Q: Can you recommend any good rechargeable batteries?
A: Plug me in and call me happy. Every time someone uses a rechargeable battery over disposables, an Ecoholic gets its wings – that’s in the green version of Peter Pan anyway.
Nothing drives me battier than single-use batteries (that and people who brush their teeth with the water running). They just don’t make any sense. With the time and money it takes to buy 200 to 800 single-use batteries, one rechargeable can be used again and again.
And rechargeables have come a long way, baby. They hold a charge way longer, can be used in power-hungry electronics like digital cameras hundreds of times and don’t contain the landfill-leaching, groundwater-contaminating heavy metals of yore. Most of them anyway. You want to stay away from nickel-cadmium batteries, which though cheaper are bad news for the planet.
Most consumer rechargeables now run on nickel-metal hydride (NiMH), which, thankfully, is much less toxic. You can score rechargeable alkalines at a better price, but be warned: they’re a little weak. They don’t hold a charge as well in power-hungry situations.
Always check the battery capacity, the little number next to the letters “mAh” on the side of your battery. The higher the number, the longer it will last per charge (and the longer it generally takes to charge it).
But don’t get fooled. You can buy a pack of alkaline rechargeables with a higher capacity than the NiMH next to them on the shelf, but the alkalines will die three times faster.
Rechargeable users of old remember cussing their batteries’ crappy memory. (No, that didn’t mean your Energizer Bunny forgot to send a card on your birthday; it meant your battery would start forgetting how to hold a full charge every time you recharged it before it was totally empty.)
The good news is that NiMHs on the market don’t suffer from the same senility issues. But they do lose 2 to 3 per cent of their juice every day, whether your gizmo gets used or not (a problem known as self-discharge; all batteries do it a little, NiMH more than most).
So if you turn on your digital recorder a month after you first popped the batteries in and haven’t used it since, don’t be surprised if a chunk of power is missing.
Ready-to-use NiMH models (called Ultra-Low-Self-Discharge batteries), that come fully charged out of the box don’t have the same problem, making them better for remote controls or with anything you want to toss a battery in once a year and forget about, like flashlights.
Rechargeable alkalines are also perfect for those situations, since they have a long shelf life.
If you need big, beefy power and can give your electronics regular boosts, stick with regular, higher-capacity NiMH rechargeables.
In terms of performance, the top-rated nickel-metal hydrides in 2006 were Powerex, Sanyo and Energizers. Rayovac was fifth of 10.
Rayovac and others now make super-fast 15-minute chargers (unlike the old nickel-cadmium “quick” chargers that took seven hours to get a boost). They’re incredibly convenient, come with some impressive capacity and are great if you need fresh battery power in a hurry.
Note that all that quick charging does reduce the lifespan of the battery a tad, but not enough for most people to notice.
To extend the life of your batteries, don’t leave them plugged in after they’re done charging. Not only will the charger waste energy, but the batteries actually start to lose their charge! To avoid this problem altogether, look for a smart charger with a microprocessor that senses when the battery log’s full and turns itself off.
What about those kooks who keep their batteries in the freezer? Are they out to lunch? Well, depends on the battery. It’s actually a great idea for NiMHs that otherwise trickle a little power every day like a leaky faucet. Regular alkaline types are happy at room temperature, but there’s no harm sticking them next to your stash of Ben & Jerry’s come summertime.
Of course, you’re still powering rechargeables on coal and nuke power. While pedal-powered laptops aren’t available in the Western world, you can power your cell and MP3 player on the sun’s rays (www.mysoldius.com or Grassroots stores in Toronto). Freeplay makes a great little hand-cranked FreeCharge charger for when your cell dies in an emergency and there’s no socket or sunlight around (www.freeplay.com).
And until the water-powered battery hits Canadian stores, a water-powered alarm clock can kick-start your morning on pure H20 (www.thinkgeek.com). Now that’s refreshing.
Oh, and don’t forget to recycle those rechargeables when they’ve done their bit. For a list of countless drop boxes near you, check out www.rbrc.org. Better yet, bring your dying battery to the Source by Circuit City and they’ll rebuild it for you for less than it would cost to buy a new one!
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