Today we bring you more evidence that rechargeable batteries are the way to go for powering all your little green gadgets. To back up that statement once again the Aussies have proved the point with a life cycle assessment of rechargeable batteries versus disposables. Published Online First (2006:7) in the Int J. of LCA, David Parsons tells us that rechargeable batteries including their charger are steps beyond the environmental performance of regular alkaline batteries. In the Faculty of Engineering & Surveying at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba (love that city name!) Australia, Parsons is charging people up with his LCA results (bad pun intended). Although most of the results were pretty much expected (rechargeables are overwhelmingly better than disposables) there was one surprising result: the impact from alkalines in most of the categories studied was dominated by the energy used in wholesaling and retailing those little cylindrical guys. Using world-renowned SimaPro software, Parsons studied a very inclusive life cycle from the cardboard and plastic packaging for both batteries and chargers, the assembly of the packs of batteries, the transport (here assumed from China to Australia), transport to shops, sale (including electricity in shops), the use of the batteries and charger, to their later disposal/recycling of both parts and packaging. He compares two nickel metal hydride (NiMH) AA rechargeable cells, two AA nickel cadmium (NiCd), the battery charger (Energizer Model CHM4FC) and numerous alkaline AA disposables all to generate 1 kWh power. Of course they did an analysis with optimistic, realistic and worst case scenarios in terms of the number of recharges: 400, 50 and 50 respectively.
Recycling rechargeables produces 20% less damage to resources than does throwing them in the bin and land-filling. "Recycling however makes little difference to the damage caused to ecosystem quality or human health because that damage is overwhelmingly due to stages in the life cycle of the battery prior to their disposal. For both damage categories, about 80% of the damage is due to the production of the battery itself, burning of coal for shop electricity and battery charging, and the production of the battery charger." The choice of NiMH batteries is better than NiCd obviously due to the elimination of cadmium from the life cycle and the more efficient energy use of the NiMH option. Among many other interesting results, he also notes that even if rechargeables are not used to their maximum ability (i.e. 50 recharges instead of hundreds), they are still a far better option than disposable alkalines. Bottom line here: NiMH rechargeables are the way to go when it comes to battery choices for Treehuggers. Learn more about batteries via the Green Battery website.