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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

The Best Rechargeable Batteries

Rechargeable batteries are better for the environment and can save you money. Learn about the pros and cons of the different types of rechargeable batteries.

by: Berne Broudy


Worldwide, 15 billion disposable batteries are born each year. When they die, they mostly end up in landfills, where toxic mercury and heavy metals leach into soil and water. Battery makers are trying to do better–by reducing heavy metal content and figuring out how to recycle it. But according to Shelley Minteer, a battery specialist and electrochemist at St. Louis University in Missouri, "the technology is advancing at a snail's pace." While many towns have instituted "Hazardous Waste" days when you can drop off dead soldiers, experts say that rechargeables are the best solution now. Here's a quick primer on the most common types:

NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries have no toxic ingredients and last three to four times longer than alkalines. They work well in cold weather and come in a multitude of sizes. That said, they're more expensive than alkalines (about $8 for four AAs at all-batteries.com, not including shipping or the charging unit), they discharge quickly when not in use, and they lose staying power with each recharge.

NiCD (nickel cadmium) rechargeables are becoming obsolete due to their relatively poor performance, highly toxic cadmium, and inconvenient disposal requirements (you must dispose of them via the manufacturer or a specially equipped recycling center).

Zinc air batteries are non-toxic and are widely used in hearing aids. While they only come in coin-size configurations, they work in some watches and mini-lights, and Minteer says new shapes may come soon. Since this technology requires airholes in the device, zinc batteries aren't the choice for weather-exposed applications.

Lithium ion rechargeables are ideal for backpackers because they're small, light, long-lasting (up to 300% longer than alkalines), high voltage, and hold a charge for a long time. Downsides: They're pricey–four AAs cost about $30 on sale at all-batteries.com, not including shipping.

What's next? Minteer and others say there's a new type of battery in development that promises to be the greenest of them all. In three to five years, watch for one that runs on sugar-eating microorganisms and comes in a variety of configurations to power everything from a GPS to a computer. For more info, visit greenbatteries.com or earth911.org.



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READERS COMMENTS

Amy Ford
Oct 06, 2011

In other words, lithiom ion is the best battery on the market, however there are no AAA, AA, C, D, or 9V rechargeable Li ions yet. The technology exists, but the money makers don't give enough of a shit to mass produce the best, greenest, and most logical option for a battery. I'm talkin to you Energizer!

Michael
May 26, 2011

ALSO!!! Alkaline batteries, NiMh batteries, NiCd battereis, Li-Ion batteries, and Zinc air batteries DO NOT CONTAIN ANY MERCURY. the only batteries that contain mercury are mercury batteries. Those batteries became outlawed years ago.

Michael
May 26, 2011

I would like to inform everyone about this article.

NiMh does not last longer than an alkaline at all. Their capacity ranges from 2000mah to 2700mah. Where an alkaline is rated at 4000mah or more.

NiCd is not becoming obsolete at all! It has many strong perks that it offers. It is true that it doesnt preform as well as NiMh, but it is extremely rugged and can take much more of a beating than a NiMH. ALSO... its cycle charges are more than NiMh.

Zinc air batteries are only for hearing aids and health applications. NEVER EVER put a zinc air in a watch or flashlights. Zinc air batteries are only designed to last 7 days.

Whoever wrote this article needed to do some more research.

mike cockrum
Mar 06, 2009

Went to all batteries.com looking for rechargeable li-on AAs could not read french, i think would like to find some no matter the cost.

Matt
Apr 07, 2008

I am not aware of Lithium ion rechargeable batteries that are usable in place of standard 1.5 volt AA batteries. You can get lithium ion batteries that are the same size as a AA cell which are referred to as 14500 cells, but these are 3.7 volts each. Putting these in a device not designed for them (a handful of niche-maker flashlights for instance) will almost assuredly fry the device. The only Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries I would recommend to someone is the proprietary type that come as standard with most cell phones, some cameras and GPS's, etc.

The only common Lithium alternative in the drop-in AA segment is the Energizer E2 Lithium AA which at 1.7 volts, is close enough to not damage anything. These are not rechargeable, though.

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