Types of Voltaic Cells: Batteries vs. Fuel Cells

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to explain what a voltaic cell is, and distinguish between two types of voltaic cells: batteries and fuel cells. A short quiz will follow.

What is a Voltaic Cell?

A voltaic cell (otherwise known as a galvanic cell) is an object that uses electrolysis (a type of chemical reaction) to produce electricity. It contains an anode and a cathode submerged in an electrolyte solution. The anode is where an oxidation reaction occurs, and the cathode is where a reduction reaction occurs. This causes there to always be a potential difference between the two ends of the cell, allowing electricity to continue to flow. Voltaic cells power electrical circuits when a mains supply isn't available or isn't practical.

What takes place inside a voltaic cell
What takes place inside a voltaic cell

Batteries vs Fuel Cells

A battery is the most common example of a voltaic cell in everyday life. Though strictly speaking, a battery is a series of voltaic cells connected together, these days it's used to mean a single cell too. You're probably pretty familiar with what a battery is: laptops and smartphones contain batteries, as do remote controls, wall clocks, and anything that uses electricity without being connected to a plug socket.

Batteries are one type of voltaic cell
Batteries Are One Type of Voltaic Cell

A battery is basically a store of chemical energy, and when those chemicals start to run out, the battery can no longer produce electricity. When the amount of electricity a battery is producing gets low enough, the thing it's powering will stop working. That's when it's time to replace the battery. That is, unless you're using rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries can be connected to a mains supply, reversing the reaction inside the battery and giving it the power needed to be used again. These are much better for the environment due to less wasted materials.

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