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What is the Difference Between Lithium and Alkaline Batteries?

lithium vs alkaline battery

Batteries vary in many ways: chemistry, performance, capacity, durability, etc. In this article, we discuss the difference between lithium and alkaline batteries. Being the two main options today, you’ll likely need to choose between them. In addition, we will help you choose the right type for your energy needs.

Are Alkaline Batteries the Same as Lithium?

The answer is no; they are not similar. They differ in many ways, which makes them suit varying application settings. For example, while lithium batteries are rechargeable, the alkaline types are single-use.

Understanding the unique characteristics of each can help you select the most appropriate option for your power requirements. In the following section, we take you through these differences and their significance when choosing a battery for your application.

Difference between Lithium and Alkaline Batteries

To illustrate the difference between alkaline and lithium batteries, we will compare them for various key aspects. Let’s start with the chemistry or active material difference.

1. Chemistry and Composition

Lithium batteries are a new type of rechargeable battery. They contain a lithium compound as the active material, and charging them activates a reversible chemical reaction that stores energy for later use.

On the other hand, alkaline batteries are non-rechargeable. They use potassium hydroxide as the electrolyte, manganese dioxide as the positive electrode, and zinc power as the negative electrode.

2. Types and Construction

Lithium batteries are available in custom forms that perfectly fit the application device, the most popular being box and tubular shapes. They are also either rechargeable or disposable.

Disposable types are primarily cylindrical, with sizes varying as well. Rechargeable types include LFP, NMC, NCA, LMO, LCO, and LTO, depending on the compound used.

Disposable alkaline batteries are mainly available in standard tubular constructions. Sizes vary widely to fit various gadgets and other needs. They include AA, AAA, C, and D.

3. Voltage Characteristics

The voltage of a single lithium cell ranges from 3.0 to 4.2 volts. This voltage remains stable, producing constant power throughout a discharge cycle. Several cells combine to make voltage packs of up to 48V or higher, enabling you to power large devices and systems.

In comparison, a single alkaline cell is typically 1.6 volts. This voltage quickly drops when using the battery, making the technology unsuitable for constant-use, high-drain devices.

4. Weight Difference

Lithium batteries are less bulky. They generally weigh less compared to the alkaline types. For instance, a size AAA lithium battery is three times lighter than an alkaline type of a similar size. The weight difference is attributable to the materials used to make each battery, with the lithium type packing more power in a small space.

5. Energy Density

Energy density means the amount of energy the battery can store per unit weight. A lithium-ion battery has a high energy density ranging from 150-250 Wh/kg or higher. In other words, it can store more power in a smaller and lighter package. In comparison, the energy density of an alkaline battery lies between 50 and 90 Wh/kg.

6. Performance

The general performance of lithium batteries is way better, with a voltage that remains stable over a discharge cycle. You can also use them in extreme temperatures between -20 °C and 60 °C, making them perfect for outdoor power.

In contrast, low temperatures slow an alkaline battery’s chemical reactions, causing its performance to drop. In addition, the voltage output drastically declines when used to power high-drain gadgets.

7. Longevity

Lithium batteries last longer, about 4-6 times more. Rechargeable types are even more durable and have several thousand charge cycles. In comparison, the alkaline types can only sustain a few hundred cycles.

However, they experience a lower level of self-discharge: they only lose about 2% of their capacity yearly when not in use, which gives them a longer shelf life. They can sit in a device for extended periods without needing replacement.

8. Cost Difference

The better characteristics of lithium storage cells are not without a price. They cost about 5 to 6 times. The rechargeable types are even pricier but offer better performance and durability.

Alkaline cells, generally disposable, are made from less expensive materials and are way cheaper to buy. However, they offer more disadvantages than benefits, mainly suiting lower energy requirements.

Lithium vs. Alkaline Batteries

If we compare lithium and alkaline batteries for performance and other characteristics, it’s evident that they suit different application needs. Let’s see when and where to use each.

When to Use Lithium Batteries

If your application is a high-drain device that needs to be constantly powered for longer, consider using these types. They are high-performance storage devices with higher energy density and extended lifespans.

These properties make them an excellent choice for critical applications, such as medical and military equipment or power-hungry devices like electric vehicles and cordless power tools.

They are also lighter and more compact, making them suitable for portable gadgets like mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and cameras. Given their ability to operate in various temperatures, they also suit most outdoor equipment.

When to Use Alkaline Batteries

How do you know if you need these battery types? We recommend evaluating your usage needs and the type of device you want to be powered.

With lower capacities and voltage levels, they are best for low-drain devices. They are also cheaper and have low self-discharge, making them suitable for infrequently used devices.

Use them in remote modules, flashlights, portable speakers, and smoke detectors. They will sit in these devices for long periods without losing energy.

Can You Mix Lithium and Alkaline Batteries?

No, it’s not advisable to mix the two battery types. They use different materials and have different capacities. They also differ in performance and voltage output. Mixing the two would, therefore, cause a problem.

The lower-capacity batteries would deplete first, and the higher-capacity types would discharge them forcefully. The forced discharge would then damage the low-capacity cells, causing them to leak.

What Happens if You Use Alkaline Batteries Instead of Lithium Batteries?

A lithium battery generates a higher and more stable voltage over an operation period. An alkaline type used in its place may fail to reach the required voltage and current level.

As a result, your device could fail to work as required. We recommend checking the device’s user manual first. The manufacturer may have indicated if you can safely interchange power sources.

But what if it’s the other way around? You could end up burning your device’s circuits and components. That’s because of the increased voltage and current, which could be higher than what the device can withstand.

Conclusion

Now that you know the difference between lithium and alkaline batteries, selecting the type to use should be easy. The two options have varying characteristics, making them usable in specific applications. Ultimately, each type has benefits that give it a place in the world or rechargeable and disposable energy devices.

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