AQA GCSE Chemistry

Revision Notes

5.2.1 Cells & Batteries

Simple Cells

  • A simple cell is a source of electrical energy
  • The simplest design consists of two electrodes made from metals of different reactivity immersed in an electrolyte and connected to an external voltmeter by wire, creating a complete circuit
  • A common example is zinc and copper
  • Zinc is the more reactive metal and forms ions more easily, readily releasing electrons
  • The electrons give the more reactive electrode a negative charge and sets up a charge difference between the electrodes
  • The electrons then flow around the circuit to the copper electrode which is now the more positive electrode
  • The difference in the ability of the electrodes to release electrons causes a voltage to be produced
  • The greater the difference in the metals reactivity then the greater the voltage produced
  • The electrolyte used also affects the voltage as different ions react with the electrodes in different ways

How Reactivity Affects Voltage in Cells 1, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Chemistry revision notes


How Reactivity Affects Voltage in Cells 2, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Chemistry revision notes

Simple cell made with Cu and Mg. These metals are further apart on the reactivity series than Cu and Zn and produce a greater voltage

Exam Tip

Use the reactivity series of metals to compare different cells and deduce the relative voltages.


  • Electrochemical cells include the familiar batteries used in everyday appliances and cars
  • Batteries work by connecting two or more cells in series, which combine to give a larger overall voltage
  • Over time the electrodes degrade as the reactions that occur there are irreversible
  • Cells produce a voltage only until one of the reactants is used up and when this occurs the battery dies or goes flat
  • The products formed cannot be reverted back into reactants as the reaction is irreversible and the battery must be replaced
  • This happens in non-rechargeable batteries such as alkaline batteries
  • In rechargeable batteries the reactions are reversed by connecting the cells to an external electrical supply
  • This reverses the chemical reactions taking place allowing the cycle to be repeated

Exam Tip

You should be able to describe the differences between rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries.

Author: Francesca

Fran has taught A level Chemistry in the UK for over 10 years. As head of science, she used her passion for education to drive improvement for staff and students, supporting them to achieve their full potential. Fran has also co-written science textbooks and worked as an examiner for UK exam boards.

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