A battery is a device that stores potential energy capable of being converted to electrical energy through a chemical process. We take batteries for granted in the modern era. They power everything from our flashlights to our smartphones. What would life be like without them?

Have you ever wondered how batteries work? If so, a good place to begin is understanding the six parts that make up a typical battery. Each one is explained below, compliments of Salt Lake City’s Pale Blue Earth. Incidentally, Pale Blue Earth sells a revolutionary lithium-ion battery that can be recharged with a USB cable.

1. The Case

The first and most visible part of a typical battery is the case. Consumer batteries – think AA, AAA, and D-cell – have steel cases. Steel is strong enough to hold all the internal components while simultaneously withstanding the punishment of regular use. Should a steel casing ever be breached, potential leakage could be dangerous.

2. The Cathode

The cathode is a combination of materials residing at the positive end of the battery. In a disposable alkaline battery, manganese dioxide and carbon are the norm. Other types of battery technologies rely on other materials. During the charging process, ions flow from cathode to anode.

3. The Anode

The anode is that combination of materials residing at the negative end of the battery. An anode could be made up of any number of materials. Zinc is a popular one. During the discharge process, ions flow from the anode back to the cathode.

4. The Separator

Between anode and cathode is a separator designed to keep these two compartments apart to avoid short circuit. In cases where the separator is breached, a short circuit can cause overheating. The separator in most consumer batteries consists of a fibrous, non-woven fabric that prevents the flow of anode and cathode materials without inhibiting ion flow.

5. The Electrolyte

If you had to choose the most important part of a battery you might choose the electrolyte. This is a chemical solution contained within the barrier between the anode and cathode. It is through this electrolyte that ions flow. Thus, the electrolyte essentially carries potential energy from cathode to anode and then back again.

A rechargeable lithium-ion battery features an electrolyte based in lithium salts. Its biggest advantage is its exceptional energy density. Because lithium-ion batteries are more energy dense than disposable alkalines, they also weigh less.

6. The Collector

The last piece of the battery puzzle is the collector. This is a metal pin running through the center of the battery for the purposes of conducting electricity generated by ions passing from anode to cathode. During charging, ions flow in the opposite direction. Thus, the collector is utilized in reverse. It conducts electricity into the battery to force ions to flow from cathode to anode.

How It All Works

Now that you know the six parts of a typical consumer battery, would you like to know how it all works? It is actually quite simple. Charging a battery involves introducing electricity that pushes ions from the positive end, through the electrolyte, to the negative end. Those ions stay at the negative end until you put the battery into a device and turn it on.

When you do that, the battery’s circuit is complete. This allows ions to flow from the negative end back to the positive. As they pass through the electrolyte, the resulting chemical reaction produces electricity that runs through the collector and into the device being powered. That is really all there is to it.