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Batteries have been with us for a long time. They provide portable, convenient sources of energy for powering devices without wires or cables. Battery selection should be based upon factors such as application, cost, convenience, rechargeability and availabilty. The information shown here has been gathered from a wide variety of sources to answer, hopefully, all your questions about batteries. We will also point you in the right direction to find suppliers of specialty batteries, and rechargers made to give you the maximum life from your existing batteries. So if you want to know all about batteries, from their history of development, comparison of types, chemistry, new developments, construction and application, and environmental concerns, just use the convenient navigation bars at the left side of the page.

What is a primary battery? What is a secondary battery?

A primary battery is most likely found in a drugstore, whereas secondary batteries are not generally found there. Lift up the hood of your car if you want to see a secondary battery. Secondary batteries are designed to be charged and discharged repeatedly many times. (For instance, every time you start and drive your car.) Primary batteries are designed to be used only once. However, the distinction is becoming less obvious, as we shall see later. Even the garden variety of throw-away alkaline batteries found in the drugstore can be recharged safely and conveniently many dozens of times!

Why do my batteries run out of power so quickly in portable devices?

Summed up in one word, the answer is weight. Those who design these devices are faced with difficult decisions. How can we make the device have long operating time, yet keep the weight down? A bigger battery will contain more energy to make it last longer, but will the market stand for the added weight? What is our competition doing? If the competition has switched to a more exotic type of battery, Lithium-ion or Nickel-metal Hydride, then they are forcing the customer to use more expensive replacement batteries, which may not be easily replaced. A specially-designed charger would have to be included with the product for these specialty batteries, and that drives up the selling price of the product even more. And these chargers are not usually interchangeable with any chargers the customer may already have.

The power supplied by the batteries to your digital camera, your MP3 player, or your radio, multiplied by the time the power flows, equals a certain number of Watt-hours. Are you familiar with the electric utility meter on your house or apartment that registers the number of Kilowatt-hours you and your family use? The utility then bills you for the quantity of energy (kilowatt-hours) that you use. Batteries don’t store power, they store energy. Did you know that? When you buy a battery you are paying for the energy it contains, and at a premium price if the technology behind the battery is new and therefore it is lighter than expected.

The amount of energy stored in a given battery depends, not only upon its weight and volume, but upon the materials and construction of the battery. For instance, you can count on any brand of alkaline battery to have within it about 4 times the energy of the old-fashioned carbon-zinc battery. Those carbon-zinc batteries are still around in packages labeled “heavy duty” or “transistor power”. (Beware when you are buying batteries — look for the word “alkaline” on the package.)

In high-drain applications such as toys, cameras, and CD players, carbon-zinc batteries will not be able to provide that one-quarter energy of alkaline batteries of similar size. They will yield only a little more than a quarter of that quarter, or roughly 10% of the alkaline’s energy. This figure is frequently quoted when comparisons are made in battery commercials on TV. “This new improved battery lasts 10 times longer than ordinary batteries.” Guess what kind of ordinary battery they are comparing it to!

What battery should I buy for my application?

If you are having trouble finding the right battery, it must be for a more demanding application than to power a wall clock or a TV remote control. A high drain device, such as a digital camera, a portable CD player, an MP3 player, or even the common flashlight requires a battery that can supply high current. The current required may be more than the recommended current load for a given size battery, even four to six times recommended current load. The battery is expected not to lose voltage at the same time, or else the device may quit functioning. Did you know that some digital cameras using four AA batteries need to be supplied with 5 volts from four batteries, or the camera will turn off? This is 1.25 volts per cell. Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries measure 1.35 volts each, when fresh from their charger. They fall to 1.25 volts in a hurry!

