7-9-03: see the update at the bottom of this page

6-18-02: Greenbatteries.com is a good place to find honest info about rechargeable batteries and purchase some too.

The National Institute of Justice: Law Enforcement and Corrections Standards and Testing Program, created a really good battery guide. It's called "New Technology Batteries Guide NIJ Guide 200-98". You can read it here. (I lifted the document from Greenbatteries.com)

 

I wrote the following letter to Real Goods when I was returning a fancy alkaline battery charger.

 



Lee Sonko
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
1/5/2000

Folks at Real Goods,

I just wanted to express my disappointment with my purchase of the "Innovations Battery Manager Ultra" from Real Goods. If this product worked as advertised, it would be an exceptional buy. Unfortunately, the advertisement in your catalog makes claims that aren't true and it excludes a very important caveat.

The ad says "Even most standard "non-rechargeable" batteries can be safely recharged up to 20 times. (Energizer brand batteries will not recharge.)"


-In fact, 50% of the batteries were rejected on the first try. This included batteries used in a "high drain" environment. At that rate, no batteries are going to make it to 20 recharges.
-Energizer brand failed at the same rate as the other batteries we put in it.

I was dissapointed to read in the manual:
page 11:"batteries used in low drain products (e.g. TV remote controls, torches which are not frequently used, clocks, calculators and the like) are not really suitable for recharging."

That information REALLY should be in the advertisement.

Over the course of a month, we recharged about 30 batteries. None of them had been recharged before and they were all visually inspected to be in good shape. They were an even mix of Ray-o-Vac Maximum, Duracell and Energizer. We found that:
-25% of the batteries leaked while in the machine
-at least one of them leaked after it was removed from the machine
-50% of the batteries were rejected

That is totally unacceptable!

I am returning the Innovations Battery Manager Ultra for a return.


Thank you very much,
Lee Sonko

 

I did some research on battery technology and here are some of my results:


All of the alkaline battery chargers say something to the effect of "to get the most number of recharges, you should recharge your alkaline batteries long before they show signs of going dead." Recharging them when they are drained is sometimes mentioned.
You can't recharge "low drain" batteries.
My personal experience with the Batter Manager Ultra shows that charged alkalines often leak and often fail to charge.
It seems that recharging alkaline batteries is just a gimmick.
Alkaline batteries have about 4 times more power as a fully charged "standard" NiCad
AA NiCad 	Standard: 600mAh	High Capacity 900mAh	newest 1100mAh
Alkaline 	2200 mAh
NiMh		1400mAh
Shelf life of unused batteries:
Alkaline	5 years
NiCad		1-4 months
NiMh		1-4 weeks
Nickel Metal Hydride batteries have lots of power but don't hold a charge!

I found several sources that said the dreaded NiCad "memory effect" was far over-rated. I can vouch for this since I have several AA NiCads that still work well after 5+ years.

Consumer Reports Magazine and some web sites I found tested several varieties of alkaline batteries. They found that "brand name" batteries such as Duracell and Energizer had no more power than discount brands. Effect on the environment:

Alkaline	dangerous heavy metals were banned in the 90's. They're pretty safe.
NiCad		the cadmium is definitely bad.
NiMh		much more environmentally friendly than Nicads.

Lithium Ion batteries are not available yet in "normal" sizes (IE AA, C, D) yet. When they do become available, they MIGHT be a better option than what is out there. From my experience, Lithium Ion batteries only hold their charge for 1-4 weeks but I haven't researched this much.

"Heavy Duty" and "General Purpose" batteries should never be bought because they have much less power than alkalines and they cost almost the same.

After all this research, here's what I decided to do:
I decided to go with a matching set of "Panasonic Rechargeable 1100" AA batteries (model P-3GPA) (1100mAh apiece) and the Panasonic Battery Charger model BQ-2F. I got 4 batteries and a charger in a matched set at BJ's Wholesale Club. For extremely low drain appliances like TV remotes, I bought store brand alkalines and will throw them out when they are drained. 

update 5-1-02
2 of my original 8 Panasonic nicads have gone dead (lose all power after 5 minutes of use) and the rest hold about 1/2 as much charge as they used to. :-(    I use them in my Motorola Talkabout 250 FRS radios. I switched to using a Cobra radio with built-in NiMH batteries. They work very well except 6 months after I got those, one of the batteries went bad. I replaced it (for $25 :-(  ) and now I'm reasonably happy....]

