Lithium Vs Alkaline Batteries Comparison – Differences Explained On Charts

First let me give you lithium vs alkaline comparison quick and short.

Lithium batteries last way longer than alkaline, they are more expensive, have a higher voltage throughout the discharge cycle, tolerate high and low ambient temperature and are safer from leaking.

Alkaline batteries are cheaper than lithium, their voltage is not as stable through discharge cycle, alkaline battery is way more likely to leak and they are not as good for extreme temperature use cases.

If that is what you wanted to know then you got your answer. But now let’s see alkaline vs lithium batteries comparison in way more detail.

Lithium vs Alkaline battery comparison

If you read that intro of mine then you must be under the impression that lithium battery is way superior than the alkaline.

That is true.

However that doesn’t mean that the alkaline battery is always the second choice.

Lithium batteries are more expensive and their price is not always justified. But in most cases it is.

Let’s take a close look at the battery characteristics when we compare lithium and alkaline batteries.

Best use case scenarios

When to use Lithium

Lithium battery is best used in medium to high drain applications. Demanding toys, powerful flashlights,  and digital cameras. You can also use lithium batteries for low drain devices. You won’t lose anything by doing so as they have a lower self-drain rate than alkaline. There are zero drawbacks other than they are a pricier investment.

When to use Alkaline

Image of an AA alkaline battery

Alkaline battery is best used in low to medium drain applications. TV remotes, less demanding toys, LED flashlights, radios, clocks and similar. You can use them in high drain devices as well but this will significantly reduce their performance. You can understand why below it is explained on the voltage discharge curve graph.

Energy density

Lithium battery has a significantly higher energy density than alkaline battery. But the higher energy density is not the only reason it can outperform alkaline batteries. When the higher energy density is coupled with other factors, which you will see below in the article, the actual usable performance can significantly outperform the alkaline battery.

Depending on the use case the lithium battery can achieve better results or immensely better results.

If we take an isolated look only on energy density we will see that the lithium battery has about 30% higher energy density.

Image of a graph showing gravimetric energy density comparison between lithium and alkaline battery.
Graph showing the gravimetric energy comparison of alkaline and lithium batteries. Data source: batteryuniversity.com

Lithium vs alkaline batteries voltage discharge curve

Both lithium and alkaline batteries used for household devices share a nominal voltage of 1.5V. However, the alkaline has a way sharper voltage drop through its use cycle than lithium battery. Also, there are 3V lithium batteries as well, so make sure to get the voltage you need.

Lithium batteries like AA cells have a way more stable voltage discharge curve throughout the discharge cycle. Now we are starting to get a better picture of this comparison but soon it will get even more clear.

The fact that the lithium battery has a way higher capacity but at the same time keeps a nominal voltage of 1.5V throughout its cycle means that its usable capacity is way higher than that of an alkaline battery.

For example, a demanding device like a remote operated car toy might need 1.4V at minimum in order to function regardless of how much energy is in the battery. If the alkaline is down 50% on its capacity but is already below 1.4V the toy will not work anymore. You could use the rest of the alkaline battery capacity in some less demanding device.

The lithium battery on another hand will spend its entire capacity powering the toy because its voltage discharge curve is almost constantly above or near to 1.5V.

Graph showing the voltage discharge curve of alkaline and lithium primary battery
Graph showing the difference of voltage discharge between alkaline and lithium AA cells. Keep in mind that the graph shows an average use case scenario. Depending on the load and other conditions the voltage discharge curve may look different but the relation between the two will mainly stay the same.

Internal resistance

Lithium battery has way lower internal resistance throughout the discharge cycle. It is also fairly stable, unlike the alkaline which internal resistance keeps rising as the capacity is used up.

Thanks to the low internal resistance the lithium battery can output much higher currents than an alkaline battery and makes an excellent choice for highly demanding devices that pull a high amount of current in short periods of time like a camera flash, digital cameras in general, flashlights and etc.

This is why using an alkaline battery in a digital camera is simply a waste of battery. It may take 20 photos and that’s it. While a lithium battery can make 100-200+ flash photos.

Graph showing internal resistance comparison between lithium and alkaline batteries.
Graph showing internal resistance comparison between lithium and alkaline batteries. The key moments of internal resistance were connected via curves. I chose this approach for graphical presentation because it approximately shows the internal resistance over the whole discharge cycle.

Self discharge rate

The lithium battery outperforms alkaline here as well. The alkaline is also exceptionally good in this domain and let’s be honest you are highly unlikely to keep the alkaline battery in storage for so long that it dies on you.

But for the sake of the comparison it should be noted that the lithium batteries has about a 30% longer shelf life thanks to its lower discharge rate.

Operating temperature

Lithium batteries work in extreme temperature conditions which makes them an excellent choice for outdoor device use. Alkaline batteries do not possess the same temperature endurance in extremely hot and cold environments.

Lithium and alkaline battery weight comparison

Lithium battery is lighter than the same size equivalent alkaline battery. If you need to power a portable device then lithium may be a better choice.

This is especially handy if you will be going outdoors for a longer period of time. Carrying unnecessary weight is never a good idea.

Lets see this comparison on the two great AAA battery examples of Energizer max AAA alkaline and Energizer Lithium batteries.

Graph comparing battery weight of alkaline and lithium batteries on a case study of Energizer batteries.
Graph showing battery weight comparison of Energizer max alkaline and Energizer ultimate lithium AAA batteries. Data was sourced from Energizer website.

Alkaline vs lithium batteries safety and leaking

Alkaline batteries are more likely to leak than lithium cells.

Lithium batteries are not considered safe for airplane baggage. In 2004, the US Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration banned carrying lithium batteries in bulk on passenger flights. There are exemptions to this but you should definitely check with your local regulations.

Alkaline batteries are not hazardous and usually don’t have strict disposal or transportation requirements around them.

Types

Lithium batteries were mostly used for small coin-shaped batteries otherwise known as button cells. But now lithium batteries are available in AA, AAA, 9V and other sizes for household devices.

Alkaline batteries are available in every size there is for household use and there is a way bigger number of brands offering them.

Image showing a lithium button 3v battery
Example of a lithium button coin 3V battery
Image of a AA alkaline battery
Example of an Alkaline AA battery 1.5V
Image of a CR123A lithium battery.
Example of a CR123A lithium 3V battery. Just to show that there are many non rechargeable lithium battery sizes. Not just typical AA and AAA cells as mentioned throughout the article.

Price

Alkaline batteries are significantly cheaper than their lithium counterpart. This is ultimately the reason not to go with the lithium battery if you don’t see the obvious benefit of doing so.

However, the lithium batteries, while more expensive, are longest lasting and this will significantly reduce the gap in price to charge ratio. That is you will get more charge in them which almost makes them cost-efficient. Add in any other quality that lithium battery has that you may need and it becomes the clear choice.

For example, if you want to power your digital camera, you could get lithium cells and take 200 photographs or buy 3 times as many alkaline batteries and take 60 photographs. That way you spend more money on alkaline even if per cell basis they are cheaper.

Word of caution – Lithium battery is not a Lithium-ion

Lithium batteries that we discussed here are a primary (non-rechargeable) type and are not the same as lithium-ion. Li-ion is a secondary (rechargeable) battery type that is more complex, has a higher voltage and should be used with knowledge about li-ion safety.

Conclusion

While the lithium battery is the obvious choice it is not always the case. If you need to power a low draining device then it may be more economical to use an alkaline battery.

However if you can utilize more than one benefit of the lithium battery when powering your device the lithium will most likely be the better option.

I hope you learned something new today and if you did please share this article with your friends.