You get what you pay for, Energy and ability to supply high current

On another page of the All About Batteries.com website entitled Battery Energy, we present a table showing which batteries provide the most Energy per unit Volume, the most Energy per Kilogram, and the most Energy per Dollar. Don’t take the time to go look at it just yet. You may find the information confusing without further guidance. Summarizing the findings in a nutshell, as applied to AA-sized batteries, the table shows that the most energy per battery cell, 9360 Joules, which is 2.6 Watt-hours, is available from an ordinary Alkaline battery!. Not only that, but the price per Watt-hour is only $0.38 (and could go lower for alkaline batteries found on sale.) In contrast, NiMH batteries of the same size store 1.8 Watt-hour of energy, but cost about $2 per Watt-hour! And with Alkaline batteries, you start with a voltage of 1.55 volts when the batteries are fresh out of the package, a long way from 1.25 volts.

So what is wrong with Alkaline batteries? They are not rechargeable. Oops, that used to be true, but not any longer. A new type of recharger, the Battery Xtender ™ safely and conveniently charges all ordinary Alkaline batteries of all sizes, and can simultaneously do nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride batteries of mixed sizes! Owners of digital cameras have found out that the Battery Xtender does a better job of recharging their NiMH batteries than chargers that came with the camera.

How can I assure that the batteries I start with are fresh?
How can I find those hard-to-find battery sizes or sale prices?

Just click on some of the links we have provided to take you to respected suppliers of batteries meeting your requirements. There is little difference in performance between name brand batteries according to tests performed by Consumer Reports magazine. This is contrary to the advertising of the major battery manufacturers. It is probably more dependent on the volume of batteries moving through the store or supplier, so that fresh batteries are available at all times. Many retailers of batteries such as Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, or Walgreens sell batteries marked with the store brand name, but in most cases those batteries have been manufactured by the major battery companies, under subcontract.

Recommended sources:
At Battery Company
Walgreens
Wal-Mart
Radio Shack
The Source at Circuit City (Canada)

Battery economy tip: Save energy and money by turning off unnecessary functions

Although this tip applies directly to digital cameras, you can apply the same principles to flashlights and audio players. In a digital camera, the highest drain on batteries comes from the LCD screen that shows the composition of the picture about to be taken, or the previous image. Turn it off when it is not in use. Use the optical viewfinder instead. The next highest drain is from an auto focus motor driving the lens. In some cameras it can be switched from continuous operation to operation only when the shutter button is depressed halfway. Continuous operation wastes energy. Finally, charging up the flash between pictures uses energy. If the distance to the subject is over 10 meters, the light from the flash is wasted, so take the picture without flash. All those thousands of flashes seen coming from the fans seated in packed stadiums are from people who don’t know this.

This might be a good time to get acquainted with the tables showing the available energy from various battery types, shown in Battery Energy, and Battery energy tables.

With over 15 billion batteries sold in North America every year, we do not wish to be reminded of the ugly sight of that many batteries falling into landfills, to be buried with other trash. It makes more sense to

  1. Use fewer batteries by recharging when possible, particularly in the case of ordinary alkaline batteries.
  2. Save used batteries in containers, to be taken to nearby recycling depots.
  3. Collect used batteries to take to hazardous material collection locations.
  4. Pay attention to the proper disposal of the types that cause the most environmental damage: Nickel-cadmium batteries and lead-acid batteries.
  5. Make use of plants specifically designed for the purpose to recycle metals and other materials used in batteries.

Lead-acid batteries used in automobiles and motorcycles are easy to identify by their size and weight and unique heavy metal terminal lugs. Lead-acid batteries are also found in burglar alarms, computer power supplies as sources of uninterrupted power during blackouts, and emergency lighting units. The batteries are almost always properly labeled so you can determine what type of battery they are. Nickel-cadmium batteries, on the other hand, are not always labeled as such. They are most often found in portable telephones in the home, in razors, in electric drills and power tools. When in doubt, treat the battery as hazardous and take it to a center capable of proper disposal.

If you want to know what the Rechargeable Battery Recyling Corporation does with the materials recovered, visit INMETCO Recycling Services. the only facility in North America that provides thermal recovery for nickel-cadmium batteries. They even do carbon-zinc batteries.

