Are Rechargeable Batteries Better Than Alkaline? Most of the Time.
Many of my favorite things as a kid—from my Walkman to the TV remote—required AA or AAA batteries. That technology wasn’t always reliable. Sometimes I’d flip open the battery slot of a rarely used toy to find a crusty, whitish discharge from a leaky AA inside, or I’d leave the ’90s-era rechargeable batteries juicing up on a bulky charger for an entire day only to have them die after just a few hours of use.
Since then, rechargeable batteries have become less expensive, more reliable, and much longer lasting. As Isidor Buchmann, CEO and founder of the Canada-based battery technology company Cadex Electronics, explains on the company’s educational resource site Battery University, many of today’s rechargeable batteries are made of nickel–metal hydride (NiMH), a more efficient material than reusable alkaline, and are chemically sealed to prevent battery leakage from crusting up your electronics. They hold a charge for much longer than the rechargeable batteries that were available in the 1990s—or even a few years ago—and you can recharge them hundreds of times over.
In most cases, these days you’re better off using rechargeables. They’re safe and reliable, they create less environmental waste, and as we explain in the Wirecutter guide to rechargeable batteries, they pay for themselves after about six recharges, even with the added cost of a wall charger (for which Wirecutter also has a recommendation). Going by a 2012 case study for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, we can estimate that about 4 billion disposable batteries are shipped to the US each year. That means the average US household burns through about 47 batteries per year. But you could buy just 12 rechargeable batteries every four years (the lifespan of some rechargeable batteries) instead of 188 disposables. And you wouldn’t lose much performance: The best rechargeables can power your devices on a single charge for just as long as most high-quality single-use batteries can, but at a fraction of the cost over time.
However, single-use batteries are still the better option in a few instances.
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Electronics that constantly draw low amounts of power—such as some wall clocks, headlamps, or bike lights—work better with disposable alkaline batteries. Alkaline batteries start with a slightly higher voltage that in many conditions decreases faster than that of rechargeable batteries. Whereas an alkaline battery may drop from “powering” to “dead” pretty quickly, a rechargeable battery may hang on at a lower voltage for slightly longer, resulting in unexpected behavior such as dimming lights or a clock that can’t keep time.
Most alarm manufacturers recommend against using rechargeable batteries to power a smoke alarm. Smoke alarms that are not hardwired into your home’s electrical system get power in a few ways: a built-in battery designed to last up to 10 years, or disposable 9-volt or AA batteries that you should replace once a year. No matter what kind of smoke alarms you have, according to the US Fire Administration, you should test the battery monthly and replace the entire device every 10 years.
“Kind of like your cell phone tells you when its battery is low, a smoke alarm should beep or chirp to tell you when it’s time to replace the battery, and it should continue to chirp for at least seven days,” said Richard Roux, senior electrical specialist for the National Fire Protection Association. “If you’re not using the recommended type of battery, the smoke alarm might stop chirping before you realize it needs to be replaced.”
If you’re not sure what type of battery the manufacturer recommends and you don’t have the instruction manual handy, said Roux, you can always look it up online using the serial number printed on the smoke alarm.
Emergencies or power shortages
Disposable batteries are also your best bet for emergency preparedness kits because, as Buchmann explains on the Battery University site, they have a much longer shelf life than rechargeables—up to a decade, versus a few years. Just be sure to check the expiration date on your single-use batteries so that you know roughly when to replace them.
“When you buy milk in the store, there’s a date on it, but when you buy alkaline batteries you don’t usually check the date,” Buchmann said in an interview.
Disposable batteries can also come in handy when it’s inconvenient or impossible to recharge, said Buchmann, such as on backpacking trips. He added,“The materials and chemistry of alkaline batteries are more rugged than rechargeables, so they can take more abuse.”
Regardless of which type you’re using, no battery lasts forever. To find out how to safely dispose of worn-out batteries, check the Earth911 site or your local recycling center.
EBL AA Rechargeable Li-ion Battery 1.5V 3000mWh
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Introduction: How to Check AA/AAA Alkaline Battery Using a Voltmeter
We all run into a situation when batteries in our remotes, toys, keyboards/mice run out. If we don’t know how to check a battery we might throw out a perfectly fine battery (especially when we have a pile of them somewhere in the drawer).
This electronics tip has to deal with checking common alkaline AA/AAA batteries or AA/AAA rechargeable batteries for proper voltage with a voltmeter.
Disclaimer : some people might say that a battery should always be tested under load but I have found that in most common household applications this is insignificant and will not change the results of the testing too much.
