Rechargeable Batteries

Rechargeable Batteries

Economical, environmentally sensible and increasingly sophisticated, rechargeable batteries have become commonplace fixtures of everyday life. For some applications, they are the go-to solution. Lithium-ion batteries have become very popular in recent years, owing to their popularity as power sources for smartphones and tablet computers. Some of them can outlast the devices in which they are installed.


What Is a Rechargeable Battery?

A rechargeable battery is an accumulator that, once discharged, can be recharged, allowing it to be used again and again. They are also called secondary cells. Batteries of this type are found in all of the common sizes, and in an increasing amount of less-common sizes, as well.

Rechargeable batteries use chemicals including nickel metal hydride (NiMH), lead-acid, nickel cadmium (NiCd) and lithium ion (Li-ion). The last type is very common today, being used in cellular phones and many other rechargeable electronic devices. Some of these batteries are more or less permanently installed in the devices they power, being charged by plugging in a simple wall adapter or an adapter made for a computer’s USB port.

The reusability factor has driven up demand for these types of batteries, as has their consistently improving performance. Today’s rechargeable batteries can be recharged many times over and, though they do cost more than disposable batteries, the price point difference is quickly negated due to the fact that the batteries can be used over and over again.

In some cases, standard sized batteries do not work for a given application. This may be due to space concerns or because the device uses a proprietary battery that is not standard. In such cases, suppliers are able to provide specialty batteries in sizes that are cut down versions of standard batteries—1/3, ½, etc.—or in sizes that are propriety. These can also be purchased in the form of packs, which provide a convenient way to power a device with significant voltage demands.


What Are Rechargeable Batteries Are Used For?

Rechargeable batteries are used in consumer and industrial applications. The most common type of rechargeable batteries that people likely have experience with are car batteries. After the battery discharges some of its power to turn over the starter, it is recharged by the car’s electrical system. These are lead-acid batteries. Though they are far more dangerous than other types of rechargeable batteries—the substances in them are very toxic—they are very reliable, durable and able to function under a wide range of temperatures.

Where vehicles are concerned, the advent of practical electrical cars has prompted the development of new types of batteries and significant improvements in existing types. Rechargeable batteries are at the heart of these vehicles. They can be recharged by plugging them in or they can be recharged by the motion of the vehicle itself. Capacity, power and efficiency are continually improving.

At the consumer level, smartphones, tablet computers and laptops are powered by rechargeable batteries. These batteries also make power tools more useful by eliminating the need to have a cord plugged into the power mains to operate the tools. Many such tools have multiple power packs, allowing the user to swap a dead one out for a live one, charging the former while using the latter.

On the large scale, rechargeable batteries are used heavily in the renewable energy industry. They can be used to store energy that is generated from renewable sources. A home with solar power, for instance, may have an array of batteries that store energy for use at night. They are also used for load leveling purposes in electrical grids.

Rechargeable batteries are used in two-way radios, flashlights and other practical applications, providing a way to vastly reduce the costs of operating power-hungry devices.


What Happens During Charging and Discharging?

When a rechargeable battery is charged, the electrical process taking place within it is exactly the opposite of what happens when it is discharged.

Batteries contain a cathode, the positive terminal, and an anode, the negative terminal. The battery also contains an electrolyte. The batteries are usually classified according to this electrolyte; i.e. lead-acid, NiMh and so forth. As charge drains from a battery, the negative the negative electrode goes through an oxidization reaction. On the positive side, what’s called an electrochemical reduction reaction occurs. When the battery is charged, the exact opposite occurs.

In a disposable battery, once the reaction occurs it is irreversible. In a rechargeable battery, however, the reaction can be reversed over and over again, restoring the battery’s charge. As batteries have become more advanced, rechargeable have become capable of not only being recharged more times, but have also been improved in that they hold charges for longer periods of time.

It’s important to note that this does somewhat confuse the terminology associated with batteries. While the anode is normally the negative terminal and the cathode the positive, this reverses when a battery is recharged, though the same terms are usually used to refer to the components within a rechargeable battery as are used to describe the components on a disposable battery.


What Are Considered Active Components?

Active components within a battery consist of the materials that make up the positive and negative portions of the battery. They also include the electrolyte used in the battery.


What Types of Rechargeable Batteries Exist? What Is Each Type of Rechargeable Battery Used For? What Type of Electric Power Does Each Type Provide?

Rechargeable batteries are available in common sizes: AA, AAA, etc. They are also available in specialty sizes for specific applications. Rechargeable batteries are sometimes combined into a single unit power supply, termed a power pack, which you’ll see used on cordless tools and in other applications.

All batteries provide DC power.


2-Way Radio Rechargeable Batteries

Rechargeable batteries for disposable radios include many types. Small, low-power radios might use several AA or AAA batteries to provide power. More sophisticated potteries generally use lithium ion batteries as power supplies. The power drain caused by transmitting radios requires that these batteries have a long operational life before they need to be recharged.


