What Is the Difference between Alkaline and Other Batteries?

Much of the power that a battery can provide is based on its composition and construction. At the core of how a battery charges a device is a chemical reaction that is mediated between the positive and negative electrodes of the battery. But the contents of the battery can alter how this chemical reaction takes place and what its results are.

The main difference between alkaline and other batteries, therefore, is that the former has an alkaline or base electrolyte while the latter has an acidic electrolyte. The variations between the chemical reactions carried out in both batteries, because of electrolyte composition and battery construction, can dictate its capacity, durability and more.

Alkaline batteries are certainly counted as an incredible innovation and continue to be one of the most reliable types of batteries in the market. The following sections will shed some more light on how alkaline batteries compare to other types of batteries:

Difference between Alkaline Batteries and Regular Batteries

Alkaline batteries, to put it simply, are batteries that do not contain acid. The composition of the electrolyte in these batteries is a basic one, as opposed to an acidic one.

Typically, an alkaline battery will contain a zinc anode and the cathode will be manganese dioxide. The electrolyte is a basic paste, usually potassium hydroxide.

Any battery will have an anode and a cathode. But the composition of the electrolyte is what makes a difference, as this is what will facilitate the chemical reaction between the anode and the cathode.

The body of an alkaline battery is made of metal that houses all the components described above. It contains manganese dioxide in its outermost cathode region and has a zinc anode in powdered form.

When one refers to “regular” batteries, usually they mean non-alkaline, zinc chloride batteries. These batteries will have a zinc anode and a carbon rod or manganese dioxide cathode.

The electrolyte in a battery like this will typically consist of an ammonium chloride and zinc chloride mix. Contrary to an alkaline battery, in a non-alkaline battery like zinc chloride, the zinc container itself functions as the anode of the battery.

The carbon rod or manganese dioxide will be in the inner region, serving as the cathode. In the former, the electrolyte mixes with the anode to create the chemical reaction between the anode and the cathode, while in the latter, the reverse happens.

What Is the Difference between Alkaline and Zinc Batteries

Now, while the above sections have described the difference in the composition of alkaline and zinc batteries, what does that really mean for how they are used?

The biggest difference between alkaline and non-alkaline batteries is that the former tends to have a much higher capacity, which means these batteries do not need to be replaced as frequently. Part of the problem is the body of the regular zinc batteries.

Over time, the zinc container begins to degrade, giving the battery much shorter shelf life. Since the zinc container itself is the anode that reactions with the acid electrolyte, over time, the metal begins thinning and degrades. This is also what makes these batteries more prone to leaks than alkaline batteries.

Difference between Alkaline and Silver Oxide Battery

A silver oxide battery contains zinc as the negative electrode and silver oxide as the positive one. These are lightweight batteries that have extremely high energy. They are also built to tolerate high loads of current.

If you have seen small button-sized batteries that usually go into devices like hearing aids, that is a silver oxide battery (although they are also available in bigger sizes). Silver oxide batteries also have a much longer shelf life than regular alkaline batteries. However, they are quite expensive owing to the use of silver.

Difference between Alkaline and NiMH Batteries

Most alkaline batteries are not rechargeable, whereas NiMH or nickel-metal hydride batteries are rechargeable. While it may seem as if the obvious choice of battery for anyone would be the rechargeable one, alkaline batteries actually have a fairly slow discharge rate so they will last you a long time. On the other hand, while NiMH batteries are rechargeable, they have a high discharge rate of 25 percent a month.

So, if you are looking for long-lasting batteries for low-power devices, alkaline batteries are perfect. If you are looking for batteries for high-power devices, NiMH rechargeable batteries are a great choice. They are usually used for high-power video cameras and similar gadgets that draw a lot of power and will benefit from a battery that can be recharged.

Difference between Alkaline and Lithium Batteries

Lithium and alkaline batteries also have a different construction and composition. A lithium battery contains a cathode, an anode, a separator, electrolyte and positive and negative current collectors (one each). The lithium is stored in both the electrodes and via the separator, the electrolyte carries positively charged lithium ions from the anode to the cathode.

These batteries last much longer than regular alkaline batteries and are ideal for smart devices. They are also great to use even in extreme temperatures, like very cold climates. When used with portable devices like power tools or high-end cameras, lithium batteries may be better as they are also lightweight in addition to lasting much longer.

However, lithium batteries are a lot more expensive than regular alkaline batteries. Besides, there are also a lot of restrictions on carrying them on airlines due to possible leaks and hazards.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now, from the description of the various battery types above, it has perhaps become apparent that there are several kinds of batteries in the market. Some are more long lasting than others, while some are safer or more economical. The following are a few answers to some frequently asked questions about batteries:

Can I Use Regular Batteries Instead of Alkaline?

While alkaline batteries are typically longer lasting than regular zinc-chloride batteries, there are several applications in which the latter can work perfectly well. For instance, for devices like a remote control or wall clock, you do not need long-lasting alkaline batteries. Regular ones will suit these items just fine as they also do not draw a lot of power.

Which Is Better Alkaline or Non-alkaline Batteries?

Again, this depends on the application. While typically, alkaline batteries tend to last much longer and are also safer when compared to non-alkaline batteries like zinc-chloride, there are several instances in which non-alkaline batteries may work just fine. It all depends on the application of the batteries.

Is There a Difference between Alkaline Battery Brands?

While there are several name brands that make alkaline batteries such as Duracell, Energizer and Panasonic, when it comes to the net results, there is little room for too much variation when it comes to the battery.

Some brands may offer better leak resistance, while others may offer more electrolytes for better capacity. Having said that, it may be safer to stick with the name brands while buying batteries, only so these kinds of factors are quality checked.

Are Alkaline Batteries Better Than Regular Batteries?

Alkaline batteries may be better than regular batteries in many instances, but as the above sections have repeatedly emphasized, there are several cases in which regular batteries work just fine.

Alkaline batteries are also not the be all and end all of good batteries. Others, such as silver oxide batteries and lithium-ion batteries have demonstrated better efficiency than alkaline batteries, though they tend to be a lot more expensive. But it is certainly apparent that there are several advantages that alkaline batteries boast of. They are long lasting, safe and offer a fairly high capacity. Even if these batteries are typically not rechargeable, their discharge rate is quite low and they will last you a long time, especially when compared to regular zinc-chloride batteries. If you are looking for something that is economical, durable and ideal for low-power devices, then alkaline batteries are your best bet. The key is to figure out what the application is and see if using regular batteries may cause any damage.

About the author, Phil Borges

Phil Borges is a battery aficionado. He's written extensively about batteries, and he loves nothing more than discussing the latest innovations in the industry. He has a deep understanding of how batteries work, and he's always on the lookout for new ways to improve their performance.