Things that you will need : Voltmeter Alkaline battery
Basic facts : The proper voltage for AA/AAA alkaline battery is 1.5V The proper voltage for AA/AAA NiCd/NiMh rechargeable battery is 1.25 Volts
To test the battery, turn on your voltmeter, put the voltmeter on DCV and make sure that it is far above the battery voltage, on most voltmeters there is a setting 20 in the DCV area, so switch your voltmeter to that setting.
With the battery in front of you, put the red probe to battery’s nipple and the black probe to the battery’s flat side (-). Notice the voltage reading on the voltmeter.
If the reading is more than 1.3V for alkaline battery (not rechargeable battery) then the battery still has some juice left in it, don’t throw it away. Otherwise, properly discard of the battery.
Tip : do not use old and new batteries in the same device at the same time. Try to use batteries that have same amount of energy stored in them.
Another tip: I sort my batteries according to Voltages, 1.35 Good, 1.2V-1.3V Ok (but almost out), 1V-1.2V Discard.
I will attach some pictures of measurements in action.
Instructions on how to use a multimeter are out of scope of this Instructable, you can find some information here: http://www.ladyada.net/learn/multimeter/
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Комментарии и мнения владельцев
Today I had a major name-brand digital thermostat fail, driving my house temperature to 80° before the failure was caught, wasting a lot of expensive energy as well. The thermostat is battery powered, and when checking the two AA’s it uses, the voltage on each was 1.32 and 1.33V, respectively. in some cases, that voltage may be usable, but in this application it was insufficient to power the relay that shuts off the furnace. Just be very careful of your particular application.
Was you furnace stuck on when the cells failed?
This is not a totally foolproof way to check cells, and you are certainly right to advise folks to be thoughtful and prudent about where they put their faith. Obviously I haven’t personally examined your home climate control system, so I’d be a fool to spout off and tell you there’s been a mistake. But I have to say that something seems amiss here.
I don’t mean to insult your intelligence, and if you know your stuff and are certain about what happened, please forgive me. But in case you’re not too familiar with HVAC and are just guessing, I want to give you a heads-up that the problem could be something else and you may want to be on the lookout. Although it appeared a low battery was your problem, it could be that the fresh battery, (or the some aspect of the battery change) just masked or reset a different problem.
I am not an HVAC pro or guru; my observations are not definitive. Prelude over. There are two things that seem unusual to me, and here’s what I can tell you. Although electronic thermostats do (usually, anyway) rely on their own power source to run their internals (including a switch that determines whether the furnace will be told to run), the actual messenger that switches it on is typically a ~5V line which is supplied by a transformer in the furnace. The thermostat’s power just has to decide to close a little circuit on its board, which doesn’t usually take much juice. Granted, that doesn’t prove anything. The thing that bugs me more is thatit’s usually a closed circuit that turns a unit on. Lack of power should result in a unit that fails to turn on.
I won’t pretend that I can tell you what else could have been at fault for the stuck on condition, or even that I know for certain it wasn’t just as you said. I just wanted to help out by telling you that from here it looks like there might be another problem lurking. If you know something I don’t, I’d be happy to have you educate me.
Thanks, or you’re welcome. Or both.
Powering micro-controllers by Battery
Working with low-power applications, one of the most common topic are batteries. Questions like “Which one is the best battery?” is a very common one. We all know that there’s not a single answer for such question, and this post will explore the different options as well highlight the weakness and strengths of some common kinds of batteries.
Although this is can be considered a generic battery post, it has been written having low voltage micro-controller applications in mind, more specifically solutions like our Whisper Node product.
So the question the post tries to answer is: “Which is the best battery to power my micro-controller application?”
There are many differences between each kind of battery available on the marked, but the features we normally use to take a decision is: size versus capacity versus price. Logically if we simply didn’t care about size or price, bigger batteries like a standard Akaline D would offer some great capacity and stability, also the new 1.5V Lithium cells are great but very expensive!
Well, as we normally care about price and size, we also need to start considering other factors like the battery’s chemistry, which will affect the not only the cell voltage but the discharging curve as well – those will be covered in more details at the “Long Answer”.
Bellow three very common batteries we use every day:
Note that the CR2032 is a 3.0V battery, so 250mAh here can be compared with a 500mAh 1.5V Alkaline battery in terms of energy capacity. If possible we would always chose the smallest size as possible, at the end, the battery volume and weight are normally a bad thing.
But if we don’t know details of each battery we might be making a terrible mistake. Simple calculations like consumption over time divided by the cell capacity can lead to problems.
Take the example of the Lithium coin cells, in general, they offer good amount of energy for the size, but not everybody know that those batteries are designed to delivery only a few milliamps of constant current. Constantly draining more than 0.5mA will significantly reduce the battery’s life. So, if your application does not run in pulses, for example, sleep – short run – sleep, this might not be the correct choice.
