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The internal resistance of a battery can increase for many reasons. For example, the internal resistance of a rechargeable battery increases as the number of times the battery is recharged increases. The increased internal resistance may have two effects on the battery. First, the terminal voltage will decrease. Second, the battery may overheat due to the increased power dissipated by the internal resistance.

Check Your Understanding If you place a wire directly across the two terminal of a battery, effectively shorting out the terminals, the battery will begin to get hot. Why do you suppose this happens?

If a wire is connected across the terminals, the load resistance is close to zero, or at least considerably less than the internal resistance of the battery. Since the internal resistance is small, the current through the circuit will be large, I = ε R + r = ε 0 + r = ε r . The large current causes a high power to be dissipated by the internal resistance ( P = I 2 r ) . The power is dissipated as heat.

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Battery testers

Battery testers , such as those in [link] , use small load resistors to intentionally draw current to determine whether the terminal potential drops below an acceptable level. Although it is difficult to measure the internal resistance of a battery, battery testers can provide a measurement of the internal resistance of the battery. If internal resistance is high, the battery is weak, as evidenced by its low terminal voltage.

Part a shows photo of a technician testing batteries and part b shows a battery testing device.
Battery testers measure terminal voltage under a load to determine the condition of a battery. (a) A US Navy electronics technician uses a battery tester to test large batteries aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz . The battery tester she uses has a small resistance that can dissipate large amounts of power. (b) The small device shown is used on small batteries and has a digital display to indicate the acceptability of the terminal voltage. (credit a: modification of work by Jason A. Johnston; credit b: modification of work by Keith Williamson)

Some batteries can be recharged by passing a current through them in the direction opposite to the current they supply to an appliance. This is done routinely in cars and in batteries for small electrical appliances and electronic devices ( [link] ). The voltage output of the battery charger must be greater than the emf of the battery to reverse the current through it. This causes the terminal voltage of the battery to be greater than the emf, since V = ε I r and I is now negative.

The figure shows a car battery charger connected to two terminals of a car battery. The current flows from the charger to the positive terminal and from the negative terminal back to the charger.
A car battery charger reverses the normal direction of current through a battery, reversing its chemical reaction and replenishing its chemical potential.

It is important to understand the consequences of the internal resistance of emf sources, such as batteries and solar cells, but often, the analysis of circuits is done with the terminal voltage of the battery, as we have done in the previous sections. The terminal voltage is referred to as simply as V , dropping the subscript “terminal.” This is because the internal resistance of the battery is difficult to measure directly and can change over time.

Questions & Answers

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Practice Key Terms 5

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