What to Know about Batteries, and When to Go Without One

What to Know about Batteries, and When to Go Without One

Batteries are making the news a lot lately, particularly lithium-ion batteries that are used to power the growing electric vehicle (EV) sector. Because these batteries will help facilitate the energy transition from fossil fuels to electrification, thus lowering harmful emissions, battery demand has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2021, the World Economic Forum predicted that lithium-ion battery demand would increase 17-fold by 2030.1

There are many different types of batteries, and researchers are continuing to innovate in the areas of battery production and composition to allow for greater energy density, enabling vehicles on the road or in the air to travel further before needing to recharge. Here are some of the most common types of batteries we use today:

  • Lithium-ion batteries: In addition to EVs, lithium-ion batteries power smart phones, drones, power tools, motorized toys, scanners and more.
  • Alkaline batteries: These dry-cell batteries are the type of batteries we most often buy, use and then dispose of for common items around the home, including clocks, games, smoke detectors and flashlights. Though they can have a shelf life of five years or longer, they drain relatively quickly and are best for devices used only periodically. AA batteries are the most common type of alkaline battery.
  • Zinc carbon batteries: Like alkaline batteries, these dry-cell batteries are also “general purpose,” used in items such as remote controls and thermostats. They typically have a short shelf life and are not recyclable.
  • Button cell batteries. These disposable batteries are disc-shaped and used in devices like hearing aids, watches, calculators and cameras. They can be made up of alkaline, lithium and/or silver oxide.
  • Sealed lead-acid batteries: Designed to last more than 10 years, lead-acid batteries are found in motorcycles, wheelchairs, scooters and boats.

Despite Battery Advantages, there are Downsides to the Environment   

As with many things, using batteries can have disadvantages. Batteries often end up in landfills – estimates suggest upwards of 2.6 billion batteries annually end up the garbage in the U.S. alone.2 Put another way, that represents each person in the U.S., on average, discarding eight dry-cell batteries (such as an alkaline battery) per year.3 When discarded in an unlined landfill, batteries can leak toxic substances and contaminate groundwater.4 Lithium-ion batteries can also cause landfill fires due to the possibility of thermal runaway.

While some batteries are recyclable, many people don’t know the correct way to dispose of different types of batteries. For example, research suggests that 75% to 92% of expended lithium-ion batteries are not disposed of properly.5

Furthermore, some batteries contain materials like lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, graphite, steel, zinc and potassium. As electrification needs grow around the world and demand for batteries increases, this could put pressure on the supply chains for obtaining these resources.6

Battery-Free Solutions

For some critical technologies in the healthcare, retail, transportation and utilities sectors, there are options available that do not require a battery and use alternate sources for power. Supercapacitors or ultracapacitors can be used in small appliances, handheld electronic devices and even in some hybrid vehicles. Supercapacitors store energy electrostatically on the surface of a conducting material, rather than through a chemical reaction like batteries do. A supercapacitor includes two plates that are suspended within an electrolyte. The amount of energy that can be stored depends on the size of the plates.

Like battery demand, the demand for supercapacitors is also expected to grow significantly: between 2017 and 2027, the compound annual growth rate is predicted to be 13.2%.7

Supercapacitors, when used in applications like handheld scanners, hold a charge for only a few minutes, but they can be recharged rapidly. This makes them ideal for situations when the device is used frequently but does not need to leave its charger for long periods of time (for example, in retail point of sale or in healthcare when a clinician needs to scan a medication label or patient wrist band).

Long Device Lifespans, Fewer Batteries in Landfills

In addition to not requiring batteries or the labor needed to replace batteries, supercapacitors also enable the devices they power to last longer. Supercapacitors have been shown to support a lifespan of at least 500,000 discharge / recharge cycles; at 160 cycles per day, a scanner using a supercapacitor could last at least 3,125 days, equating to more than eight years of use and a lifespan six times longer than devices powered by a lithium-ion battery. When devices can ultimately last longer and fewer replacements are needed, it is a win both for the environment and for the organizations using these devices.    

To learn more about battery-free solutions, such as Honeywell’s Xenon XP 1952h and 1952g healthcare and retail battery-free scanners, contact us today.


1 and 6 - www.weforum.org

2 - www.cirbasolutions.com/learning-center/recycling-benefits/#:~:text=It%20is%20estimated%20that%203,population%20of%20323%20million%20people.

3 - https://guides.library.illinois.edu/battery-recycling

4 – www.des.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt341/files/documents/2020-01/hw-23.pdf

5 - https://rethinkwaste.org/wp-content/uploads/legacy_media/7-a-attachment-d-lithium-based-battery-assessment-2017.original.pdf

7 - www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/supercapacitors-market

Others used: www.homedepot.com/c/ab/types-of-batteries/9ba683603be9fa5395fab90ca66daf9