Alkaline Batteries… Now Rechargeable

A, AA (double-A), AAA (triple-A), C (R14), and D (D-cell or R20) – all common types of alkaline batteries – batteries that commonly have a zinc electrode and potassium hydroxide (caustic base) electrolyte. The vast majority are not rechargeable. When you do see a rechargeable battery of the types listed they are not likely to be alkaline but instead are likely either the older nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) or the newer lithium-icon (Li-ion). Alkalines are typically not rechargeable… until now.

A Massachusetts start-up (not Silicon Valley! Gasp!) has done what battery manufacturers have been trying to do for decades: create a better battery. When li-ion batteries were mass-producible industries everywhere heralded it as a massive win – a compact, rechargeable battery that could be used in the mobile devices that were appearing everywhere. Only they had 2 major issues – they used rare materials that are only found in a few places in the world (namely lithium and cobalt) and therefore were more expensive, and if they were not manufactured properly, were punctured, overheated, or discharged too quickly they would readily catch fire and/or explode (as some unfortunate Samsung customers discovered after purchasing the now-defunct Galaxy Note 7). So they clearly were not meant for applications where rapid charge or discharge was needed… except that need appeared quickly.

Rapid Cycling (Charge-Discharge Cycles)

With growing climate change concern, demand for more energy-efficient vehicles that produce less carbon byproducts in their exhaust are still rising. Electricity (or namely electric motors specifically) are more efficient than their gas/petrol combustion counterparts and energy sources could be controlled through the purchase of green energy from solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal 1. Car manufacturers and start-ups quickly tried to see if they could build cars with these rechargeable li-ion batteries with some disastrous results (manufacturing companies not-so-humorously call them “thermal events”). Fires and explosions are not very common in electric vehicles today due to them adding some extra safety detection features and putting banks of capacitors between the battery and the car to prevent the need to draw too much energy at any given time – but there still exists the threat of them being punctured in accidents.

Old Busted Hotness


They were expected to unveil their plan this past Thursday at the 35th anniversary of the Rocky Mountain Institute [2]. They claim that replacing the nickel & manganese dioxide electrode with aluminum [3] reduced the cost and enables mass-manufacturing using a technique similar to how plastic wrap is made with continuous manufacturing. The company is also working on solid-state batteries and will likely be including some of that technology into their rechargeable alkalines as well. Alkalines are not prone to explosion and fire like li-ions. They claim the current generation of battery they are working on can be recharged roughly 400 times; Since li-ions can be recharged between 300-500 times that puts this new battery right in the proper range to replace the more costly li-ions. However, they believe they could triple the number of times the battery can be cycled. They also claim that unlike li-ions, which have been claimed to be nearly at their theoretical maximum energy storage capacity, there is potential to pack significantly more energy into alkalines. At 60+ years old, the alkaline battery may soon become agent J’s (Will Smith’s) “old busted hotness” for tomorrow’s laptops, tablets, cell/mobile phones; electric cars, trucks, SUVs, etc; and energy grid storage for green energy production and backup.

Footnotes

[1] I don’t include nuclear in this list because even after being told for decades that current generation plants have been made completely safe through a multitude of policy changes and automation… we are still seeing meltdowns happen. The nuclear industry is currently in chaos due to lower/reducing price of green energy and natural gas energy and is on the verge of collapse as an energy production mechanism. Maybe one day it will be safe and competitive… but not today.

[2] I am not seeing any newer articles posted about this since August 3rd so I will keep and eye on this and update this post when I find out more information.

[3] Aluminum is known to corrode in alkaline solution so it will be interesting to see how they overcome this.

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