By A. RECKENZAUN.
The idea of employing secondary batteries for propelling vehicles is almost contemporaneous with the discovery of this method of storing energy. To Mr. Plante, more than to any other investigator, much of our knowledge in this branch of electrical science is due. He was the first to take advantage of the action of secondary currents in voltaic batteries. Plante is a scientist of the first grade, and he is a wonderfully exact experimenter. He examined the whole question of polarization of electrodes, using all kinds of metal as electrodes and many different liquids as electrolytes, and during his endless researches he found that the greatest useful effect was produced when dilute sulphuric acid was electrolyzed between electrodes of metallic lead.
A set of Plante's original cells was exhibited for the first time in March, 1860, before the Paris Academy of Sciences. Scientists admired and praised it, but the general public knew nothing of this great discovery thus brought to notice. Indeed, at that period little commercial value could be attached to such apparatus, since the accumulator had to be charged by means of primary batteries, and it was then well known that electrical energy, when produced by chemical means in voltaic cells, was far too expensive for any purpose outside the physical laboratory or the telegraph office.
It was twenty years after this exhibition at the Academy of Sciences in Paris that public attention was drawn to the importance of storage batteries, and that Mr. Faure conceived the idea of constructing plates consisting of lead and oxides of lead. At that time the advantages accruing through a system of electrical storage could be fully appreciated, since electrical energy was already being produced by mechanical means through the medium of dynamo-electric machines.
It was the dynamo machine which created the demand for the storage battery, and the latter was introduced anew to the public at large and to the capitalist with great pomp and enthusiasm. One of Faure's accumulators was sent to Sir William Thomson, and this eminent scientist in the course of experiments ascertained that a single cell, weighing 165 lb., can store two million foot-pounds of energy, or one horse power for one hour, and that the loss of energy in charging did not exceed 15 per cent. These results appeared highly encouraging. There we had a method of storing that could give out the greater part of the energy put in. The immense development which the electric transmission of energy was even at that early day expected to undergo pointed to the fact that a convenient method of receiving large quantities of transmitted energy, and of holding it in readiness until wanted, must be of the highest importance. Numerous applications of the Faure battery were at once suggested, and the public jumped to the conclusion that a thing for which so many uses could be instantly found must necessarily be a profitable investment, and plenty of money was provided forthwith, not with the idea of commencing careful experiments and developing the then crude invention, which would have been the correct thing, but for manufacturing tons of accumulators in their first and immature form.
I need not describe the disappointments which followed the first unfulfilled hopes, nor repeat the criticism that was heaped upon the heads of the early promoters. Those early hopes were untimely and unreasonable. A thousand difficulties had to be overcome - scientific difficulties and manufacturing difficulties. This invention, like most others, had to go through steady historical developments and evolution, and follow the recognized laws of nature, which are against abnormal and instantaneous maturity. The period of maturity has also been retarded by injudicious treatment, but the ultimate success was inevitable. Great advances have been made within the last few years, and I propose now to offer a few facts and figures relating to the present state of the subject with reference to the application of storage batteries to locomotive purposes. It is not within the province of this paper to discuss all the different inventions of secondary batteries nor to offer any suggestions with regard to priority, therefore I will confine myself to general statements.
I am aware of the good work that was done in the United States by Kirchhoff twenty-six years ago, and of the more recent work of Mr. Brush, of Cleveland, Mr. Julien and others, but I am more particularly acquainted with the recent achievements of the Electrical Accumulator Company, who own the rights of the Electrical Power Storage Company, of London. I have used the batteries of the latter company for propelling electric boats and electric street cars. The first of the boats was the Electricity, which was launched in September, 1882, and which attained a speed of seven miles an hour for six consecutive hours. Since then a dozen electric boats of various sizes have been fitted up and worked successfully by means of storage batteries and motors of my design. The most important of these were the launch Volta and another similar craft, which is used by the Italian government for torpedo work in the harbor of Spezia. On the measured mile trial trips the Italian launch gave an average speed of 8.43 miles an hour with and against the tide. The hull of this vessel was built by Messrs. Yarrow & Co., and the motors were manufactured by Messrs. Stephens, Smith & Co., of London. The Volta, which was entirely fitted by the latter firm, is 37 feet long and 7 feet beam.
She draws 2'6" of water when carrying 40 persons, for whom there is ample sitting accommodation. There are 64 cells in this boat. These are placed as ballast under the floor, and actuate a pair of motors and a screw coupled direct to the armature shaft running at 700 revolutions a minute. We crossed the English Channel with this boat in September of last year, leaving Dover at 10:40 in the morning, arriving at Calais at 2:30 P.M.; stayed about an hour in the French harbor for luncheon and floated into Dover docks the same evening, at 6:30, with full speed. The actual distance traversed without entirely discharging the cells was 54 miles. The current remained constant at 28 amperes until 5 P.M., and it only dropped to 25 amperes at the completion of the double voyage between England and France. Several electric launches are now being constructed in London, and one in New York by the Electrical Accumulator Company.