Lithium AA vs Alkaline batteries

Lithium AA Batteries vs Alkaline

You might ask, “Are lithium AA batteries better than alkaline?” My answer and opinion is mostly yes. Although you might not need to spend the extra $ for the advantages of lithium vs alkaline – depending on the device you’re powering. I’ll explain in a minute. And I will suggest a great alkaline battery too.

I use AA lithium batteries for my battery powered devices operating in cold weather. Also for devices where more battery capacity (longer life) under moderate to heavy load is preferred. Lastly, for devices with high drain demands (e.g. 2-way handheld radios while transmitting) because lithium battery voltage is a tad higher than alkaline. Lithium battery performance characteristics are outstanding under load. So I use them in devices which demand good performance under higher loads.

[ Article Updated with current data. Originally I listed 2 reasons why lithium is better. There’s more… ]

I mention ” AA ” size in the title. However the advantages are the same regardless of its form factor. Lithium versus Alkaline. Lithium wins. Keep reading why…

Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA
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Yes, lithium AA batteries cost more than regular alkaline batteries. So I don’t use them for everything where I don’t need their advantages (e.g. cold weather performance, high capacity, and heavier loads). I have found an excellent AA alkaline battery for everything else. I use this particular brand exclusively for my alkaline needs. It’s the Energizer Max. Best of all, they don’t leak (Lithium batteries don’t leak either). See the linked article at the end about these batteries that don’t leak or corrode.

Energizer Max AA Batteries
(amzn)

Energizer Lithium AA Battery Capacity

The Energizer (Ultimate Lithium L91) AA battery holds approximately 3500 maH (milliamp hours) of energy.

The Energizer Max (E91 Alkaline) AA battery holds about 3000 maH of energy, but only at relatively low demands. The effective capacity drops as the load increases (alkaline chemistry), whereas the lithium AA capacity is not so affected by the load. See chart below.

You can put a heavy load on the lithium battery, and the effective capacity remains close to 3500 maH. In contrast, the AA alkaline battery will only present an effective capacity of ~1000 maH under a heavy load of 800 mA (for example). Huge difference!

Energizer AA Lithium Battery Capacity

(Energizer Ultimate Lithium data sheet with graphs)

Voltage of Lithium AA Battery

Both batteries have a nominal voltage of 1.5 volts. However the lithium chemistry performs much, much better under load.

Note the apparent open-circuit (no load) voltage of the AA lithium. It’s approximately 1.7 volts. HOWEVER, before you get all worried about that (being more than 1.5 volts)… As soon as the load goes above just a few milliamps, say 10 mA, operating voltage settles in at 1.5 volts. This is where the lithium vs alkaline battery excels.

This AA lithium battery under typical loads will operate in a nice range of approximately 1.5 volts down to about 1.4 volts over time. Nice!

Here’s a photo I just took while measuring open circuit voltage of a new Energizer AA Ultimate Lithium battery.

Check the operating manual or quick-start guide of your device. If your device specifically restricts the use of lithium chemistry, well, use the Energizer Max instead. I have never had a problem using the lithium in place of the alkaline in my particular devices. I’m sure that’s because the operating voltage (~ 1.5) falls within the design parameters of most AA powered devices.

Here’s another photo that I just took of the open circuit voltage for an alkaline Energizer MAX battery. Again, it’s under no load. However when operating under load, the operating voltage will range from 1.4 down to about 1.2 depending on load and time spent under load.

(Energizer MAX data sheet with graphs)

Take a look at the following chart which shows the Energizer lithium L91 (AA size) battery voltage discharge profile.

As you can see, the voltage is higher than 1.5 under a near-zero load. However when it’s placed under load, the voltage comes in at ~ 1.5 volts.

Energizer Lithium Battery L91 (AA form factor) Voltage Discharge Profile

Energizer AA Lithium battery voltage

Energizer Lithium L91 (AA) Battery Temperature Performance

Best of all, lithium AA battery cold weather performance is outstanding. A lithium AA-battery will perform substantially better than an alkaline battery when it’s cold.

