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the right batteryBatteries are batteries right? Sure, and computers are computers, and tires are tires. Oh, what’s that? You say there’s a big difference between a Mac and PC, and tractor tires and car tires? Well, so too there are big differences between the different types of batteries that are available. Obviously the physical sizes are different like your AAA’s and your D’s, but the differences go deeper.

The construction and composition of the charge generating materials can be significantly different as well. You might be familiar with terms like Ni-Cad and Lithium, but what does that really mean? What we’ll cover here is some of the difference between the types and the right battery for the right job. Let’s make sure we get the right battery for the job. By the way, with Daylight Savings time just having arrived, now’s a good time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors as well.

For this article, we’re focusing on non-rechargeable batteries. Most devices that we have today that have rechargeable batteries have battery packs that only fit in that device, such as your laptop or cell phone. If you’re interested in finding out more about those kinds of batteries, check our other articles on the topic. To determine what kind of battery is the right one for the job, let’s think about the different kinds of jobs we might be doing. There aren’t many jobs that can’t be done with a battery powered device these days.

Light-Duty Jobs

These are those jobs that don’t require a whole lot of power but we might be doing the job for a fair bit of time. In this case you need a battery that might have lower output but better endurance. Jobs such as running a flashlight, or maybe a small radio could fall into this category.

the right battery

Medium Duty Jobs

Once you put any sort of small electrical motor into the device, you are looking at a medium duty job at the very least. These motors require a bit more amperage at the start to get them going, and then the load decreases to maintain the motor running. Some examples of this might be a small fan, or some toys with moving parts like a Furby.

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Heavy Duty Jobs

This class of job is going to be one that requires high output on starting and continued output through the course of the job. They will either be jobs that are running a heavier duty motor, or charging a capacitor to be discharged later – like a camera flash. Some examples of this would be power tools or, of course, camera flashes.

choosing battery

Light Duty Batteries

When you’re looking at single-use type batteries for light duty uses, you’ll may be looking at a battery that is composed of zinc chloride.  Zinc chloride is an inexpensive chemical so you’ll find it in batteries that are typically the least expensive. It is capable of generating a low amp charge for an extended period. If you bought a cheap device that came with batteries, there’s a good chance they could be zinc chloride.

Fun fact – heavily diluted zinc chloride is used in some mouth wash. Isn’t that a lovely thought?

Medium Duty

Slightly more expensive and possibly the most widely known is the alkaline battery. The chemicals in this battery creates an electrical charge and sustains the generation of the charge for a relatively long time.  The alkaline battery is also capable of holding its charge for a long time on the shelf.

That makes them ideal for emergency use items such as flashlights, yet inexpensive enough to be used in kid’s toy’s where they are likely to suffer a fair amount of use and abuse.

Heavy Duty Batteries

Lithium is the word in batteries for powering tools and camera flashes. With each cell putting out about twice the amount of voltage as the same cell in alkaline, you can see how lithium batteries would be ideal for the heavier duty jobs. Because it has greater output in a smaller form factor, you’ll also find them in devices where space is limited – like on the motherboard of your computer Why Does My Motherboard Have A Battery? Why Does My Motherboard Have A Battery? Whether you’re using a desktop computer or a laptop, your computer’s motherboard contains an integrated battery. Unlike a standard laptop battery, the motherboard’s battery doesn’t power your computer while you're using it. Quite the opposite,... Read More .

The lithium battery is also less affected by temperature, allowing them to be used in all sorts of weather conditions. Ideal for the tradesman of nature photographer. Of course, lithium is a costlier material to acquire and makes these batteries more expensive.

the right battery

So which battery is the right battery for your device?. Your best bet is to follow the maker’s recommendations. They’ve already put the thought into what will work best and have an interest in keeping you happy. We’ve talked about the different applications of batteries and the different compositions of batteries. Hopefully that makes it easier for you to understand why a manufacturer might call for a specific type of battery for your device.

They aren’t just trying to sell you a lot of poppycock. it is worth it to spend the few extra cents and get the lithium batteries for your camera if that’s required. And yes, the alkaline battery probably is the best one to use in your emergency flashlights.

