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Rechargeable Batteries for a Brighter World

November 2010

Rechargeable batteries come with their own charger, which is one reason for the higher initial investment.

Rechargeable batteries have been around for years and, chances are, you’ve had some sort of interaction with them.  If you own a cell phone, you’re carrying a rechargeable battery around in your purse or pocket right now.  Many devices like cell phones come automatically equipped with a rechargeable battery, and there’s no real option provided.

Many other personal electronics however may simply require AA or AAA batteries, and here’s where you, the consumer, have a choice.  There are a few different types of batteries on the market today, and we’ll go over the most common options, to provide you with the information you need to choose what’s best for you.

The best known batteries are standard alkaline – the ones you’ve probably been using for years.  They’re relatively inexpensive, but unfortunately are single use.  This can be a problem not only on your wallet, as the cost of buying replacements adds up significantly over time, but also for the environment. These batteries have been deemed safe to be thrown away by the EPA, and so they are usually not recycled. Even when they are, the process is expensive and uses a significant amount of energy.  However, regular alkaline batteries do have their uses.  If you don’t use batteries very often, or are using them in “low-draining” devices like remote controls, alkaline batteries are the most economically sensible choice.

Lithium batteries are for electronics with a more consistent or heavy usage, as they can handle high-drain devices and extreme temperatures.  They’re best suited for things like digital camcorders and other personal electronics that are used for long periods of time.  You can also buy rechargeable lithium ion batteries that last up to seven times longer than their alkaline counterparts.  It is important to note that lithium batteries are significantly more expensive, though, so they’re really only appropriate to use if you burn through batteries frequently.

The most versatile and financially sensible batteries are NiMH rechargeable batteries. While some people stay away from this option because of the poor efficiency of older models, the new and commonly available rechargeable batteries are much improved versions of their recent ancestors, and last through up to 100 recharges before they begin to lose their charge. They cost more at the outset than standard alkaline, but will save many people a significant amount of money over time.  If you go through batteries at a decent pace, these are the best choice for you.  They’re good for most normal applications, and the Ultra Low Self Discharge (ULSD) ones are ready to go out of the package.  The ULSD NiMH batteries are great for digital cameras, especially if you don’t tend to use them very often, because they keep their charge for a longer period of time.

To sum this all up for you, here’s a key you can use to decide what type of battery is ideal on a case by case basis:

Low-drain, infrequent use – alkaline
Low-drain, frequent use – NiMH rechargeable
High-drain, infrequent use – ULSD NiMH rechargeables
High-drain, frequent use – Lithium ion rechargeables

Don’t forget, while rechargeable batteries are more of an initial investment, for most uses they will pay for themselves in a short amount of time, and they’re much more sustainable than standard batteries. We can even recycle them! Check out our website for information on where non-alkaline batteries can be dropped off for recycling on River Campus, and at the Medical Center.