I have a few driveway alarms on our private road. I use lithium batteries for their transmitters because it can get down to 30 below zero here during the midst of winter. And they continue to perform!

Look at the chart. An alkaline battery will perform pretty well until it gets cold. The differences between cold weather tolerant lithium batteries and alkaline become very, very obvious while under heavy loads.

Either way, lithium wins.

Lithium AA battery better than alkaline in cold weather

(chart source) (I added degrees-F)

To sum it up, I really like the Energizer Ultimate Lithium battery for many of my demanding applications. I also really like the Energizer Max alkaline battery for normal applications. (But I also utilize rechargeable batteries, but that’s another article…)

I hope that the charts above will help some of you understand the advantages of lithium battery chemistry, particularly for the consumer size AA battery.

By the way, some of the primary (lithium battery) uses for my own “devices” include my driveway & road alarms, other outdoor sensors, the chicken coop automatic door opener, and a few of my tactical style flashlights. There’s probably more, but that’s off the top of my head…

[ Read: AA Batteries That Won’t Leak or Corrode ]

[ Read: Best AA Rechargeable Batteries – The Eneloop – Why I Like Them ]

32 Comments

  1. JulietSierra,
    Some of the primary (lithium battery) uses for my own “devices” include my driveway & road alarms, other outdoor sensors, the chicken coop automatic door opener, and a few of my tactical style flashlights. There’s probably more, but that’s off the top of my head…

  2. The cost of the Lithium batteries is quite a bit more than the Alkaline batteries.
    I find the Ray-O-Vac batteries are equal to Duracell but cheaper….

    1. My $50 flashlights use Lithium ion 18650’s and 26650’s and couldn’t hold a Ray-O-Vac.

    2. Yes, the lithium aa batteries do cost more. But if your particular device would benefit from it’s attributes, well, it may be worth it – depending on your application.

      By the way, I stopped using Duracell’s many years ago. Energizer MAX is my “go to” for alkaline battery needs.

      1. ken J. i also stopped using duracell yrs ago, due to them leaking and ruining my devices. they ruined a good flashlight i had.

        1. Hi, yes, same results here.
          Used to be a BIG fan of Duracell Batts until repeatedly leaking and damage.
          They used to guarantee against leakage…

          1. Bob,
            When the production went overseas that was the end of the quality, avoidvthem like the plague now

    3. I have a lot of ray-o-vac, a couple hundred.
      I throw more out than I use due to leakers.
      Very letdown with those and te dates say they have 1 to 3 years left for storage.

      The lithium work great until they don’t, I have been left in the dark a few times because when they finally die the die completely where regular alkaline batteries just get dimmer and dimmer.

      I bought a pack of energizer max and lithium, put them away together last year, I intend to leave them there for another 2+ years and see how well they stored.

  3. But would you use a cheap alkaline in a $3000 pair of NVG? I think not. You clearly have missed the whole point of the article. I think Ken’s point is he uses lithium in critical devices that he does not want damaged by a leaking alkaline battery. All alkaline batteries will leak eventually if exposed to constant temperature swings.

    1. To answer your question, no I would not put an alkaline battery in night vision, nor did I suggest one ought to. And if you think I missed the point all I can say is maybe you missed my point also.

  4. I gave up on DURACELL batteries about 5 years ago!!! They were the best before then. They must have changed their makeup some how and they started to leak. DURACELL ruined many radios and flashlights etc that I had installed them into. NEVER MORE…DURACELL and now I just use ENERGIZER BATTERIES NONE OF THEM EVER LEAK IN MY EXPERIENCE!!!👍

    1. @mountaingator001,
      You are so right! Duracell used to be great batteries many years ago! They definitely changed something.

      Even though I switched to Energizer many years ago, and I thought I had swapped out everything possible around here… Just the other day I found yet another set of Duracell’s installed in a device that I had not used in a very long time. Guess what? The battery compartment was all corroded because the dang Duracell’s leaked! Ughh…

    2. Yes, it’s been a really bad problem for many many many years now, destroying lots of devices from consistent leakage, and the batteries will go dead in a few years consistently, versus the stated 10 year shelflife Advertised. There should be a class action lawsuit against probably millions of dollars in damages, including false advertisement.

