Help-Key Going Green Edition: Tips to maximize your rechargeable batteries

lacrosse techology bc 900 alphapower battery charger

With so many portable devices in our homes, we use a lot more batteries than people think about. After many uses, though, many rechargeable batteries can suddenly fail, rendering the device useless if they’re non-swappable. If the device has a removable battery, you can of course buy a new one, but that means throwing the toxic and useless old one out. Why not trade it in to a refurb station to save money and save the precious, fragile environment?

How batteries work

Batteries produce an electric current from the chemical reaction between two electrodes and an electrolyte.

Portable devices are powered by a rechargeable NiCad or newer Lithium-Ion battery or battery pack consisting of as many as 20 cells. Each cell has a current at about 1.2 volts.

Most batteries are good for about 1000 full charges, though sometimes they can fail after far less.

Is my battery fixable?

Your device might start lasting shorter and shorter times between charges. This is a sign that the NiCad batteries are worn out. You should try charging your battery with another charger to see if it may be the culprit. Most batteries aren’t fixable, but depending on your device, you can try to “reset” the battery.

If it’s for a mobile phone, many stores have a swapping option that’s relatively cheap. Most mobile phone manufacturers have a system to refurbish used batteries, that they then resell at a cheaper price. You can usually get a new battery for about $20 and they take your old one in for service.

You get a new battery and your old one stays out of a landfill.

Laptops as well have a similar system for dealing with old batteries. Calling your vendor will get you hooked up with someone who can help.

What about regular rechargeable batteries?

You can get more power for longer out of your alkaline replacement batteries by getting rid of the cheap-ass charger they come with and picking up something more awesome like the La Crosse BC-900 AlphaPower charger. It uses the same AA or AAA style batteries you’re already using but really maximizes their charge, as well as manages the “memory effect” that most batteries will have.

It even has a cool LED display to give you status. If you use rechargeables, which you should, this is a great thing to have around.

usbcellIf you’re on the go, another great resource are the USB-charging batteries we’ve seen before. They’re simply a fantastic idea executed very well. Keep a pair in your laptop bag, you never know when they’ll come in handy.

What are some other tips?

One of the worst things you can do for a battery is leave it in its charger after its primed. Leaving your cellphone plugged in all night while you sleep seems like a good idea, but you’re killing it’s life. Find out how long it takes for a full charge, add about 1/5 of that time for safe measure, and that’s how long you should charge it up, no longer.

Some chargers have a smart chip system that won’t allow your device to over charge. If your device doesn’t have one of these chargers, look into replacing it with one that does.

Also, try not to charge it up until the battery is almost empty. Sure, it takes longer to charge, but this helps mitigate the “memory effect” and gives you a more stable battery as well.

If you decide you do have to dump your battery, don’t just throw it away. There are many ways to recycle that battery that helps charity. Some places even pay you for your old power packs.