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Battery Chemistry Guide

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Battery Junction's Guide To Battery Chemistries

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By: The Battery Junction Team
Updated: 3/10/2023

A Guide to Battery Chemistry

Ever try to pick out the best battery for a specific application? Or maybe you've wondered what goes into your batteries, and how different chemistries affect the output of a battery. You've come to the right place! Here you can find information about specific chemistries, like Li-ion or Alkaline, and how they work to power your devices. We hope to enrich your knowledge about factors like run time, shelf life, and discharge so that you can pick the right battery for your needs.

Rechargeable Max Discharge Rate Energy Density Cell Voltage Range Voltage Curve Self-Discharge Rate (% per Month) Shelf Life Temperature Range
Zinc No 1C Very Low 0.9-1.5-1.5V Sloped 0.1-2% 2 Years 0-45ºC, -10-25ºC
Alkaline No 1-4C Medium 0.8-1.5-1.6V Sloped <1% 5 Years -18-55ºC, -40-50ºC
Lithium-Iron No 1-2C Very High 0.9-1.5-1.8V Flat <1% 10 Years -40-60ºC, -40-60ºC
NiCd Yes 15-20C Very Low 0.9-1.2-1.3V Flat 10% 5 Years -20-65ºC, 10-30ºC, 0-50ºC
NiMH Yes 1-10C Medium 0.9-1.2-1.3V Flat 15-30% 5 Years 0-5º0C, -20-30ºC, 0-50ºC
LSD NiMH Yes 1-10C Low 0.9-1.2-1.3V Flat 1-2% 5 Years 0-50ºC, -20-30ºC, 0-50ºC
Lithium (3V) No 1-2C Very High 2.0-3.0-3.0V Flat <1% 10 Years -30-75ºC, -55-75ºC
Li-Ion (ICR) Yes 1-3C High 2.8-3.6-4.2V Flat 8% 3 Years -20-60ºC, -20-50ºC, 0-45ºC
Li-Ion (IMR) Yes 5-15C Medium 2.8-3.6-4.2V Flat 8% 3 Years -20-60ºC, -20-50ºC, 0-45ºC
Li-Ion (INR) Yes 5-15C High 2.8-3.6-4.2V Flat 8% 3 Years -20-60ºC, -20-50ºC, 0-45ºC
Li-Poly Yes 10-100C Very High 3.0-3.6-4.2V Flat 5% 3 Years -20-60ºC, -20-25ºC, 0-45ºC
Silver Oxide No <0.1C High 1.2-1.55-1.6V Flat <0.1% 5 Years -10-55ºC, -10-55ºC
Zinc Air No <0.1C Extremely High 0.9-1.45-1.65V Flat 0.1-2% 2 Years -10-55ºC, 10-25ºC
Sealed Lead Acid Yes 2-10C Very Low 1.75-2.1-2.4V Flat 3-20% 6 Months -40-60ºC, -40-50ºC, -20-50ºC

Terminologies Explained


All common cells have two electrodes and an electrolyte. The specific combination of materials used to make these components is called "chemistry." A cell's chemistry largely determines its properties, while most variations within it are caused by additives, purification, and design elements.


Checked boxes indicate that batteries made with this chemistry are rechargeable. The method of recharging can vary between each design, from an in-body charge port to compatibility with wall chargers. As you'll see later in this article, batteries with the ability to be recharged are called "Secondary Cells."

Maximum Discharge Rate

Battery manufacturers often list discharge rates as C ratings. C ratings can help you determine the use of and run time of the battery in question. It's important to remember that C ratings are relative to the individual battery's capacity. This means that a battery rated at 1000mAh capacity discharged at 1C should provide 1,000mA (1A) for 1 hour. If a battery with a 1000mAh capacity has a 2C rating, that means you can discharge it at 2A and this should provide power for 30 minutes. If a battery with a 3000mAh capacity has a 2C rating, you can discharge it at 6A, and this should provide power for 30 minutes. In these examples of a 2C rating, both batteries will be discharged at twice their rated capacity, but the amount of Amps vary because of the differing capacity rating. Note that discharging above the rated value or for an extended period can lead to reduced battery life or cell failure.

