battery

Which battery to use and when

There is no clear statement about this: it depends on what the battery will be used for, how much money you have to spend and how much you have for the environment. A few tips:

  • With simple devices (calculator, clock, or remote control) that require relatively little power over time, it is wise to use (disposable) alkaline or lithium batteries. Devices that always have to work, such as smoke detectors and flashlights, are better equipped with alkaline batteries, because unlike rechargeable batteries, these lose little power over time (the so-called ‘self-discharge’).
  • Devices that require a lot of power in a short time are better equipped with rechargeable batteries; think of game consoles, MP3 players, flashes, walkie-talkies, and digital cameras.

Rechargeable vs disposable

Rechargeable batteries have made a major breakthrough. However, both rechargeable (nowadays mostly NiMh) and disposable batteries have advantages and disadvantages:

 AdvantagesCons
One-time (alkaline)Do not run low
Can be used as spare batteries
Environmentally harmful
Rechargeable (NiMh)Can be charged up to 1000 times
Also environmentally harmful but less than alkaline batteries
Lose about 3-10% of their power per week
Always have to be charged in advance
After being charged 500 times, the maximum power is still 80%

Trends

The most commonly used rechargeable battery at the moment is the NiMH battery (NiMH: Nickel Metal Hydride). The older NiCd (Nickel-Cadmium) battery contains heavy metals and is almost no longer sold. In addition, there are new NiMh batteries with so-called ‘low self-discharge (also called ‘Low self-discharge, ‘Active charge’, ‘Ready2use’ or ‘MaxE’). 

The advantage of these batteries is that the self-discharge is less, but that the capacity is less than that of regular NiMH batteries. Also, more and more Lithium (single use) and Lithium-Ion (rechargeable) batteries are coming onto the market. These batteries suffer less from self-discharge and can hold more power. Especially with notebooks and certain brands of digital cameras, lithium-ion batteries are already widely used.

Chargers for rechargeable batteries

The so-called ‘dV chargers’ are preferred, these are intelligent chargers that automatically stop charging when the battery is full, and then switch to ‘trickle current’, which keeps the battery charged at maximum capacity. In addition, there are ‘dT chargers’ that charge for a fixed time and then switch to trickle current if necessary. However, you will not know whether the battery is fully charged. 

Even if you buy the best batteries, with a bad charger you will not get the most out of them. With chargers, a distinction is also made in the speed at which a battery is charged. In general: slow chargers with a long charging time are better for your batteries than so-called fast chargers. Fast chargers can damage the battery because the battery gets very hot.

Battery life

All batteries that are not used suffer from self-discharge, in other words: they lose power. Alkaline batteries lose about 1% per day, NiMH can lose up to 10% of their power per day. Tips:

  • To prevent short circuits in batteries, make sure that the + (plus) and – (minus) are always correctly positioned and that there are no objects nearby that could bring them into contact with each other.
  • Remove a charged battery from the charger even if the charger has switched to trickle current. Continuous charging shortens the life of a battery.
  • Replace all batteries in a device, even if only one is dead or broken. The device will draw the power from the batteries with the highest capacity.
  • Never connect different types of batteries (NiCd, NiMh, alkaline) or different voltages. The current can then flow strangely, causing batteries to fail.
  • Remove all batteries from a device if it will not be used for an extended period of time.
  • Recharge in time and do not deflate them; this will damage modern batteries. Note: this used to have to be done with NiCd batteries, to avoid the so-called ‘memory effect’.
  • Do not expose batteries to extreme temperatures (above 40 degrees Celsius). The battery then loses capacity, and there is a chance that chemical reactions will occur in the battery.
  • Alkaline and NiMH batteries nowadays no longer contain dangerous heavy metals, but do contain chemicals, and are therefore chemical waste just like NiCd batteries. Because the NiMH battery does not contain cadmium, it is better for the environment than the NiCd battery.
  • All batteries are best kept in a cool place (eg refrigerator or cellar), in a closed box. The relatively low temperature and low humidity in the sealed box ensure that self-discharge is limited.
  • Make sure you have a battery tester that measures the power (Watt). Most battery testers measure the Voltage, but that is not always enough.
  • If a battery has leaked, it is often difficult to clean the contacts properly. Use a so-called ‘fiberglass’ pen, which you can buy at the better photo specialty stores. This allows you to remove the dirt easily and without damaging anything.
  • Batteries (especially brand batteries) have a best-before (best before) date. It is unclear what that means for batteries, but it is presumably the date until which the battery still has 80% of its capacity. Sometimes branded batteries are offered at dirt-cheap prices, but if you look at the best-before date, you’ll understand why. You have been warned!

Nice to know

  • Electrical energy (power) is stored in batteries through a chemical process. The electric current flows as a result of a chemical reaction between two materials in the battery that are separated by a liquid (that’s what you see when a battery starts to leak).
  • Current only starts when the batteries is in a closed circuit, that is, when the plus and minus poles are connected together in a device.
  • To charge rechargeable batteries, the chemical process is reversed: by means of electricity, the chemical process is reversed and the batteries increases in power again.
  • Rechargeable batteries provide ‘only’ 1.2 volts. Alkaline batteries give 1.5 volts in the beginning, but also drop to 1.2 volts during use. Most modern devices today can handle 1.2 volt rechargeable batteries.
  • New rechargeable batteries only have their maximum power after 4 to 5 full charges. This also applies to batteries that have not been charged for a long time.
  • Batteries should be handed in as ‘small chemical waste’.

Types of Batteries

In addition to the technology, there are many variants. Known formats are:

  • AAA, also called ‘triple A’ or ‘mini penlite
  • AA, also called ‘penlite’
  • C, also known as ‘English rod’ or ‘baby’.
  • D, also called ‘monocell’

These are all 1.5-volt batteries. In addition, there is a square 9-volt battery, and there are many button cell variants. Due to the increase in multimedia, especially digital cameras and mobile phones, the number of batteries variants has grown even further.