What are the main alternatives to batteries?
Disposable batteries are a potential environmental hazard because they contain highly toxic chemicals such as mercury and cadmium. Huge numbers of batteries end up in landfill sites and when the battery’s case starts to perish, these heavy metals leak out, polluting the surrounding soil and water.
Most types of battery can be fairly efficiently recycled but, so far at least, consumers have been slow to take their used AAAs and AAs to a collection centre and most end up in the dustbin.
Special care should be taken when disposing of used batteries, refer to https://www.gov.uk/hazardous-waste-disposal to find your local hazardous waste disposal facility.
So what are the alternatives to traditional batteries?
More expensive than disposables but very similar in all other ways, rechargeable batteries can be reused as many as 1800 times, making them more than cost-effective in the longer term. However, they do need to be manually charged and their efficiency will decrease over time. Once their lifetime is up, they present the same environmental danger as single-use batteries.
A wide range of rechargeable batteries are available and they tend to be more affordable from online retailers such as http://www.grovesbatteries.co.uk.
Supercapacitors and ultracapacitors
Super and ultracapacitors are solid state (no moving parts) devices that can last longer than batteries and are more resilient to changes in temperature. They are also highly resistant to shocks and vibrations.
Ultracapacitors are found in many electronic systems including cars and computers and provide a short burst of high energy electricity. They are large compared to lithium-ion batteries but can be used hundreds of thousands of times and contain low amounts of toxins.
Often, a supercapacitor or ultracapacitor is combined with a rechargeable battery to provide an initial burst of energy following which the rechargeable battery takes over. For example, in vehicles, a large amount of energy is often needed to start the engine and then a lead acid battery such as the Odyssey PC680 battery can take over.
As photovoltaic technology continues to develop, we can expect to see other battery alternatives appear over the next few years. However, with such an array of low-cost batteries available, and with so many appliances (particularly children’s toys and watches) designed to use them, the traditional battery is likely to be around for many years to come.