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How a Battery Works

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Definition of a Battery
Close up of batteries
ose Luis Pelaez/ The Image Bank/ Getty Images
A battery, which is actually an electric cell, is a device that produces electricity from a chemical reaction. Strictly speaking, a battery consists of two or more cells connected in series or parallel, but the term is generally used for a single cell. A cell consists of a negative electrode; an electrolyte, which conducts ions; a separator, also an ion conductor; and a positive electrode. The electrolyte may be aqueous (composed of water) or nonaqueous (not composed of water), in liquid, paste, or solid form. When the cell is connected to an external load, or device to be powered, the negative electrode supplies a current of electrons that flow through the load and are accepted by the positive electrode. When the external load is removed the reaction ceases.

A primary battery is one that can convert its chemicals into electricity only once and then must be discarded. A secondary battery has electrodes that can be reconstituted by passing electricity back through it; also called a storage or rechargeable battery, it can be reused many times.

Batteries come in several styles; the most familiar are single-use alkaline batteries.

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