    3. mountaingator001: same here, i quit using duracell yrs ago, they ruined some of my devices. had a good flashlight and the things leaked out and by the time i saw the damage, too late.

  5. Critic usually, but for camera equipment or expensive emergency torchlights in boats and several out buildings (in cold climates) , at least double time length of use, plus if items have sat a year outside like rescue snowmobiles, 4×6 heavy snow truck, ultimate lithium by energizer are completely the best, sometimes triple and more the performance of other alkaline batteries even the max,,,,, just no comparison, worth whatever price they want to charge because they work in an emergency.

  6. Please don’t mistake lithium batteries described in this article (these are NOT rechargeable, they are like regular alkaline batteries, only much better) with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in phones and other devices that are recharged. These are two different technologies.

  7. This is a very well written article, right to the point and easy to understand.
    It does not have 100 different ways to look at the 2 Reasons Why Lithium AA Batteries Are Better Than Alkaline.
    Thank You.

    1. Thanks TNBOB! Glad to have been succinct about simply why the lithium is (almost always) a better choice than alkaline.

      [Update 1 year later – I’ve added more reasons why for some applications lithium vs alkaline… lithium wins ]

  8. If a device (a weighing scale in this case) says to use alkaline batteries only, would it be safe to use ultimate lithium batteries? Is the warning truly for alkaline only, or is it to avoid rechargeables?

  9. Just checked my Eveready Gold D 12 packs, two of them that expired in 2016, no leakers and the one battery I tested at 1.59v.
    I do things like that.. hold for years just to see.
    I wish I had more patience with stocks.

    I have eveready d cells in 2 lanterns that still check out above 1.50v from 2013.
    but just now the duracells in my bedroom lantern exp 2005, one of the four is leaking badly, yea way out of it’s time.
    clean it and install eveready.

  10. Ken,
    Automatic chicken coop door? Wow, you guys up north have it “goin’ on.”

  11. A well-written article: Clear, concise, with helpful charts.

    I use Energizer Lithium (as described in this article), Eneloop NiMH, and for flashlights, 18650’s.
    I am *done* with alkaline batteries after they ruined several items, including a *very* expensive Fluke meter. The risk just isn’t worth it to me.

    Nice Fluke 115 you have there, Ken.
    That’s what I use as my “field” meter.

    1. Night Owl,
      flukes are great and i have a few different digital fluke testers for amperage, circuit checks and location and testing capacitors, my old 260 simpson is my go to though,- bomb proof. i like analog, that’s just me. i’m old and it won’t lie to me. ; )
      i do miss working in the field.
      take care and thanks for the post

      1. Scout,

        There’s nothing wrong with an old-school Simpson meter.
        Or an old-school Tektronics (analog) oscilloscope.

        It’s just that “standard issue” in the biomedical engineering dept I worked in for many years was a Fluke 77, so I’ve mostly used digital meters throughout my career. One of the “old guys” (I was in my 20’s, he was in his 50’s) had a Simpson on his bench that he would use for certain measurements.

  12. Scout,

    There’s nothing wrong with an old-school Simpson meter.
    Or an old-school Tektronics (analog) oscilloscope.

    It’s just that “standard issue” in the biomedical engineering dept I worked in for many years was a Fluke 77, so I’ve mostly used digital meters throughout my career. One of the “old guys” (I was in my 20’s, he was in his 50’s) had a Simpson on his bench that he would use for certain measurements.

  13. they also don’t leak acid, so anything you want to keep and not have corrosive bits in it, then lithium last twice as long, weigh about half the weight, and don’t corrode your device.

    1. Lnejmpr — Acid and alkaline neutralize each other. One additional benefit of lithium cells is they work great in sub-freezing temps. I put them in the freezer temp alarm transmitters. People in colder parts of the world will have more use for that feature.

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