Understanding battery technologies
Understanding battery technologies
Last Edited: 07/Sep/2015

With electrical technology playing an increasingly central role in our day-to-day lives, practically everything we interact with in the modern world is operated by some kind of battery. From smartphones and watches to cars and computers, batteries come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and functions. Here are some of the most common:

Disposable battery types

Alkaline

Alkaline batteries are the most common form of disposable battery, and are frequently used to power low-drain electrical devices - such as clocks, radios and remote controls - over a long period of time. They are safe, inexpensive and widely available. Rechargeable alkaline batteries are increasingly widespread (see below), but due to their low price-point they are still primarily used as a disposable power source. You can also purchase high-drain alkaline batteries for selected products, but due to their relatively short life cycle, it is usually more convenient to simply buy rechargeable. 

Zinc-Carbon

Zinc-Carbon batteries are a low-cost disposable battery option for low-yield devices. They are not generally rechargeable, and are only really useful for very low-drain devices, such as remote controls and flashlights. 

Lithium

Lithium batteries are among the most powerful disposable battery types on the market, and are used in a wide range of portable digital devices, including camcorders, digital cameras and car locks. They can maintain a higher voltage over a longer period of time, although they are significantly more expensive than alkaline and zinc carbon battery types. 

Rechargeable battery types

Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH)

NiMH batteries are a form of general-use rechargeable battery, widely available in standard battery sizes such as AA and AAA and suitable for low to medium drain applications. They have also been applied in the automotive industry to power certain kinds of electric car, although this use is not quite so widespread yet. 

Nickel-Zinc (NiZn)

NiZn batteries are another form of general-use rechargeable, offering a higher voltage more suitable for high-drain devices. They are less popular these days due to a short cycle life and occasional reliability issues, but are still available from many retailers. Due to their higher voltage, they are not suitable for all devices and can cause burn-out if incorrectly applied.

Rechargeable Alkaline

Rechargeable Alkaline batteries offer a long shelf-life and good performance for low to medium drain devices and are cheap and widely available. However, they are not suitable for high-drain devices, and repeat recharge cycles will gradually decrease their capacity. They are also prone to leakage. 

Li-ion (Lithium Ion)

Lithium Ion batteries are lightweight and long-lasting rechargeables commonly applied in many modern tablet computers and smartphones. They're a more expensive model, and over time you're likely to find that they drain increasingly quickly, but they are currently the dominant rechargeable battery on the market for high drain applications. They are not available in standard sizes (AA, AAA, C, D etc.) but have their own naming convention to avoid confusion. Because of this they require special chargers and are not generally interchangeable with other battery types. Because of their high voltage, incorrect application can cause burn-out, so read instructions carefully before you use them.