The proliferation of the energy-intensive electronic devices is perhaps the biggest factor that has driven the development of a plethora of new battery technologies over the last couple of decades. The lithium-ion battery and the development of smart battery systems that can report power levels and even automatically regulate how a battery works have been the twin innovations (first developed in the 1990s) which have made possible all these new technologies.
One of the most often-seen effects of this phenomenon has been the replacement of older batteries with lithium-ion versions that can be used for the same purposes. In many cases, they even physically resemble the older battery technologies. For example, the USB-C rechargeable 9V batteries developed by Pale Blue Earth resemble in every external detail the 9V batteries that have been with us for decades. It is only in their internal workings that everything has changed.
The Persistence of Alkaline Batteries
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that this wave of more sophisticated battery technology has simply swept away, in a wave of obsolescence, every proceeding battery technology. While this might be likely in the future, it is surprisingly still far from the truth. Alkaline batteries, in particular, have held on pretty robustly and are still in widespread use.
Part of their persistence is certainly down to adaptation. Traditionally, alkaline batteries, like all batteries, were single use. But, unlike some other types which have certainly been replaced, the alkaline batteries have proved pretty adept at being adapted into newer rechargeable versions.
Alkaline batteries deliver energy from a reaction between their electrodes, one composed of zinc metal and the other of manganese dioxide, which is the positive electrode (anode) and the negative (cathode) respectively. This precise chemistry comes with a range of benefits which has helped alkaline batteries to not only persist, but, more importantly, to adapt to the new battery future. But can this go on forever?
The Advantages of Alkaline Batteries
The short answer to that question, as it happens, is no. But alkaline batteries are certainly still popular for the time being. This is down to a few advantages, which include:
A High Energy Density
Energy density is the quality from which all forms of battery longevity are derived. And alkaline batteries perform well in this arena. For example, the alkaline battery boasts double the energy density of a zinc-carbon battery.
They are (Relatively) Harmless
It should be noted first of all that the chemicals inside an alkaline battery are toxic. However, in comparison with lead-based and acid-based batteries, they are considerably less so. At worst, an alkaline battery can cause mild skin irritation.
Low Temperature Functionality
The previous two advantages listed here give alkaline batteries the edge over several other kinds, but not the lithium-ion battery, which has a higher energy density and is safer. However, one area where the alkaline battery trumps even the li-ion is in how well it copes with the cold. For cold climates, an alkaline battery is almost second-to-none.
The Future of Alkaline Batteries
As we have seen, the persistence of alkaline batteries is down to two essential things. Firstly, they have been able to be successfully updated to rechargeable versions and, secondly, they have a handful of valuable advantages. They remain though essentially a product of the past. Their one advantage over li-ion – the temperature question – is something which could become obsolete before long.
To conclude, we can say that these batteries are on their way out. But that day hasn’t come yet and, given how long they have been around, we can admire the staying power of the humble alkaline battery.