Normally when people think of battery innards, they think of acids and chemicals so harsh that they could melt yoru eyeballs right out of their sockets. My personal mind-image of battery acid is The Dip from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a colorful vat of inventive toxic ooze that reduces cartoons to swirls of classic Crayola color. It’s nasty stuff, stuff you wouldn’t want to inhale, stuff you definitely want to bathe in. Or drink.
Strangely enough, the material that separates battery parts (read: the electrodes, cathode and anode) is an electrolyte, the same type of substances in sports drinks like Gatorade that are supposed to help replenish and re-power your body. I say ‘type’ because the materials are not exactly the same. Gatorade electrolytes can be any kind of supplemental ions – sodium, potassium – while the electrolyte in a battery has to be a very definite barrier that can still pass electrons freely between the two electrodes. What’s interesting is that both substances serve the same purpose – electric charge regulation.
Of course, there are always advances and changes being made to electrolyte substances to make them more efficient, or better, or better for us. Gatorade has come out with the new G2 version of itself, with a lower sugar content, making it healthier but still with enough sugar to allow us to uptake the electorlytes our bodies need to run properly. MIT and other schools are working on thinner, more advanced electrolyte barriers for use in fuel cells using a new layer-by-layer process (think The Dip again). testing has concluded that this film, when used with other barriers, outputs 50% more power. It remains to be seen what kind of advantages this layered approach will have when used as a standalone barrier between electrodes.
Someday perhaps we’ll be able to charge and run all of our appliances – cell phone, computer, dishwasher – from the power of our own bodies. Until that time, we’ll just have to keep beefing up our electrolytes.