Radio Shack stores offer battery collection services for their customers. At some stores they have rebuilding facilities to replace rechargeable batteries in power tools with the proper built-in units. For the store nearest you, contact Radio Shack USA, or in Canada, The Source at Circuit City

To find the dates of the next hazardous materials pickup in your area, contact your municipal government offices.

The table below shows the battery volume for cell sizes AAA, AA, C, and D. The volume does not change with the type of battery, but the weight does, as shown here.

Battery
Cell Size
Volume
ml
Alkaline
Weight g
Carbon-Zinc
Weight g
NiCad
Weight g
NiMH
Weight g
Lithium Ion
Weight g
AAA 3.9 12 9.7 11 12
AA 8.3 24 19 29 26 24
C 26.5 65 48 85 82
D 55.8 135 98 200 170

Energy storage in AAA batteries

Battery
Type
Avg. voltage
During discharge
milli-Amp
hours (mAh)
Watt-hours
Wh
Joules
J
Alkaline
Long-life
1.225 1150 1.41 5071
Carbon-zinc 1.1 320 0.35 1268
Nickel-Cadmium 1.2 300 0.36 1296
NiMH 1.2 800 0.96 3456

Energy storage in AA batteries

Battery
Type
Avg. voltage
During discharge
milli-Amp
hours (mAh)
Watt-hours
Wh
Joules
J
Alkaline
Long-life
1.225 2122 2.60 9360
Carbon-zinc 1.1 591 0.65 2340
Nickel-Cadmium 1.2 1000 1.20 4320
NiMH 1.2 2100 2.52 9072
Lithium Ion 3.6 853 3.1 11050

Energy storage in C batteries

Battery
Type
Avg. voltage
During discharge
milli-Amp
hours (mAh)
Watt-hours
Wh
Joules
J
Alkaline
Long-life
1.225 7800 9.56 34398
Carbon-zinc 1.1 2172 2.39 8600
Nickel-Cadmium 1.2 2500 3.00 10800
NiMH 1.2 4500 5.40 19440

Energy storage in D batteries

Battery
Type
Avg. voltage
During discharge
milli-Amp
hours (mAh)
Watt-hours
Wh
Joules
J
Alkaline
Long-life
1.225 17000 20.83 74970
Carbon-zinc 1.1 4733 5.21 18743
Nickel-Cadmium 1.2 5000 6.00 21600
NiMH 1.2 9500 11.40 41040

Lithium-Thionyl Chloride — Special Mention

Although non-rechargeable,Lithium-Thionyl Chloride has the highest energy storage per kilogram of any battery type. Lithium-Thionyl Chloride cells do not supply high discharge currents, typically 1/10 the current of other cell types. However they last for 20 years, and withstand temperature extremes of -55 to +150 degrees C. For more information on Lithium-Thionyl Chloride batteries, contact Tadiran Battery Co.

Lithium-Thionyl Chloride
(non-rechargeable)
Avg. voltage
During discharge
milli-Amp
hours (mAh)
Watt-hours
Wh
Joules
J
AA cells 3.6 2400 8.64 31104
C cells 3.6 8500 30.60 110160
D cells 3.6 19000 68.40 246240

Finally, if you would like a D-size battery that can supply 20 amperes of current for a short time (5 seconds), that will last for 10 years, check out the Ultracapacitor at Maxwell Technologies Inc. It is not really a battery at all, it is a 350 farad capacitor rated 2.5 volts. Yes, we said farads, not microfarads. As such it can store 277 Joules at 2.5 volts. This is not a great amount of energy storage, hence the limited discharge time. However, it can deliver more peak current than a lead-acid battery of the same size, and it recharges easily more than 500,000 times. The cost compares favorably with other D-size rechargeable batteries, but the cost per Watt-hour is not too good, $195.