9 Volt Rechargeable Batteries

9-Volt rechargeable batteries are used in radios and many other devices. They generally have the same rectangular design as standard 9V batteries, with two terminals located on the top. Internally, there are several 1.5-volt cells wired together, which are very close in size to an AAA battery.


AA Rechargeable Batteries

AA rechargeables are among the most common batteries in use. AA is used in everything from remote controls to flashlights and beyond. These are generally NiMH batteries.


AA Rechargeable Battery Packs

These consist of several AA batteries that are linked together. They are usually used in devices that require more voltage than what one AA can put out. They are used in portable power tools, some types of radios and other tools and appliances.


AAA Rechargeable Batteries

AAA rechargeable batteries are another of the most common types of batteries. These are used in many of the same devices that AA batteries are used in, but allow for more compact designs owing to the size of the batteries themselves.


AAA Rechargeable Battery Packs

AAA rechargeable battery packs are used in applications where several AAA batteries are required to power a device and where having them all be part of the same unit provides a convenience advantage. These are commonly used in communications devices and other electronics.


C Rechargeable Batteries

C batteries can provide enough power to handle devices that drain more than those powered by A and AAA batteries. They are not nearly as common as AA and AAA batteries, but are more useful for devices that require more power. These are also known as 14 and R14 batteries.


C Rechargeable Battery Packs

When more voltage is required, C batteries are sometimes packaged as a unit, providing an easy way to add and remove batteries, power them up when they’re drained and use them again.


Camera & Camcorder Rechargeable Batteries

Camera and camcorder batteries are typically specific to the brand of device that they’re installed in. They usually come in a sealed case that has terminal strips on it, used for both charging the battery and powering whatever device they’re paired with. Lithium-ion is used for these batteries, in most cases. Many of them charge right in the device they’re used with, but this is not always the case.


Coin Button Rechargeable Batteries

Coin button rechargeable batteries are usually permanently installed in electronic devices. When they’re not permanent, they’re rarely replaced. The CMOS battery in a computer is an example of such a device. It charges while the computer is on and maintains certain functions—time and date, for instance—when the computer is powered down.


D Rechargeable Batteries

D batteries are the largest of the common batteries. They are ideal for applications where high drain devices are being powered. They are commonly seen in large flashlights, in radios and in other devices that would use up an AA or AAA battery very quickly.


D Rechargeable Battery Packs

These consist of several D batteries wired together. They can be used in applications where a higher voltage than one battery would provide is required. They are used in devices that drain batteries quickly, being particularly common in power tools and other such devices.


Energy Processors

Energy processors are devices that are used to store and manage energy within a system. They can be used for sophisticated applications, such as regulating power output and other uses.


Lantern Rechargeable Batteries

These are large batteries that are used in older designs of torches. They are rectangular, tall and have terminals that consist of coiled springs. They usually have a 6V power output, though there are other power levels available, as well. They have several individual cells wired together within them. These are high-capacity designs.


Lead Acid Rechargeable Batteries

Lead acid batteries go all the way back to the late 1800s and are still in use today. They are, in fact, the first rechargeable designs. They are commonly used in cars and in marine applications. They are heavy and contain toxic chemicals, necessitating specific recycling methods.


Lithium Rechargeable Battery Packs

Lithium rechargeable batteries are among the most reliable and are used in many different applications. The battery pack designs come in a variety of voltages and capacities. They are found in cordless phones and other devices that go through frequent discharge and recharge cycles.


Mobile Phone Batteries

These are generally lithium ion batteries that are specific to a manufacturer’s phones, sometimes only one phone. They have good capacity and vary in voltage, though 3.7V is common.


N Rechargeable Batteries

N batteries are commonly used in flashlights, glucose meters and other products. They are similar in appearance to AA batteries, though they are slightly bigger, giving them a bit more capacity.


Power Banks

Power banks are used to charge other rechargeable devices and, themselves, are rechargeable. They are differentiated by their output voltages and the type of connectors that they use for output and input. USB is very popular.


Rechargeable Laptop Batteries

These are high capacity batteries in various voltages made for laptop computers. They are frequently only usable in a certain company’s devices, and some of them only in specific computers. They are typically large and heavy batteries. Most of them are lithium-ion designs, though there are NiMH batteries for laptops, as well.


Solid State Rechargeable Batteries

These batteries are differentiated from others by the fact that their electrolyte and electrodes are both made out of solid materials. They are commonly used in electronics and come in designs that are very compact.


Specialty Size Rechargeable Batteries

Some devices use very specialized battery designs, such as ½ A sizes, 1/3AA and others. Rechargeable versions of such batteries offer the same advantages as do standard sized rechargeable batteries.


Specialty Size Rechargeable Battery Packs

A variety of sizes, voltages and capacities make specialty size rechargeable battery packs ideal for applications where space or other considerations disqualify standard battery sizes. Many different types of these devices available, some of which are brand proprietary.