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The Advantages of Alkaline Batteries

Power - by Bryan Veldboom - updated on 2/10/2022

positive terminals of alkaline batteries

Alkaline batteries rose to prominence during the 1950s when they were first used to power toys and transistor radios. Things have changed a lot since then, yet despite enormous developments in technology, many of today's modern devices still run on alkaline batteries. Why do alkaline batteries continue to be so popular? Today, we'll take a closer look at how alkaline batteries operate, what advantages they offer and how they compare to modern lithium disposable batteries.

How Do Alkaline Batteries Work?

Batteries contain two terminals: a positively charged cathode and a negatively charged anode, with a chemical electrolyte positioned between them that allows ions and electrons to flow. In alkaline batteries, the cathode is made of manganese dioxide and the anode is made of zinc.

When you connect an alkaline battery to a device, the circuit is closed and ions form from the materials in the cathode and anode. These ions begin to react chemically with the electrolyte. While this is happening, the manganese dioxide cathode pulls electrons from the zinc anode electrode through the wire in the circuit to the cathode electrode, powering the device the battery is connected to.

What are the Advantages of Alkaline Batteries?

There are a number of reasons why alkaline batteries remain so widely used today. Here are some of the advantages alkaline batteries offer:

  • High Energy Density - Energy density measures how much energy a battery contains in proportion to its weight. Alkaline batteries have roughly double the energy density of zinc-carbon (aka Leclanché cell) batteries, meaning they will produce the same amount of energy for twice as long.
  • Long Shelf Life - Alkaline batteries will hold their charge for long periods of time when they're not being used. Many top brands such as Duracell® and Rayovac® guarantee that their batteries will hold their charge for 10 years (5 years for 9V) in storage.
  • Wide Temperature Range - Alkaline batteries are manufactured to work in both hot and cold temperatures without suffering a loss of performance. The ideal temperature range for alkaline batteries is 0℉ to 130℉.
  • Safety - Because of their design, alkaline batteries are safe to handle provided that the battery case remains sealed.

How Do Alkaline Battery Sizes Work?

In the beginning of the twentieth century, as batteries became more and more common, it became necessary to create a set of standardized battery sizes. The original naming conventions used letters of the alphabet, with A being the smallest battery available at the time and each letter designating a bigger battery than the letter before it. The larger the battery, the more materials it contains, which allows it to deliver more current. That's why a D battery is larger and more powerful than a C battery. As devices got smaller, it became necessary to create smaller batteries to fit them. That's how the single A battery became the AA and AAA varieties we now know today. There were even B batteries at one time as well, but the size became less and less practical over time, until it finally slipped out of use.

You've probably noticed that most common disposable batteries are round, with 9V batteries being the one exception. The reason 9V are rectangularly shaped is because they're actually made up of six AAAA (also known as LR61) batteries. Each of these tiny batteries contains 1.5 volts of power, which add up to a total of 9 volts.

What are Lithium Batteries?

The alkaline battery's biggest competition these days comes from lithium disposable batteries. Lithium batteries differ from alkaline batteries in both their internal construction and use of the metal lithium as an anode. Due to this superior chemistry, lithium batteries have higher energy densities than alkaline batteries and much longer shelf lives. They also weigh less and have an even broader ideal temperature range. On the downside, lithium batteries are more expensive and can cost up to three times more than an alkaline option.

That doesn't mean that lithium batteries are the best choice for every application though. Lithium batteries are your best for high drain devices that use power at a rapid rate. Alkaline batteries are the better choice for low to moderate devices like clocks, toys and radios. For a more in-depth comparison between the two, read our article entitled "What are the Differences Between Lithium and Alkaline Batteries?"

Batteries Plus Has the Right Battery for Your Needs

Batteries Plus sells alkaline and lithium batteries for everyday and commercial needs. Shop everyday disposable batteries from trusted brands like Duracell®, Energizer® and Rayovac®. We also carry high-performance Rayovac® Ultra Pro, Duracell® Procell and Duracell® Procell Intense batteries, engineered specifically for industrial devices. You'll also find a wide selection of rechargeable battery options, as well as high-performance chargers to help keep them maintained.

Want to learn more about this topic? Check out our related blog articles entitled "When Can I Use Rechargeable Batteries Instead of Alkaline?" and "Can You Remove Battery Corrosion?"

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