Pale Blue Battery Charger

What are the Disadvantages of Rechargeable Batteries?

Whilst rechargeable lithium-ion and NiMH batteries are popular because of their long-term cost savings and environmental credentials, they cannot always be used in the same equipment or in the same way, as normal alkaline batteries.

The disadvantages of rechargeable batteries

To get the best out of them and to help save the planet and the pennies, it is best to consider how you would use a rechargeable battery and whether they suit your needs.

They come with a higher initial cost

Though rechargeable batteries cost less in the long run, they cost more to create in materials, time and production cost and the manufacturers have to recoup this through a higher initial cost of the batteries themselves.

There is often an additional hidden cost in that you also have to pay for the battery charger itself, even though this is often bundled with a pack of batteries.

The main (financial) cost savings come from the fact that a standard rechargeable battery can be recharged between 500 – 1,000 times before you have to consider replacing it. Obviously the battery itself will degrade over time and lose its ability to hold a charge, but if you are planning heavy use for your rechargeable batteries, you will save financially and environmentally over the lifetime of your battery.

However, if you are going to only make occasional use of the batteries, you should reconsider other battery options available.

Battery Performance Deterioration

As mentioned above, all batteries will degrade over time and this means that they will lose their ability to retain a charge.

How quickly batteries degrade depends on:

  • How often they are used
  • The temperature they are used at
  • The temperature that they are stored at
  • How often they are charged
  • How deeply they are charged

Rechargeables lose their charge faster when not in use than single use alkalines, although newer lithium-ion batteries are getting better in this area.

Rechargeable batteries do not always trigger state of charge indicators 

Another disadvantage of rechargeable batteries is that they don’t always trigger low battery warnings on electronic devices that have been designed for older battery technologies.

The main reason for this is that lithium ion batteries in particular, discharge at a standard rate. Normal alkaline batteries, discharge at a declining rate. A good example of this being how a torch light dims over time as it is used.

The electronic battery level checks in devices depend on this decreasing output to identify the charge state of the battery itself. Because rechargeable batteries are effectively on or off, this cannot be measured by the device until it is too late.

Many product companies are rewriting and redesigning their battery status check software to cater for lithium ion rechargeable batteries so hopefully this will not be such a problem in the future.

Rechargeables cannot always be used in the same electronic equipment as standard batteries

Most home electronic devices have been designed to be use with batteries with a nominal output voltage of 1.5 volts. Normal rechargeable batteries such as NiCd and NiMH batteries though, have a nominal output voltage of 1.2 volts

This means that they cannot always be used in the same devices as standard alkaline batteries. This is because, they consider the 1.2 volt output the same as dead or discharged battery and will not switch on regardless of how charged the actual battery is.

Legislation also means that they often cannot be used in children toys. They also cannot always be used in calculators or clocks, due to these devices having lower current thresholds than normal devices, and being liable to be ‘cooked’.

They also cannot be used with fire safety equipment such as smoke detectors, or medical equipment, or home security systems such as Blink cameras, due to their tendency to self-discharge. These devices must only be used with low self-discharge batteries.

Rechargeables are more toxic than standard batteries

Though they are better for the environment long term, because they can be reused 500 – 1,000 times before needing to be replaced, rechargeable batteries contain toxic heavy metals that include lead, nickel, cadmium, and mercury. These are all harmful to the environment and pose human health hazards.

Standard alkaline batteries such as AAA, AA, C, D, 9-volt or button-cell batteries though, are made of steel and a mix of zinc/manganese/potassium/graphite, with the remaining balance made up of paper and plastic, and a brass pin which conducts the electricity generated, to the electronic device itself.

These chemical and materials are less harmful to people and the environment. Though remember, all batteries must be recycled based on state and local legislation and regardless of battery type, you cannot just chuck them in the trash.

Having said all that, by using rechargeable batteries, the need for fewer batteries translates into less resources required to manufacture those batteries; less chemicals, less mining, less packaging, less transportation being used and of course, less waste produced.

Rechargeable batteries are more difficult to manage and store than standard batteries

Rechargeable batteries should always be discharged before storage. If the battery is to be stored longer than a year, it should be fully charged and discharged at least once a year to maintain performance. Alkaline batteries though can be left on the shelf for years without significant deterioration in the battery itself of its performance. 

Also, you must always use rechargeable batteries in pairs and not as odd numbers in a device. That is, they must be used as x2, x4 etc and not as single batteries and never mixed up with standard alkaline batteries.

You must always charge batteries in pairs as well to ensure they are in step on their charge/discharge cycles.

Some devices such as remote controls and flashlights tend to discharge a battery set unevenly and will often only discharge one battery whilst leaving the other one fully charged. This then causes problems when recharging the batteries because they are out of step on their charge/discharge cycles.

You may end up with multiple different battery chargers

The other thing about most chargeable batteries is that you need a charger to charge them from. There is a production cost in materials used and the production itself associated with each of the charging units. Like razors and razor blades, you may also end up with multiple charging units, dependant on the batteries you need.

Summary

Rechargeable batteries are cost-effective and the most environmentally friendly battery options around.  As long as you do not need them for specialised or high risk equipment such as medical devices, or their use is prevented by legislation in things such as children’s toys, rechargeable batteries are perfect for most household devices.

You will also get your money back as long as you use and recharge them correctly and often enough to recoup your initial, up-front cost. 

Finally, if you are concerned about the production cost and hassle of ending up with multiple battery charges lying around, one way to enjoy the financial benefits of rechargeable batteries, but without the plethora of multiple battery chargers you may need, is to consider Pale Blue Batteries on Amazon. These are rechargeable batteries which are charged via USB plugged directly into the battery itself.

Pale Blue USB Battery Charger: Picture Copyright https://paleblueearth.com/