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Battery types and technologies

General information about battery types

Batteries can generally be divided into two main groups, namely primary and secondary battery types. Primary batteries are disposable batteries, which cannot be recycled, and secondary batteries are rechargeable batteries. Besides this main division they can also be subdivided into various chemical systems, each with their advantages and disadvantages. In the following we will briefly review the individual battery types.


Chemical System – Primary Batteries (Disposable Batteries)

Household Batteries
Household batteries are the most common type of battery, which is also used in most of our consumer appliances such as radios, cameras, flashlights and so on. The alkaline battery is the most common battery in this group.


Alkaline battery
The alkaline battery has a high current resistance and energy density and long life when used continuously in equipment that doesn’t require lots of power. Alkaline batteries cost almost twice as much as manganese dioxide battery, but in return lasts between 4-6 times longer, depending on how and where it is used of course. Compared with manganese batteries, it also performs well at low temperatures.


Manganese battery / Zinc-Carbon
The market for manganese batteries is decreasing, as they generally have a much shorter life span than other batteries in the market. So if you have equipment that requires a lot of power, or that needs to operate at low temperatures, it is a good idea to choose either alkaline or rechargeable batteries.



Button Cell Batteries
Button cell batteries look similar but vary in size. They are typically used in smaller electronic devices, wristwatches, hearing aids, games, toys, calculators etc. The battery can be composed of two or more button cells and exists in several chemical systems:


Lithium (CR/BR/LI)
Lithium cells can produce voltages from 1.5 V (AA / AAA batteries) to ca. 3V (Button cells and cylindrical cells). In many cases, lithium batteries can replace standard alkaline batteries. Although this type of battery cost more than other primary batteries, they have longer life and therefore do not have to be replaced as often. Lithium batteries however are very sensitive to quick discharge, which can lead to overheating and in extreme cases, explosion. Lithium batteries are often used in devices that have relatively high power consumption over time, such as watches, digital cameras, thermometers, calculators, camcorders and other portable electronic devices.


Zinc-Air (PR)
Zinc-air batteries (non-rechargeable) and zinc-air fuel cells (mechanically-rechargeable) are electro-chemical batteries powered by oxidizing zinc with oxygen from the air. These batteries have high energy density and are relatively cheap to produce. Sizes vary from tiny button cells for hearing aids, to slightly larger batteries for camcorders, which formerly used mercury batteries, and up to very large batteries used for electric vehicles. This type of battery can produce 1.35 to 1.4V. The zinc-air batteries are equipped with small holes for ventilation and sealed with a label that is removed before use. Zinc-air cells have long shelf life if sealed to keep air out. Even miniature button cells can be stored for up to 3 years at room temperature without losing much of their capacity if their seals are not removed. Miniature cells have a relatively high self-discharge, as soon as the seal is broken and they come in contact with air. To get the maximum capacity out of these batteries, they must be used within a few weeks when the seal is removed. For security reasons, the batteries are equipped with ventilation holes, which ensure that any pressure build up inside the battery will be released. One thing to note is that zinc corrosion can produce hydrogen, which can be extremely dangerous if it accumulates in enclosed areas. A shorted cell also gives relatively low power. Deep discharge below 0.5V / cell can result in leakage. When the battery reaches below 0.9V / cell, very little usable capacity remains.


Silver-Oxide (SR)
A silver oxide battery (IEC code: S) also known as a silver-zinc battery, is a primary battery (although it can be produced as a secondary battery with an open circuit at 1.86 volts). Silver oxide batteries have long life and high energy to weight ratio, but may be too expensive to use because of the high price on silver. They are available in either very small sizes as button cells where the amount of silver used is relatively small and therefore not a significant contributor to total production, or in large custom-designed batteries where the superior performance of the silver oxide chemistry outweigh the cost. E.g. In military equipment such as torpedoes and submarines. Silver oxide batteries have a higher open circuit potential than mercury batteries, and a flatter discharge curve than standard alkaline batteries. They have approx. 40 percent longer lifespan than lithium-ion batteries, and also have a water-based chemistry that is free from the thermal runaway and flammability problems of the lithium-ion alternatives.  A disadvantage, and something you should be aware of, is that silver oxide batteries may begin to leak when they are worn out. Usually they have a lifespan of around five years from the time when they have been put into service. Until recently, all silver oxide batteries contained mercury (approximately 0.2%)

Alkaline (LR)
See description under household batteries.


Mercury-oxide (MR)
It has been forbidden to market this type of battery since 1999, as they are extremely harmful to the environment due to their high mercury content.


Chemical System – Secondary Batteries (rechargeable batteries)

Rechargeable batteries are used with increasing frequency today. Especially in power-consuming appliances where batteries need to be changed frequently, such as cordless phones, camcorders, hand tools etc. In the long run using rechargeable batteries can both save you money and protect the environment.

