A brief overview of alkaline batteries
A brief overview of alkaline batteries
Last Edited: 14/Dec/2016

Alkaline batteries are a type of primary battery that depends on the reaction between manganese dioxide and zinc (Zn/MnO2). These batteries have a voltage of 1.5 and can be seen as tiny power plants that convert a chemical reaction into electrical energy. Alkaline batteries can differ in various ways but all have the same basic components.

The alkaline battery gets its name from having an alkaline electrolyte of potassium hydroxide, as opposed to the acidic ammonium chloride or zinc chloride electrolyte of zinc carbon batteries. Historians date the start of battery development from the late 18th century, although archaeological finds indicate that the date of origin could be as far back as 2,000 years ago. 

In the late 1950s the first miniature batteries were produced and were predominantly used in watches; the creation of the alkaline battery meant that larger devices such as radios and toys could be powered. The first commercially viable cylindrical alkaline battery was produced in 1959, revolutionising portable power. The first prototype alkaline battery, built by the late Lew Urry, can be viewed at the Smithsonian National Museum of History. 

Alkaline batteries are the most commonly used type of battery with major consumption in the UK, they are designed for long-lasting performance and are generally found in clocks, radios, remote controls, hand held games consoles, MP3 players and digital cameras.

One negative aspect of the alkaline battery is that they can be prone to leaks. They can leak potassium hydroxide, a caustic agent that can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation. This can, however, be prevented by not mixing different battery types in devices, replacing all batteries at the same time and removing batteries when the device is not in use. Some manufacturers offer a no leak guarantee. Despite this, alkaline batteries are the most popular primary battery, they have high specific energy, are environmentally friendly and are also cost-effective. They can be stored for up to ten years and have a good safety record. Alkaline batteries also have a longer shelf life and last longer than other types of battery.