Energy sure is a hard thing to grasp—because energy in this universe just keeps slipping out of my tiny, half-metal hands! And I’m going to need a lot of it if I’m going to make it back to my own dimension any time soon!
Electrostatic forces are relatively strong forces and can either be attractive or repulsive. When harnessed in the right way, and electrical potential is created, and it can be very useful to doing all sorts of work.
Electricity is something that is very common on this particular earth, but the production of this energy seems to vary, a lot. Sadly, a lot of the energy still comes from chemical sources, such as natural gas and coal. These sources aren’t inherently bad, and they seem to be efficient enough to keep up with power demands, BUT…they do produce a lot of waste heat and chemicals that aren’t doing very nice things to the environment.
I think it seems unfortunate more renewable power sources haven’t been exploited in the regions of this world with power demands. Perhaps a better energy source can be found? Or maybe the common archaic power distribution system can be upgraded to mitigate the demand?
Anyway, back to my research— Experimenting with the various types of ways to produce electrical currents, I stumbled upon a simple recipe for electricity: a voltaic cell.
Voltaic cells use the chemical properties of metals and oxidation-reduction reactions to form a circuit which can produce electricity—a flow of electrons. It is an example of a source of chemical energy, but in a different way than what I explored last month with combustion reactions.
Little T’s Research Notes: Zinc-Copper Voltaic Cell (not to scale):
Voltaic cells are broken into two halves. Each half contains an electrode. In the zinc-copper voltaic cell, the electrodes are the zinc and copper rods. The zinc and copper rods are placed in separate solutions of zinc nitrate and copper nitrate respectively. Note: other ionic compounds which can dissolve in solution can be used as well—it only needs to be a compound which will not react with the metals used as the electrodes! And don’t forget the salt tube which bridges the gap between the two halves— this AND a conductive wire connection between the two electrodes is needed to complete the circuit.
Voltaic cells use oxidation-reduction reactions—a chemical reaction in which a chemical species reacts with another to lose electrons (oxidizes) to become more positively charged, and the other chemical species reacts to gain the others electrons (reduces) to become more negatively charged.
As you can imagine, with electrons being sort of exchanged in this reaction, it’s the perfect recipe for electrical current. Voltaic cells use the spontaneity of this reaction to produce a steady flow of moving electrons, and thus a source of electrical energy.
The anode—the zinc rod—is the negative half of the cell, and here’s why:
Zinc is a metal that is more likely to oxidize—get rid of its electrons—so solid zinc atoms become positively charged zinc ions and electrons which are now in solution:
Due to electrostatic properties, like charges repel each other, so the electrons begin to trek towards the cathode half of the cell. The salt bridge of sodium nitrate between them helps this flow.
The cathode—the copper rod—is the positive half of the cell. In this reaction, the copper acts as the oxidizing agent, which is another way of saying it is greedy for electrons. Despite gaining electrons to it, it is called the reduction half of the reaction because its over all charge is reduced, or becomes more negative. Since the copper ions already in solution are positive, they become copper metal, and migrate to the copper rod.
The salt bridge allows electrons to flow between the two halves.
Theoretically, I should have gotten a reading of 1.10 volts from the voltmeter when I tested this cell. I got around 1.0 volt that varied—which seems perfectly acceptable for a test conducted with scraps I found around the lab.
Of course, after I had completed several hours of tests on the cell, a nice human presented me this:
A portable battery! It was a relief to know that batteries—upgraded versions of voltaic cells—have been in circulation on this planet for a while now. And luckily, engineers and scientists and still working to make them even better.
A lot more research needs to be done before I can figure out if battery power is the way to go in my trans-dimensional ship repairs, but for now, I’m happy that I can use them for nearly everything else! I can see a lot of potential for batteries in my circuitry—but that will be research best left to a later date.
Notes from the author:
Don’t go playing around with chemicals or electricity all willy-nilly, dear readers, as both can be very dangerous! Experiments should be done in labs only, with proper safety equipment, and under the supervision of a professional! 🙂