The chemistry of batteries | BCHydro Power Smart for Schools

The chemistry of batteries

Determine which characteristic of batteries—capacity or stability—poses the greater challenge.

Activity Image
40 mins
Class discussion


Students are introduced to two significant challenges to developing batteries to meet the needs of storing the potential energy generated by solar and wind power—capacity and stability. Students use information about electrolytic and electrochemical cells to determine which challenge is more significant.


What you'll need

  • "The limitations of battery technology" handout (one copy per pair of students)
  • "Assessing the challenges" worksheet (one copy per pair of students)
  • "Storing energy in batteries" slideshow
  • Digital projector and screen

  1. Organize your students into pairs. Invite groups to suggest any factors that limit or prevent the wider use of solar and wind power.
  2. Encourage groups to share their thinking with the class. As groups share, prompt them to suggest which factors or limitations might be addressed by technology, especially batteries. Invite groups to share their ideas with the class. 
  3. Provide each group with a copy of the "Assessing the challenges" worksheet. Briefly explain that while scientists are exploring how batteries could be used to encourage greater use of renewable energies, there remain significant challenges. Inform your students that the challenge of this activity is to determine which characteristic of batteries—capacity or stability—might pose the most significant challenge to greater use of sustainable energy.
  4. Open the "Storing energy in batteries" slideshow.
  5. If students are unfamiliar with how photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity, consider showing slides 2 and 3. 
  6. Show slides 4 and 5, and invite groups to look for any evidence that will help them decide which characteristic of batteries poses the most significant challenge. Prompt groups to note any evidence on their worksheets. 
  7. Provide each group with a copy of "The limitations of battery technology" handout. Ask groups to search for evidence that could be used to decide which characteristic of batteries poses the most significant challenge.
  8. After groups have considered the information in the handout, ask them to use the scale on their worksheets to show which characteristic poses the most significant challenge. Encourage groups to use their understanding of chemistry to make their decision.  
  9. Invite groups to share their decisions and thinking with the class. As groups share, prompt them to think about the two challenges: 
    • Which poses the most significant challenge to using more sustainable energy? 
    • Which challenge might be easier to address?
  10. Encourage students to share their ideas, guiding them to consider how chemistry and technology might be used to support the use of sustainable energy. 

Modify or extend this activity


  • Invite students to offer possible solutions to any of the challenges as they come to understand the nature of the challenge.


  • Consider assigning groups one of the factors that limit battery performance. 

Curriculum Fit

Chemistry 12

Big idea

  • Oxidation and reduction are complementary processes that involve the gain or loss of electrons


  • Electrolytic cells
  • Electrochemical cells

Curricular competencies

Questioning and predicting
  • Demonstrate a sustained intellectual curiosity about a scientific topic or problem of personal, local, or global interest
  • Formulate multiple hypothesis and predict multiple outcomes 
Processing and analyzing data and information
  • Construct, analyze, and interpret graphs, models, and/or diagrams
  • Use knowledge of scientific concepts to draw conclusions that are consistent with evidence
  • Analyze cause-and-effect relationships 
  • Consider the changes in knowledge over time as tools and technologies have developed
  • Critically analyze the validity of information in primary and secondary sources and evaluate the approaches used to solve problems
Applying and innovating
  • Consider the role of scientists in innovation
  • Communicate scientific ideas and information, and perhaps a suggested course of action, for a specific purpose and audience, constructing evidence-based arguments and using appropriate scientific language, conventions, and representations


Assess your students’ ability to:

  • Apply their understanding of electrochemical and electrolytic cells to the two challenges of storing electricity generated by solar energy.
  • Recognize the importance of science in developing practical solutions for a green future.
  • Self-correct and extend their thinking from the beginning to the end of the activity.
  • Use appropriate vocabulary to make their assessment of the degree of challenge (e.g., components of a battery such as cathode and anode; reactions and half reactions; reactants versus products; ions and compounds).
  • Pay close attention to appropriate details.


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