When it comes to batteries, many of us don’t look past the number of As on the label. AA for chunkier devices, AAA batteries for the TV remote, and the odd specialist watch battery or square 9v for the smoke alarm. But when it comes to batteries, what’s inside often counts for just as much as the shape. So it’s time to explore different types of batteries with the whats and the whys.
It’s time for batteries to be explained.
Lead Acid Batteries
Lead acid batteries are the original portable rechargeable source of electricity. Invented way back in 1859 by a French physicist called Gaston Planté, lead acid batteries still made up nearly half of the global battery market as recently as 1999.
The science behind these batteries has remained the same for over a century and a half. Lead reacts with acid, electricity is created. The issue is that there are far more efficient ways to do this with modern technology.
In 2018, the chances are you’d only use a lead acid battery if you didn’t have access to a Lithium Ion battery (more on them below). These classic batteries have a shorter lifespan, a shorter shelf life, less power output, and weigh more than newer models.
Why would you use a lead acid battery? Put bluntly, you wouldn’t. The only time these batteries are wheeled out is for a low-cost battery backup in industrial applications.
Nickel Cadmium Batteries
Another battery type with some real history behind it, nickel cadmium (NiCd or NiCad) batteries have been in use since way back in 1899.
They’re more reliable and long lasting than lead acid batteries, and they’re harder to damage than many other batteries. In fact, they’ll handle rough treatment even better than some more modern batteries, which isn’t bad for technology that’s been available for over a century.
Traditionally, you’d use a NiCad battery for an application that demands a high discharge battery in less-than-ideal circumstances. Think power tools being bumped around on a building site, a model airplane gently crashing into the side of a tree, or a kid’s toy being slapped around a front room.
Despite this, NiCad batteries aren’t very good for the environment, which is why a 2006 EU directive limits the sale of these rechargeable batteries in favour of newer, greener alternatives. Nowadays, they’re usually used as power packs in cordless tools and as emergency backups.
The low-drain specialist.
Zinc batteries entered the market in the 1910s, and accounted for one in five of all batteries sold in the UK at the turn of this decade. As you might imagine, these batteries are made from zinc, which allows them to work in any orientation.
Unfortunately, zinc carbon batteries can’t be recharged, so as they became more popular, the amount of batteries sent to landfill increased dramatically.
Why would you need a cheap, disposable and non-rechargeable battery? Well, because it keeps a charge better than either of its predecessors. Throw a lead acid or NiCad battery in your TV remote, and they’ll slowly leech power, leaving you stuck on the wrong channel.
A zinc battery keeps its charge when not in use, making it perfect for something that needs small bursts of occasional power. A remote control. A torch. Anything that’s turned on for a short period on a semi-regular basis. That’s why zinc batteries cornered the market until the rise of our next battery…
The 20th Century favourite.
Eveready. Duracell. The Alkaline battery changed the market. Alkaline batteries are more adaptable than the previous entries on this list, meaning they can be tailored to different applications.
Plus, an alkaline battery was far more reliable than any of its predecessors. When it reached the UK in the 1970s, nobody gave the alkaline battery a chance. Now it accounts for over half of all battery sales in the UK – all because you can rely on a battery that’ll sit doing nothing for five years and still give a reliable current.
As they’re available in both rechargeable and single use varieties, alkaline batteries can be turned to almost any purpose. From smoke alarms to powering an RC drone, an alkaline battery can usually be relied upon.
They’ve been overtaken by specialist batteries for a number of purposes, and you’d never run a smartphone from an alkaline battery, but chances are an alkaline battery won’t let you down.
Lithium Ion Batteries
Your phone’s best friend.
Since 1991, Lithium Ion (LiOn) batteries have redefined the UK battery market. Reliable, high capacity, high discharge and long lasting, a LiOn battery outperforms its competitors.
The drawback is price. These batteries are created using a variety of rarer materials than an alkaline battery, and that bumps up the price. They’re also harder to make, leading to further cost increases that are passed onto the consumer.
Why use an expensive LiOn battery? Because it’s light, powerful and reliable. It keeps your phone and laptop running where an alkaline battery would struggle.
LiOn coin cell and cylindrical consumer batteries are expensive compared to the alkaline equivalents, but they deliver higher performance for cameras and other power-intensive devices. So when you need consistent performance, it’s usually worth the extra expense.
Now we’ve explained batteries, the only thing left to do is offer a little advice. If you’re looking for affordable batteries, you're already in the right place. Begin your search here and make sure you use the filters to narrow down your search!