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NiMH vs. alkaline? When to choose rechargeable over disposable batteries

Should you always pick rechargeable batteries? Is it cheaper to reuse one battery instead of buying several? Or are single-use batteries better? When the NiMH vs. alkaline comes into play, the answer will always depend on your specific needs. Read on to find out when to prefer which.

It all starts with a flow of energy

The main purpose of batteries, both single-use and rechargeable, is the same: to store chemical energy and turn it into electrical energy whenever needed. As a battery discharges, a chemical reaction causes the energy to flow through an external path between the battery’s two electrodes. As the stored energy reaches its end, the chemical reactions slow down. In a disposable alkaline battery, this means it’s time to recycle the battery.

What about rechargeable batteries, then? Due to the NiMH batteries’ different chemical composition, the ‘depleting’ electron flow can be reversed. By connecting the battery to a charger, electrical energy is turned back into chemical energy. As the capacity reaches its maximum, the cycle is complete and the battery is ready to release new energy.

Are rechargeable batteries cheaper?

It depends. Initially, no. But considering that rechargeable batteries last between 5 and 10 years, you could save a significant amount of money over time in most cases. For demanding, high-drain devices, this can make a tremendous difference. After all, one rechargeable battery can equal hundreds of its single-use counterpart.

For low-drain devices that have a longer battery life, choosing a rechargeable battery is not always the best choice, however. If you take into account the average lifespan of a rechargeable battery, it may make sense to stick to single-use batteries. A wall clock may last several months on a single charge, so the investment in a rechargeable battery may not be as beneficial.

Know your (device’s) needs

When weighing out the NiMH vs. alkaline question, remember to find out how demanding your device is. Will it need to last several months? In that case, a single-use battery will usually do. If you need quick, intense and reliable power or frequent recharges, a rechargeable battery will be more economical - and better for the environment.