either improved or invented with the invention of the battery and there will be many more to come with the increasing research going into how to improve the batteries we already have.
The technology provided with the battery considers how, as a whole, we look for the simplicity and convenience of things. Batteries seem to be an easier way of going about doing things. For example, most people would say finding batteries, putting them into a flashlight and flipping the switch would be easier to do than going out finding a stick, wrapping it in oil soaked cloth and lighting it on fire for light. In the short-term sense, they are right, but in the long run lighting a stick on fire is more simplistic. All the materials and processing going into the creation of the battery, the cost and where to buy them quickly add up into a more complex way of getting a source of light (which may or may not last as long as a stick on fire, depending on the type or brand of battery you get), yet we think of them as the most simplistic approach. Human culture has trained itself to find the easier way out and though the battery seems easier, it is more complex.
This idea of reliance on the battery can also be lent to our reliance on time and why it is important that clocks and watches rely on batteries to make a standardized time for everyone. Human culture has made time a big priority. Everything must be on time and if anything is late there seems to be a conundrum in the human psyche. Time is important for many things; being one minute late in a surgery is the matter of life and death for a patient, one minute late to a bus stop and you have to wait for the next. If you really think about it, your time on earth is limited and making the most of it is a big influence on how many people live out their life. Most of what I stated doesn’t necessarily rely on a standardized time, but with transportation and the steadily increasing population, time is key to get people where they need to be when they need to be there.
Our near dependence on the battery is dangerous enough for the population, but the batteries themselves are surprisingly dangerous as well. Most people would not see the battery as being particularly dangerous, but there are dozens of case studies looking into car batteries exploding, pacemaker electrocution and children swallowing small button batteries leading to serious injury, other complications and even death. Batteries seem to be safe and easily replaceable, but we take for granted the safety and think, it won’t happen to us, it’s a relatively rare anomaly. This is the wrong way of thinking and is how most people go about their everyday lives. That’s exactly the case for several people that used trickle-chargers for their car battery before one random day they just exploded in their face, or the little girl who was creating a homework project when the batteries she was using blew up in her lap. People living with pacemakers deal with risks like these every day and constantly worry about not only their battery exploding, but also receiving the wrong electrical signal speeding up or slowing down their pacemakers.
Pacemakers are the life sources of many people who had fought with heart problems, such as heart disease, heart attack, etc., and are very much relied on in our technological world. These life sources, as it seems, rarely get looked at in a bad light, but there is actually a lot of danger in using these small simple technologies. When taking an EKG, it is in the patient’s best interest to make sure it is grounded because the risk of electrocution sky rockets when using the EKG (Merkel, 1968). The patient with a pacemaker lives, however, in a potentially hostile environment in which electrical signals from an ever-increasing variety of appliances may interfere with its function. They can get false electric stimulation through faults in other technologies that use electricity, which can be deadly if they are not recognized as false stimulation (O’Brien, 1982). The risk is very minimal according to the source, but it is a risk patients with pace makers deal with on a daily basis. These persistent risks and worries for patients with pacemakers have a psychological effect on them and cause even more risks and worries in the long run.
Adults are not the only ones at risk when it comes to batteries. Most children’s toys require batteries now-a-days. Many of these batteries are small button batteries, similar to watch battery and these pose a choking hazard for children under the age of 13. Therefore, most toys that require batteries use screws to make them not easily accessible, but in rare cases batteries are easily accessible and have caused serious injuries in young kids. Numbers of incidents have steadily increased in the last two decades, with 14 reported cases of death between 1995 and 2010 in this source. Most of the deaths were from button batteries from car remotes, and garage door openers and all under the age of 3 (“Injuries from Batteries among Children Aged <LT>13 Years – United States, 1995-2010.”, 2012), children of that age are constantly finding things on the ground and putting them in their mouth which is another topic of discussion, but valid to my research. A 12-year-old girl’s homework project used 3 AAA batteries and exploded in her lap causing lacerations and burns on her inner thighs. Her right thigh was affected more than her left and she had to get surgery to cover up the wound. They used skin from the back of her thigh to cover the affected areas (Görgülü, 2016). This just goes to show how dangerous batteries can be without proper knowledge on how to use them and the fears that human kind can face on a daily basis. It is instances like this that people rarely hear about and have little fear about because of how rare they are, but there are other instances similar to this happening lately with phone batteries and more people are weary of the technology surrounding the phone battery. As the weariness of phone batteries increases, the weariness of all technologies using batteries grows as well. There are tons of risks that come from batteries that most people brush off and don’t think about, but these are real risks that we should be worried about all the time.
Batteries pose a lot of risks (for the environment and for the people that use them), but also a ton of rewards (portability of technology and a longer and higher quality of life for people with heart defects). As our dependence on technology increases however, our reliance on the battery will continue to be a big part of our culture. Before this dependence on technology slows down, batteries must be improved for the safety of both the environment and the people who use the technology; without these advances, the bad impacts from the battery would outweigh the good. Batteries have exponentially helped our society make improvements in all aspects of life and will continue to enhance lives until some other power source can out beat the current versions we use every day. Tiny but mighty, the battery will have a lasting impact for generations to come.
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