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Gas Batteries

By A. R. MacPherson



To experimenters interested in electricity and chemistry there is a very fascinating and comparatively little workt field in the construction and operation of gas batteries. Altho little has been accomplisht towards perfecting the gas battery as a commercial product, a patient research might reveal possibilities as yet undreamed of by scientists. When we consider the simple fact that a gas battery requires only two gases, one of which is highly electro-positive and one which is highly electro-negative, the solution of the problem then resolves itself into finding an economical chemical method of producing the two gases and causing them to combine.

On consulting the table of chemical elements we find that hydrogen heads the list as being .highly electro-positive, while oxygen concludes the list as being highly electro-negative. Thus with the most abundant elements of the earth, hydrogen and oxygen, it would seem very reasonable to take the oxygen from the air, and the hydrogen from the water, and produce a gas battery which would generate electricity on a commercial scale, and perhaps supersede the present methods of producing electricity.

A simple coal-gas cell may be constructed as shown in Fig. 1, which will give the experimenter an insight into the working principles employed in this form of battery. Procure a glass jar "A" of convenient size, and a thin sheet of lead "B", about 5 inches by 7 inches, which is bent in a spiral form to fit the inside of the jar. Then obtain a glass chimney "C", placing it inside the larger lead spiral, and fit a second spiral lead plate "D" into this smaller chimney. The two connections for the lead-out wires are taken off at the top of the lead electrodes as shown.

To operate this cell pour a dilute sulfuric acid solution into the outer jar to a depth of two inches, and hold the glass chimney over a gas-jet until it is filled with gas. Then close it up with a tight fitting stopper "S", and replace it carefully in the large jar. Connect the terminals to a galvanometer "G", and the current will be indicated by the deflection of the needle. Thus we have a current set up with the production of water and carbon dioxide gas, one lead electrode being surrounded by air while the other is surrounded by the impure hydrogen in the coal-gas.

Another experimental cell of this type is shown in Fig 2, and is known as Grove's "Gas Battery." This consists of a double-neck bottle "A", with two glass tubes "B" and "C" passing thru stoppers in the neck. Inside of the two tubes are attached platinum electrodes or strips, a and b, which possess the property of occluding, or absorbing hydrogen and oxygen.

To act as a gas battery this cell must first be charged with an electric current from an outside source, giving about three volts. During this charging process the weak acid solution in the bottle is decomposed, yielding hydrogen which collects in the tube "C," and oxygen which collects in the tube "B", at the rate of two volumes of hydrogen to one of oxygen.

When the tubes are filled with gas the wires are disconnected from the battery and attacht to the galvanometer "G." The gas battery will then be in action as indicated by the needle : water being again formed from combination of hydrogen and oxygen and an electric current generated. This cell illustrates both the storage and gas battery, as the electrical energy is first transformed into chemical potential energy in the form of the oxygen and hydrogen, and is then transformed into electrical energy again by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen to form water.

Another unique but complicated gas battery is that invented by A. Pletcher, a German scientist, and altho it is more of the ideal type of gas cell, it is impractical owing to the platinum used in its construction which renders it very expensive.

Fig. 3 is a sectional view of this battery, which depends for its electrical action upon the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, brought about by the presence of finely divided platinum. It is constructed of a series of vessels "A", made from a mixture of clay with a platinum chlorid solution, which upon baking becomes hard, the platinum acquiring the finely divided condition. On the inside of the vessels is constructed a network of wires "B", fastened to the walls and connected to the one terminal "C". A similar system of wires is also built up on the exterior walls of the vessels and connected to the other terminal "D". Underneath the cells is a basin "E" with a pet-cock "G". The battery is operated by running a stream of hydrogen thru the opening "O" into the vessels, the oxygen being supplied by the surrounding atmosphere.

Owing to the porous construction of the cells the two gases penetrate the walls and come under the influence of the platinum, which causes the oxygen and hydrogen to combine and form water with the production of an electric current. The water falls to the bottom of the basin "E", while that formed on the exterior walls is collected in the trough "K".

It is thus evident that the gas battery at the present time is in the experimental stage, serving only to illustrate the phenomenon of producing an electric current thru the combination of two gases. But there is every reason to believe that the ideal gas battery will soon be perfected, and man will have accomplisht the feat of harnessing that strange force known as chemical "affinity," and the transformation of the chemical energy of the atoms into the great electrical forces that will drive the machinery of the future. It has long been the dream of scientists to control the vast potential power that exists between the atoms and utilize it for commercial purposes, and with the perfection of the gas battery man will have realized another victory over the forces of nature.



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