I personally like to stick with a pair of AAA or AA (if the size permits), just because the discharge curve is very predictable and easier to know how much juice remains in the cell by monitoring the voltage. The Alkaline batteries are also cheaper and can be found anywhere.
As I mentioned on the “Short Answer”, there are more than just the battery’s capacity and size to consider when decide the best power source. Depending on your project, carefully choosing the battery could improve how long and how stable your solution will run before need to replace or recharge the cells. This can be very important, specially if your hardware will be located in a difficult access, like behind a dry-wall or in a remote location.
To compare batteries, I prefer to first compare the ones with the same chemistry. On this post I’ll compare the non-rechargeable options only, as the rechargeable batteries tend to have a very high self-discharge rate, unsuitable for long running projects (1 years) – more about self-discharge can be found here: http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/elevating_self_discharge.
Most of AA, AAA, C and D batteries sold these days are Alkaline. You still can find some brands labelled as “Heavy-duty”, and although the name sounds like a good thing, they normally have smaller capacity than Alkaline ones.
The Alkaline cells are sold as 1.5V but they actually start their life at around 1.55V to 1.6V and are declared dead when the voltage drops down to 0.8V. As you can imagine the voltage drops when energy is draw from the cell and this is called “discharge curve”.
Above the discharge curve from the Duracell Coppertop AA battery (https://www.duracell.com/en-us/techlibrary/product-technical-data-sheets) showing the service hours at different constant currents. As you can see the the battery capacity is calculated/advertised down to 0.8V, but saying that, only few products, like the Whisper Node, will drain the battery down to 0.8V. Many devices will stop working at around 1.0V or more, discarding good part of the capacity that still on the cell. Just measure the old batteries from a TV Remote or a kids toy when replacing it and you’ll understand.
Here the link for the Energizer Alkaline AA battery datasheet: http://data.energizer.com/PDFs/E91.pdf, you’ll be able to see that the battery is able to delivery almost 3000mAh when discharging at 25mA down to 0.8V. Another interesting graph is the change of delivered capacity according to the temperature. Note on the following graph the difference in capacity when using it at 0°C :
The voltage drop on the Alkaline batteries is quite significant, which can be considered a bad feature. On the bright side, this feature can be used in our favor, making easier to determine the current battery charge and use the info as an effective indication when is time to replace the cells.
Non-rechargeable Lithium (1.5V)
Those days you can find the non-rechargeable lithium batteries on standard AA and AAA sizes @ 1.5V (actually 1.75V at the beginning of life), as a drop-in replacement for the Alkaline batteries, unfortunately they still quite expensive.
They normally have between 5% and 20% more capacity when compared with the Alkaline cousin, but the biggest advantage of this kind of battery is that it can delivery the total capacity at higher discharge rate as showed on the graph below.
This feature is great for a camera or high drainage toys, but doesn’t offer much more energy for low-energy draining applications.
Looking at the Energizer AA Lithium battery datasheet: http://data.energizer.com/PDFs/l91.pdf, an interesting fact is that those cells have up to 20 years of shelf-life, indicating a very low self-discharging rate.
This battery also can operate at a wider temperature range:.40°C to 60°C. Note on the chart above that there’s basically no capacity change from.40°C to over 20°C when constant discharged at 20mA. This is great if you’re running sensors on extreme weather.
This kind of battery will have an almost flat voltage along its life, which is great, but also can be a bit more challenging to determine the cell’s current capacity with precision. Saying that, measuring the voltage still a valid way to identify a few stages of the cell life, specially if you have a low constant current or when the cell is getting close the end-of-life by reaching around 1.4V.
Non-rechargeable Lithium (3.0V)
Those kind of batteries are commonly found in two packages: coin-cells and small cylindrical – the second normally used in cameras/flashes. It’s important to note that their live is between 3V and 2V (1.8V), so the amount of energy is much higher when compared with a 1.5V cell of same capacity.
Both have stable voltage during their life and only start to have some significant voltage drop after 2/3 of their life. Keep this in mind when using the voltage as an indication of the cell’s current capacity.
Being a Lithium battery, the working temperature range is pretty good:.40°C to 60°C, as well they have very low self-discharge, which can be useful on harsh environments.
Different from the AA Lithium batteries, those cells are designed to be dischaged in “Pulses”. For example, continually draining more than 0.5mA from a CR2032 will significantly reduce its life and the battery will not be able to delivery the rated 250mAh. The same applies for the CR123a or CR2, but at a different scale.
To efficiently drain this kind of battery, the application needs to have a very low constant drainage and might some high current pulses drainage from time-to-time. This matches exactly what most sensor nodes will do: the product will sleep for a long period and turn-on/transmit data for only a few milliseconds per cycle, giving enough time for the battery to recover itself.