Some battery web references:
http://www.sol.co.uk/d/diffusion/cornerstone/crc/cg/battery.htm
http://www.panasonic.com/industrial_oem/battery/battery_oem/chem/niccad/niccad.htm
http://www.4gdo.com/
http://www.wholesalebatteries.net/spec7.htm
http://batterysupply.com/

 

update 1-13-03

Over the past two years, I've gotten about 3 emails from people saying that they've had better luck with the Innovations battery charger than I. It's possible that my bad experience wasn't the norm... Here is an excellent example. This is a letter I received on 1-11-03:

Hi Lee,
Just read your comments on the Innovations Battery Charger and Alkaline batteries. I too have one, but I am VERY pleased with it. I have had it for a few years and it's getting worn out - the springs in the battery holders are getting weak - in fact I can only charge 3 batteries at a time now.
Every Christmas we have loads of "noisy ornaments" each taking 2, 3 or 4 AA cells. So every 12th night after removing the batteries from said decorations, I usually have a couple of dozen AA cells and half a dozen C cells which have about 50% live left. There are ideal for recharging and usually refresh "as new" after a few hours on the charger. These cells last me throughout the year for torches, remove controllers etc. In fact I have found that D cells are particularly resilient - a torch that just glimmers can be given a new lease of life for several months after a couple of days recharge.
I agree that occasionally some cells start to leak - but these are usually ones which were virtually flat when I tried to recharge them, or ones that I left in the charger for a week!
All in all, I have been so impressed with my Battery Charger, that I have been trying to get another in the UK for the past year without success! I really like the ability to have a 1.5V cell rather than a 1.2V one.
I guess I am in a minority because no-one else has come up such such a device - except now there are rechargeable alkaline batteries coming on the market. Who knows what the future might bring!
Regards,
Brian

 

Another person recommended his own battery comparison website. This is a pretty good site: http://michaelbluejay.com/batteries.html


 

update 3-2-03

Here's an excerpt from another email I received: (I haven't tried this charger. I welcome your input about it!)

After some searching, I found what I think should be a worthy replacement:
the Maha C401FS NiMH/NiCad charger. I particularly like the four separate
charging circuits, the bad battery indicator, and the car adapter. While it
is pricier than most, this charger should help maximize the performance and
life of my batteries, paying for itself in the long run. I just received it
and have not had a chance to thoroughly test it, but I am pleased with it so
far. The link below takes you to a site that provides a fairly detailed
product description, manual (PDF format), and ordering options. I found the
links to the full text reviews of the product particularly interesting.
Note also the new 2000mAH rated batteries.

In case you were not already familiar with this charger, I hope this is of
some help.

http://www.thomas-distributing.com/mhc401fs.htm


7-19-03 Battery Info Update

Mark Williams wrote to me about this page and wanted to add to it. (I don't know Mark other than this correspondence). Here's excerpts from some of our correspondence:

I did experiment a little with recharging standard alkalines in an older
(pre-NiMH) NiCad charger, and while this is NOT recommended by ANYONE (and
rightly so), most of the batteries did seem to take a charge.
...
After some limited success with the standard alkalines, I was fool enough to
try doing the same with some D cell rechargeable alkaline batteries (because
I had not yet found my alkaline charger since we moved). BIG MISTAKE!
Within a half-hour, I could hear them exploding in their casings, and they
leaked into the charger, then the wall-wart for the charger died.
...
[from another email] While I haven't used or charged a lot of batteries since the
last time I wrote, I have noticed that standard alkaline batteries that are
dead (or nearly so) do not take or hold a charge very well (if at all), so I
wouldn't waste any further time or energy on them. Some of the other
standard alkaline batteries that tried recharging, and have been sitting
idle since, have begun to leak. Others have held a fair amount of their
charge, but their duration performance seems to be significantly diminished,
although I haven't documented any specific data to back that observation up.

While it was a novel experiment, I probably won't continue to recharge
standard alkaline batteries and cannot recommend this procedure to anyone.
...
Dave
Etchells has a wonderful comparison and review [of NiMH batteries] at
http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/BATTS/BATTS.HTM
I also came across a .pdf file that has virtually everything you ever wanted
to know about batteries at http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles/172868.pdf.
...
So far I have been very pleased with the performance of the Maha C401FS
NiMH/NiCad charger.  I typically keep it on the slow charge setting as
recharging time is usually not an issue for me, but it has proven convenient
to have the fast charge option and a car cord adapter for last minute
charging on the way to an event.  The batteries do not seem to get anywhere
near as hot as they have in other chargers that I have used, and I can't
help but believe that this would extend the life of the batteries.  Even so,
the operating instructions still recommend keeping the cover open when
charging.  The four channel system seems to work well and it is helpful to
have individual indicators for each battery to know when each has reached
its full charge.