The Disadvantage of a Simple Cell
When the poles of a simple voltaic cell are connected by a wire, the current thus produced slowly diminishes in strength and, after a short time, becomes feeble. Examination of the cell shows that the copper plate is covered with hydrogen bubbles. If, however, these bubbles are completely brushed away by means of a rod or stick, the current strength increases, but as the bubbles again gather on the + electrode the current strength diminishes, and when the bubbles form a thick film on the copper plate, the current is too weak to be of any practical value. The film of bubbles weakens the current because it practically substitutes a hydrogen plate for a copper plate, and we saw in Section 282 that a change in any one of the materials of which a cell is composed changes the current.
This weakening of the current can be reduced mechanically by brushing away the bubbles as soon as they are formed; or chemically, by surrounding the copper plate with a substance which will combine with the free hydrogen and prevent it from passing onward to the copper plate.
In practically all cells, the chemical method is used in preference to the mechanical one. The numerous types of cells in daily use differ chiefly in the devices employed for preventing the formation of hydrogen bubbles, or for disposing of them when formed. One of the best-known cells in which weakening of the current is prevented by chemical means is the so-called gravity cell.