Rechargeable batteries (secondary) can be divided into the following chemical systems:


Nickel-cadmium (NiCd)
Nicd batteries are one of the oldest types of batteries available today. NiCd batteries are suitable for high current loads such as eg. hand tools require. Although they have a good performance, they are highly susceptible to the “memory effect” (the formation of large crystals within the cell, which gradually reduces the efficiency of the batteries). It is therefore important to remember to charge and discharge the batteries fully at regular intervals, to preserve battery performance. NiCd batteries are actually one of the toughest batteries available and also work well at low temperatures. However, it does not respond well to be left in the charger for too long when it is fully charged and being used only occasionally for brief periods. It also has a relatively high self-discharge, and therefore needs recharging after storage. This battery type is classified as environmentally hazardous, and it is therefore important that the battery is disposed of properly when it needs to be replaced. If used and maintained properly, the battery can be recharged up to 1500 times.


Nickel-metal Hydride (NiMH)
NiMH batteries are the most widely used rechargeable batteries today. NiMH batteries have a high energy density and deliver up to 40% longer life than comparable NiCd types. NiMH batteries have therefore become a natural environmental alternative to replace NiCd batteries in several electronic devices. NiMH batteries only mild toxins. This type of battery is also less susceptible to the memory effect  than the NiCd counterparts, and does not require to be charged and discharged fully as often. The disadvantage of these batteries is that they selfdischarge relatively quickly compared to NiCd batteries. Furthermore NiMH batteries are less durable than NiCd batteries. For instance NiMH batteries can be damaged if exposed to overcharging (if they stay in a charger for longer than 24 hours after they are fully charged). Discharging and charging during high current flow and storage at high temperatures also reduce battery life significantly. Can be recharged between 300-500 times, depending on how the battery is used and maintained.


NiMH durable / LSD / Hybrid / Pre-charged
Hybrid batteries are a completely new technology that uses the best of rechargeable batteries and combines them with the best of alkaline batteries. Hybrid batteries have a very low self-discharge rate compared with Alkaline batteries.
This type of battery is ready for use directly after unpacking, because they are charged at the factory. Even after 1 year there will still be power on the battery.
Hybrid batteries can be recharged 500-1000 times (depending on usage). It makes good sense economically and shows environmental consideration.


Lithium Ion (Li-Ion)
One of the latest product developments in environmentally friendly rechargeable batteries is Lithium Ion. The use of this type of battery is growing fast. Lithium-Ion has the highest energy density of rechargeable batteries and is therefore particularly good at supplying power to portable devices, where both low weight and long life is important. For instance in wireless phones. Li-Ion battery has a different battery voltage than other rechargeable batteries and can therefore most often not directly replace them. LI-Ion does not require as high maintenance as other battery types. It is not exposed to the “memory effect” and do not need periodic charge and discharge cycles in order to prolong battery life. Self-discharge is less than half that of NiCd and NiMH batteries. Requires protection circuit that limits voltage and current, for the battery not to be damage by overcharging. Can be recharged between 500-1000 times, depending on how the battery is used and maintained.


Lithium Polymer (Li-Polymer)
Lithium polymer has many of the same advantages and disadvantage as Li-Ion, just in an ultra thin and light edition. One difference is that it has lower energy density and can be recharged less times than Li-Ion battery. For safety reasons, like Li-Ion, it has a protective circuit built-in. This type of battery is used mostly in mobile phones and laptops. Can be recharged between 300-500 times, depending on how the battery is used and maintained.


Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo4 / LFP)
Lithium iron phosphate / LFO batteries have a high discharge current, really fast charge times (5 minutes), high energy density and will not explode under extreme conditions. In return it has lower voltage and lower start energy density than normal Li-Ion batteries. After 1 year of use, the LFP typically has the same energy density as LI-Ion batteries, but after more than 1 year of use LFP has a higher energy density. The reason for this is that LFP batteries lose their capacity more slowly than normal Li-Ion batteries. LFP batteries and ordinary Lithium batteries are both environmentally friendly. The major differences between these two types of batteries is that the LFP battery don’t have the same safety concerns as lithium with regards to overheating and explosion , it has 4-5 times longer cycle lifetimes, 8-10 times higher discharge power than the lithium battery, higher energy density, and weighs 30-40 % less. Especially the automobile industry use this type of battery. Can be recharged 2000 times (applies to discharge down to 80 % of the battery’s capacity)


Lead (Pb / SLA – Sealed Lead Acid)
This type of battery is most economical for larger power applications where weight is of little concern. Today most lead acid batteries are used as a starter batteries in automobiles and for recreational use in boats, campers, etc. However, they are also very common in consumer products such as vacuum cleaners, garden tools, alarms, data backup etc. This type of battery is classified as environmental hazardous. Up to 90 % of a lead-acid battery can be recycled if disposed of properly. Lead-acid batteries have the lowest self-discharge of the rechargeable batteries, and can therefore lie unused for almost 1 year and only lose 40 % of its performance. However the battery must always be stored fully charged as it will be permanently damaged from lying uncharged. Lead-acid batteries are also not affected by “memory” and won’t be damaged by prolonged trickle charge. A disadvantage however is that they cannot be fast charged. Typically, the charging time is between 8-16 hours. Can be recharged between 200-300 times, depending on how the battery is used and maintained.