If this article has helped you out a bit, let us know in the comments. We always like to hear how we’re doing and will try to help you out if needed.

Image credits: Bunch of Batteries via moria at Flickr, Old Fashioned Radio via alexkerhead at Flickr, Power Drill via dmuthat Flickr, Expert Putting CMOS Battery in Motherboard via Shutterstock

  1. John Pavelko
    March 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    I have recently purchased the energized rechargable system. it is new and we have not used it for very long but so far so good we have reduced are battery consumption and unlike the last system we used, the batteries will run an older tape decks after recharging. (We have not advanced to mp3 players)

    • Guy McDowell
      March 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Glad to hear that's working for you. Tape decks use a lot of power to run the electric motors in them.

      If those batteries can handle that, they will be exceptional in an MP3 player. There are no moving parts in them.

  2. Prasanth Mathialagan
    March 20, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Nice information on batteries!!

  3. Joe P
    March 19, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Everyone should have a pack or two of Lithium AA and AAA batteries since they have long shelf lives and don't leak as readily as alkalines. Use them only for power outages and other emergencies and keep them with your other preparedness supplies.

    I use Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeables for most other uses.

    • Guy McDowell
      March 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      I second that comment! Lots of batteries now come with "best before" dates.

      Cycle through them in a first-in-first-out method (FIFO), like soup on a grocery store shelf.

      Then you should always have fresh spare batteries, for emergencies or just life in general.

      • dragonmouth
        March 20, 2013 at 7:53 pm

        Nickel Hydride rechargeable batteries "leak" their charge over time when they are just laying around and not in a device. Often I put supposedly fully charged NiMH batteries in a device only to have them go dead after only a short use. I have to schedule my battery charging so that I use only freshly charged batteries.

        • Guy McDowell
          March 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm

          All batteries leak their charge over time. It just depends how much time!

  4. Jennifer Baker
    March 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I would like to see an article on the rechargeable batteries that you can buy at the store. I have heard that you have to be careful about what type of battery you put in certain chargers. Is that true?

    • Guy McDowell
      March 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      I agree, that would be a good article. Yes, you do have to be careful to make sure you put only the specified type of battery in the charger. It doesn't necessarily have to be the same brand name, but the same chemical composition.

      Any given battery can only handle so much current (amperage) going into it at one time. Some can handle higher amps, some can handle only lower amps. If you put a low amp battery into a high amp charger, you could have an accident. Any accident involving acidic materials is never a simple accident.

      With battery packs for specific devices, they are usually designed to only fit the charger made for them. So even a DeWalt Li-Ion battery pack won't fit in a DeWalt Ni-Cad battery charger and vice versa.

      First Aid for a battery charging incident (on the scale of a D battery at the largest) is to unplug the charger, or throw the breaker to cut power to the charger. Then, if there are flames, you might want to call the fire department. At the very least use a fire extinguisher approved for electrical fires. Baking soda might be used to put out the flames and it is used to neutralize the acids.

      Sounds like the start of an article! :)

  5. Guy McDowell
    March 19, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Rechargeable batteries are great and, per use, a lot cheaper than regular batteries. Per use cost means factoring in the cost of the batteries, the charger, and the electricity required to charge the batteries, then dividing that by the total number of uses that you'll get out of the batteries.

    On the surface, it looks like rechargeable batteries would be better for the environment. But it might be just that they displace the hazard. Sure, there's less batteries in the landfill, but are we using more coal and diesel to generate the electricity to charge them? I honestly don't know.

    That being said, rechargeables fit the need of being available in an emergency much better.

  6. Scott M
    March 19, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I prefer rechargeable batteries as well.I like to think I'm not overly contributing to our toxic garbage waste problem.

  7. Uchitha Jayathissa
    March 19, 2013 at 11:23 am

    However Rechargeable batteries save the environment and money. Unit wise cost is high but long-term saving.

  8. Rama moorthy
    March 19, 2013 at 4:32 am

    NIIIIIIIce :)

  9. Zhong Jiang
    March 19, 2013 at 3:41 am

    I prefer rechargable batteries for non-higher powered devices. I have alot of old batteries laying around everywhere in my house so I'm gonna use them all.

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