How Dry Cell Batteries Work

An animated guide to the science of batteries

Written by Save On Energy

Last updated May 18, 2022

Did you know the same battery we use today was invented in 1887? With only minor upgrade, the ‘dry cell’ battery was a scientific victory because they were liquid free and could be used in portable devices. Previously, batteries were large fragile glass containers with metal rods, which made them not the most household-friendly items. That said, old ‘wet cell’ batteries can still be found in modern day industries like automotive or telecommunication—you can even create your own battery at home using items around the house!

From turning on a lamp in your home to running solar panels, batteries play a large role in our everyday lives. The lowly battery is more than just a simple tool—the technology hasn’t changed much for centuries—and we depend on them more than you may think. In the U.S. alone, we throw away three billion batteries annually, which adds up to a lot of power.

Which got us to wondering, how do batteries work? Batteries consist of an anode (the negative end), a cathode (the positive end) and electrolytes. When a battery is plugged in, the electrolytes are provided a circuit to move between the two ends, which creates the power.

Seems simple, right? But can you name other important parts of the process, like oxidation or reduction? What about how a rechargeable battery works? We’ve outlined the entire process below in a helpful animation—so that the next time you’re turning on the television, you can visualize the entire cycle.

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Unless it’s a new toy or a TV remote out of “juice,” batteries tend to go unnoticed. However, batteries do more than just power the small appliances in our home. They can be found in many shapes and sizes, from the rechargeable ones in our smartphones to massive lithium ion batteries that can power an energy grid.

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