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What is an Alkaline Battery?

Adam Hill
Adam Hill

The world’s energy needs are ever greater and more varied as time goes on. One source of energy has developed as a convenient way to power electronic devices, and that is the alkaline battery. Batteries are essentially small containers that hold chemicals which react to produce electricity. The alkaline battery is the most common and versatile type of battery used, and it gets its name because of the alkaline electrolyte potassium chloride, which is one of the chemicals it contains.

Each alkaline battery has two ends, or terminals -- a positive and a negative terminal. Inside the battery, a chemical reaction produces electrons, which gather at the negative terminal of the battery. However, unless the negative terminal is connected to the positive terminal, the chemical reaction stops and no more electricity is produced. This is the reason that an alkaline battery can sit in a drawer or on a shelf for a long time and still have plenty of power when it is needed. If it is not used, the battery does not wear out in a short period of time.

Alkaline batteries use a zinc-manganese formula.
Alkaline batteries use a zinc-manganese formula.

Usually, the battery is used by connecting some sort of device to it, such as a motor, the light bulb in a flashlight, or a radio, for example. The electrons flow out of the negative terminal of the battery, through a wire to the device. There they power the device before flowing back to the positive terminal. This completes a circuit, allowing the chemical reaction to continue, and the battery to produce more electrons. When the device is switched off, the circuit is broken so that electrons can no longer flow in a complete circle. The battery then stops producing electrons, since the terminals are no longer connected.

The alkaline battery is one of the more modern types of battery used, having been introduced first in the 1960s. The very first battery was created by scientist Alessandro Volta in 1800. Volta made his battery by stacking alternating layers of zinc, salt water-soaked blotting paper, and silver. The higher the stack, the higher the voltage produced by this arrangement. This type of battery was known as the voltaic pile. The modern alkaline battery still uses the same fundamental principles as the voltaic pile, namely two different types of metal, separated by a liquid which conducts electricity, with a negative and a positive terminal.

One of the latest advancements has been the development of the rechargeable alkaline battery. A different formula and blend of materials allows these to not only be recharged, unlike the traditional alkaline battery, but to hold their charge for years, unlike other types of rechargeable batteries. These batteries represent a form of energy storage that is ultimately less costly to the consumer, and one that has less environmental impact as well.

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Discussion Comments


We are, thankfully, seeing fewer and fewer standard batteries around and that's a good thing. Rechargeable batteries are becoming increasingly standard and don't cost a whole lot.

I was surprised, for example, at how inexpensive rechargeable battery packs for wireless gaming controllers are these days. One could easily pick up a good recharging kit for roughly the price of a 20-pack of very good alkaline batteries.

That's better for the environment and saves consumers money, too. The fact they save money is the really good news -- consumers tend to not care about polluting the environment nearly as much as they do about saving money. That's a fact anyone marketing products that are environmentally friendly should keep in mind.

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    • Alkaline batteries use a zinc-manganese formula.
      By: Borys Shevchuk
      Alkaline batteries use a zinc-manganese formula.