Energy Density

This measures how much energy can be stored in a battery at a particular size. Incremental improvements in cell design change the exact values every year, but we can be fairly sure that alkaline and zinc, ICR and IMR, and other chemistries with large gaps in energy density will continue to hold their place.

Cell Voltage Range

This value is given in the format minimum-nominal-maximum. A cell can be considered dead at the minimum voltage, typically provides the nominal voltage while being discharged, and is fully charged at the maximum voltage. Please note that battery voltages can vary widely depending on the discharge rate and other factors.

Voltage Curve

Cells do not maintain the same voltage throughout their discharge cycles. The voltage curve describes the way each battery experiences its discharge cycle. For example, Alkaline cells will continually drop in voltage on a steady downward slope from the maximum to the minimum while Silver Oxide cells typically keep a flat voltage near their nominal rating for years before abruptly dropping out within a few hours.

Self-Discharge Rate

All batteries slowly lose their charge over time while in storage through internal chemical reactions. This effect is minuscule in most primary cell chemistries but can be quite large in rechargeable ones, particularly when they are fully charged. Usually, this just means that you'll have to recharge the battery if it sits on a shelf for over a month before use.

Shelf Life

The listed shelf life is assuming the batteries are stored in a cool, dry place. Many factors affect how long a battery will last, but cells stored for this long without maintenance at room temperature should still perform well.

Temperature Range

Temperature ranges are displayed in the format "discharge, storage, charge". A battery should supply power in the discharge temperature range, degrade slowly in the storage range, and maintain capacity in the charge temperature range if rechargeable. Use outside of this range affects batteries differently depending on the chemistry used.

Primary Cells

Primary cells refer to your standard, non-rechargeable AAA, AA, C, D, 9V, and lantern batteries found in every grocery store and across our site. Best used to provide a very low to moderate amount of power for devices with occasional use, a good primary cell battery offers lower cost, longer shelf life, and easier maintenance than rechargeable alternatives with similar capacity. The vast majority of standard, primary cell batteries are made using these chemistries:


"General purpose" zinc-carbon and "heavy duty" zinc-chloride cells are the cheapest class of batteries on the market. They store less energy than other primary cell chemistries, cannot power medium drain devices for more than a few minutes, and often leak, but cost significantly less than other chemistries. If price is your main concern and the battery is only running a low-power device (e.g. clock, remote control, calculator) with occasional use, then zinc batteries are a good option. You can browse our available selection of zinc batteries here.


Alkaline cells have a medium energy density, can provide moderate power with minimal energy loss, and occasionally leak. A middle-of-the-road battery, alkaline can be used in everything from clocks to cordless phones with no issues. They cannot handle high drain devices, however, they tend to heat up and thus deliver much less energy than their rating. Alkaline primary cells are a great choice if you want the best bang for the buck and a general-purpose battery. Popular brands include Energizer, Panasonic and Duracell all offering alkaline cells in commonly used sizes like AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V. You can browse our selection of Alkaline batteries from several different brands here.


Lithium cells have a very high energy density, can provide high power, and rarely leak. Able to run well in any device, these are true general-purpose batteries without the high drain caveat of alkaline. Lithium cells thrive in low-drain devices, and we recommend them in products with hard-to-reach battery compartments so the longer life of the cell offsets the cost. You can browse our catalog of lithium batteries here.

Secondary Cells

Primary batteries work great in low-drain devices, but if you have a high-drain product that eats alkaline and lithium alike, rechargeable secondary cells are a better option. Their lower voltage may cause issues in some devices, but they can still be used nearly everywhere primary cells are. Common chemistries include:

Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd)

Nickel-Cadmium is the premier rechargeable battery chemistry of the 1980s. NiCd cells have comparable energy density to zinc, can provide extremely high power if necessary. Self-discharge is moderate, so they may need to be recharged before use after a few months. Don't overcharge them or they will suffer from voltage depression (premature drop in voltage) which will drastically reduce the usable charge. Unlike every other common rechargeable chemistry, NiCd cells can be stored fully discharged with no ill effect, and memory effect is rare, so they should work normally until the end of their cycle lives. Due to advancements in other rechargeable chemistries, we recommend them for extremely high-power applications only. You can browse our available NiCd batteries here.

Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH)

Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries have significantly higher energy density comparable to alkaline batteries, can provide high power comparable to lithium, but suffer from very high self-discharge, making recharging desirable after a few weeks. If you want to run a camera or similar device that drains batteries very quickly, these are a good option. You can browse NiMH batteries here.

Low Self Discharge Nickel-Metal Hydride (LSD NiMH)

Low Self Discharge NiMH batteries are the best replacement for primary cells we have. Their performance approaches standard NiMH while reducing the self-discharge to a very low level. If you want to switch to rechargeable, these are your best option.

Lithium Cells

Small, high-powered devices like bright flashlights, e-cigarettes, laptops, cameras, RC aircraft, and phones need small, lightweight, high-energy batteries to power them. Lithium cells pack a powerful punch inside a lightweight design. It is important to store cells away from flammable objects in a non-conductive container, in the worst-case scenario they can vent with flame if the case ruptures from excessive pressure. Due to the volatile nature of the chemistry, lithium cells are constructed with the utmost attention to safety and are not prone to leakage, unlike other batteries. Common chemistries include:

Lithium Manganese Dioxide (3V, LiMnO2 or "Lithium") - Primary Cell

Generally if a device needs a lot of power and cannot fit a large bank of alkaline cells, they will use cells with Lithium Manganese Dioxide chemistry. LiMn02 is your "standard" lithium chemistry, and they can be found in many sizes. They have similar performance to lithium-iron, with the same high energy density and power output, but provide 3V instead of 1.5V. You can find our lithium batteries here.

Lithium Cobalt Oxide (LiCoO2 or ICR or LCO) - Secondary Cell

This is the main chemistry used in laptop battery packs, high-power flashlights, and building battery backup power systems. They have high capacity and can be run in high-drain devices, but are very sensitive to over-0charge, over-discharge, and overheating in extremely high-discharge scenarios. Cells labeled "protected" have a circuit attached to monitor the voltage and current, so it can independently disconnect the contacts if the battery gets out of the safe range. Unprotected cells are also available but those are only recommended for battery packs with full battery management systems handling the protection. If your device draws extremely high power, use IMR or INR cells instead, but the higher capacity is great if you can settle for 'just' high power draw.

Lithium Manganese Oxide (LiMn2O4 or IMR or LMO)

IMR cells have lower capacity than ICR, but can run extremely high drain devices without issue. Due to the safer chemistry, IMR cells are typically unprotected. These are the cells of choice in the e-cigarette community, they allow for all but the most excessive power demands to be met and keep cool while doing so.

Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (LiNiMnCoO2 or INR on NMC or "hybrid")

These "hybrid" cells maintain the power draw capabilities of IMR while storing significantly more energy like ICR. While they may not support IMR's highest power draw or hold ICR's greatest energy capacity many find these cells have an ideal balance of the two.

Lithium-Ion Polymer (LiPo or Li-poly)

Lithium Polymer cells are used where high energy and power is needed but Li-Ion would be too heavy. They have the advantage of light weight, having a slim form factor, and can support the highest power draw of any commercial cell. This makes them popular in phones, small laptops, and RC planes. This chemistry does not tolerate use outside of its specifications and should be stored carefully. We have Li-Poly batteries available here.

Small Batteries

Silver Oxide

These batteries are used in watches, hearing aids, and aerospace due to their high energy density and long shelf life. While they cannot sustain even low continuous power, the high drain variant can be pulsed to run alarms and lights from time to time. We have a large selection of silver oxide batteries available here.

Zinc Air

These batteries have the highest energy density of any cell but need access to air to work. This keeps them from being used in watches, but they are very popular in hearing aids because of the longer period between replacements. You can browse our large selection of hearing aid batteries here.

Sealed Lead Acid

Lead acid is one of the oldest battery chemistries and has proved itself as one of the most reliable rechargeable cell types. Self-discharge combined with issues when cells lose charge make periodic recharging (and sometimes other maintenance, refer to the manufacturer's instructions) necessary to maintain a long life. Despite the maintenance requirement, and other chemistries being much lighter and smaller for the same performance, lead-acid cells maintain an advantage with an excellent price for the amount of power they provide. Power-Sonic is one of the leading brands in manufacturing these high-powered batteries, but we have a large selection of sealed lead acid batteries available here.