Battery Chemistry

Older batteries were mostly based on rechargeable lead-acid or non-rechargeable alkaline chemistries, with nominal voltages in increments of 2.10 - 2.13 and 1.5 Volts respectively, each representing one individual electrochemical cell.

New special battery chemistries have strained older naming conventions. Rechargeable NiCd (Nickel Cadmium) and NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) typically output 1.25 V per cell. Some devices may not operate properly with these cells, given the 16% reduction in voltage, but most modern ones handle them well. Conversely, lithium-ion rechargeable batteries output 3.7 V per cell, 23% higher than a pair of alkaline cells (3 V), which they are often designed to replace. Non-rechargeable lithium-chemistry batteries, which provide exceptionally high energy density, produce about 1.5 V per cell and are thus similar to alkaline batteries.

Many new battery sizes refer to both the batteries' size and chemistry, while older names do not. This summary is only for types relating to battery "sizes".

Primary Battery Chemistries

Chemistry Cell Voltage Energy Density (MJ/kg) Elaboration
Zinc–carbon 1.5 0.13 Inexpensive.
Zinc chloride 1.5   Also known as "heavy duty", inexpensive.
(zinc–manganese dioxide)
1.5 0.4-0.59 Moderate energy density.
Good for high and low drain uses.
oxy nickel hydroxide
(zinc-manganese dioxide/oxy nickel hydroxide)
1.7   Moderate energy density.
Good for high drain uses.
(lithium–copper oxide)
1.7   No longer manufactured.
Replaced by silver oxide (IEC-type "SR") batteries.
(lithium–iron disulfide)
1.5   Expensive.
Used in 'plus' or 'extra' batteries.
(lithium–manganese dioxide)
3.0 0.83 – 1.01 Expensive.
Only used in high-drain devices or for long shelf life due to very low rate of self discharge.
'Lithium' alone usually refers to this type of chemistry.
Mercury oxide 1.35   High drain and constant voltage.
Banned in most countries because of health concerns.
Zinc–air 1.35 – 1.65 1.59[1] Mostly used in hearing aids.
Silver oxide
1.55 0.47 Very expensive.
Only used commercially in 'button' cells.

Rechargeable Battery Chemistries

Chemistry Cell Voltage Energy Density (MJ/kg) Comments
NiCd 1.2 0.14 Inexpensive.
High/low drain, moderate energy density.
Can withstand very high discharge rates with virtually no loss of capacity.
Moderate rate of self discharge.
Reputed to suffer from memory effect (which is alleged to cause early failure).
Environmental hazard due to Cadmium - use now virtually prohibited in Europe.
Lead Acid 2.2 0.14 Moderately expensive.
Moderate energy density.
Moderate rate of self discharge.
Higher discharge rates result in considerable loss of capacity.
Does not suffer from memory effect.
Environmental hazard due to Lead.
Common use - Automobile batteries
NiMH 1.2 0.36 Cheap.
Not usable in higher drain devices.
Traditional chemistry has high energy density, but also a high rate of self-discharge.
Newer chemistry has low self-discharge rate, but also a ~25% lower energy density.
Very heavy. Used in some cars.
Lithium ion 3.6 0.46 Very expensive.
Very high energy density.
Not usually available in "common" battery sizes (but see RCR-V3 for a counter-example).
Very common in laptop computers, moderate to high-end digital cameras and camcorders, and cellphones.
Very low rate of self discharge.
Volatile: Chance of explosion if short circuited, allowed to overheat, or not manufactured with rigorous quality standards.
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