If you have space constraints, but at the same time need good energy density or low self-discharge, this kind of battery can be the answer. There are plenty of options for 3V lithium batteries, like the CR2450, but they are a bit more difficult to find.
Primary Lithium Thionyl Chloride (3.6V)
Those batteries are not available everywhere, those are specialized cells, but they are an excellent high density energy option. They have an incredible characteristic of keeping the voltage stable all over their life. It’s very common for products designed to use this kind of battery don’t have any kind of power regulation.
This kind of battery can be found in standard formats like AA, C, D and something even bigger.
Common applications are remote sensors, emergency beacons, sealed products, etc. It’s important to notice that they don’t perform very well over 50mA to 100mA (depending on the cell size), actually they are best discharged between 1mA and 2mA (see Passivation).
They should operate between.20°C and 35°C, as the capacity is significantly affected outside of those limits.
If you’re curious, have a look on the datasheet links below, just don’t get too excited as a single AA cell costs no less than US 9.00 at small quantities.
It’s very clear that batteries can’t only be chosen by their advertised capacity. There are many considerations to pick the correct cell, including voltage, capacity, discharge curve, size and price.
Many time we think that the modern lithium battery is always the best, but you need to keep in mind that cost/benefit also counts, and many times worth considering paying a fraction of the price to have 15% less energy available.
Most of the batteries perform better at lower discharge rates, pointing us to where we should FOCUS when developing a solution. Finally, nothing prevent use of try mixing batteries on a single solution to get best of both technologies.
The Lithium AA Battery Is Often A Best Choice – Here’s Why.
Lithium AA batteries. The AA battery is the most common size/type consumer battery. While most of them have an Alkaline chemistry and are perfectly fine for most applications, Lithium has become quite popular for a number of reasons. The lithium AA battery may be best (or worth the extra cost) for some uses.
I do use lithium AA batteries for some things. In addition to having some lithium AA batteries (and other sizes), I also have a quantity of rechargeable batteries. The most common battery chemistry for this is called ‘NiMH’ (article linked below). With that said, nowadays lithium rechargeable batteries are becoming increasingly available (you need to use a specific charger for them).
List of reasons why lithium batteries may be the best, depending on your use
I always have a pack of these lithium AA’s around:Energizer® (8-Pack)(amzn)
High Power Density
Perhaps the biggest advantage of lithium AA batteries over alkaline.
Lithium batteries have more than three times the energy density of alkaline batteries ! (4.32 MJ/L versus 1.3 MJ/L). In fact the next apparent step up from that is Hydrogen at 5.6 MJ/L, so as you can see, these batteries pack quite a punch.
What does this mean? It means that the lithium battery will run significantly longer than a similarly sized alkaline battery.
‘Energizer® says (for their ‘AA’ lithium battery), “World’s longest-lasting AA battery in high-tech devices lasts 6x longer than the other leading brand in digital cameras.”
For some applications this might not be exceedingly important, and maybe not worth the extra money. However for certain emergency or other uses this is most definitely an important consideration. A longer run time.
Low Self Discharge
All batteries will slowly discharge over time. Some faster than others.
Often, a so called ’emergency’ device may not be in use for a long time. But if and when it comes time to use it, you surely want to be sure that it works and the batteries have not discharged and become weak over time…
Cold Weather Performance
Lithium AA batteries have excellent cold weather performance!
A major reason why lithium batteries are best for some applications is due to their resilience in cold weather climates. Other batteries will diminish (some significantly!) when they get cold. But the lithium will hold up very, very well in cold weather.
From the Energizer® website, their ‘AA’ lithium battery “performs in extreme temperatures from.40°F to 140°F “.
For example I use ‘AA’ lithium batteries in my driveway alarm transmitters (winter gets very cold up here in north-country). They have been working great! I also use them in my flashlight for the truck.
Long Shelf Life
Outstanding shelf life. Because of the inherent low self-discharge properties, the shelf life of a lithium battery is outstanding.
Lithium batteries can ‘sit on the shelf’ for a very long time and still maintain most of their energy. Again from ‘Energizer®’, they claim that they will “hold power for 20 years when not in use.”
The lithium AA battery weighs 1/3 less than standard alkaline batteries.
This may or not be important to you (depends on application), however it is notable. This can add up to be significant for things like hiking, etc.
Energizer® claims “No leaks Guaranteed” for their Energizer® Ultimate Lithium Batteries. A leaking battery will damage your electronic device, and traditional alkaline batteries tend to leak/corrode at the battery terminals over a long time of non-use.
CONCLUSIONThough they cost more, I have been incorporating them into my electronic devices where applicable. I still keep a supply of NiMH rechargeable batteries for many things, as well as a supply of Energizer Max AA batteries (and other sizes). However the lithium AA batteries are great for other applications as listed above.