Anyone know what happens to alkaline battery if a small current pumped in? For example 0.5uA into a 9V battery alkaline?

I want to add a simple 9V battery + rectifier as backup voltage to a 12v circuit. Voltage regulation isn't important, and 9V would be acceptable. To minimize voltage drop, I need to use a Schottky but in reverse bias, they aren't exactly open circuits. So, the question is, is 0.1uA unintentional "charging" current a problem for shelf-life of standard 9V alkaline?

I have thoughts on a safer battery backup solution (i.e. with relays or rechargeble batt), but its important for me to keep the solution as simple as possible and with maximum battery self-life, and I just want to know the risks of pumping in a small leakage current into the alkaline.


4 Answers 4


Self-discharge of a 9V alkaline with a 20% down shelf life of 5 years and 500mAh capacity is about 2uA, so I don't think that <2uA is any kind of a possible problem. There is no net charging taking place.

On the other hand, Schottky diodes can have very high leakage at high ambient temperature. The self discharge current will also go up with temperature but probably not as fast. So you may want to consider the characteristics at the maximum possible ambient temperature.

So much for logic, let's see what, if anything, the manufacturers recommend.

Eveready (Energizer) has the following blanket disclaimer in their manual (presumably to deal with abuse such as trying to actually recharge alkaline cells at high current, causing heat, evolution of gas, explosion etc.) :


However when you go into their "Design and Safety Considerations", we finally get a real, and sensible, number (emphasis added):

Devices with alternate power supply options should be designed to assure the batteries are isolated from the alternate power supply circuit. Use of external switches, activated by the alternate power supply cord should be avoided. Commercially available "generic" replacement cords may not activate the protection switch. Consider the redundant diode protection against unintended battery charging. Maximum leakage current should never exceed 35 micro amps.

Even allowing for variation between types and manufacturers, it would seem that < 10uA is very, very safe. It's up to you to determine whether some sensible limit like that is respected.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I suspect the shelf life of a good battery with 5 ~ 10 yr rating is only reduced slightly with 1mA charge current as long as it is voltage limited the current will drop to near 0. hence safe as in something like my design. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2019 at 22:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ you never mentioned that a voltage limiter will also prevent damage even from a hot leaky Schottky diode while at the same time cancelling battery leakage or small loads with charging to extend the operating life with a resistor and thus a more effective backup. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 14, 2019 at 5:55

The problem with batteries is that all kinds of weird/nasty chemical reactions can happen when they're mistreated. Those reactions can lead to corrosive substances leaking out of the batteries. We've all seen batteries that have leaked and the mess they can cause.

Unless a manufacturer specifies how much reverse (actually charging!) current is allowed you're well advised not to charge the battery.

But why not simply use a battery that is designed to be charged. There are 9 V NiMh cells that can perform the function that you need. When using a rechargeable cell you can even add a resistor in parallel with the Schottky diode to increase the charging current to about 1 mA or so. That way the NiMh battery well be kept in a charged state.

If a NiMh 9V battery is too expensive for you (the cheap ones aren't of good quality, avoid those) then use a silicon diode (1N4148) instead of the Schottky diode as silicon diodes have much lower leakage currents. So much lower that the current cannot be of issue. You will just have to live with the extra voltage drop of the Silicon diode.

There are also "ideal diode" circuits and ready made modules with such circuits on them (these use MOSFETs to do the switching) but I am unsure if these will provide the very low leakage current that you would need.

  • \$\begingroup\$ NiMH, as I understand it, do not tolerate slow/trickle charge nor do they have long shelf life. And my device needs 9-24V, so the 1N4148 is too costly, in terms of voltage drop. \$\endgroup\$
    – codechimp
    Jan 12, 2019 at 0:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ do not tolerate slow/trickle charge That depends, in general trickle charging at 0.05C or lower is acceptable. nor do they have long shelf life. Also depends on the model, some are better than others in this respect. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2019 at 12:55

Can't put safety and alkaline in the same sentence. Alkaline batteries leak, through the valve meant to stop explosion when they are about to leak.

For a good alkaline, 0.1uA is nothing. A good freshly depleted alkaline can even be recharged to about half of original capacity. But do you know if the alkaline is in good condition? I've had alkaline batteries from all the top manufacturers leak years before expiry date, sometimes in the sealed packaging, sometimes in gadgets that were then destroyed due to the leaked alkaline cell.

If the current draw from battery is low and the battery needs to be installed for an extended time (more than a month), use heavy duty zinc chloride. Nowadays they don't leak, cause minimal damage if they do leak, are nearly as good as alkaline in mAH/price. Buy fresh though, as they start deteriorating after manufacture.

Although it sounds bad, if price is a concern, for short term backup, one can consider lead acid batteries. The tiny 4V ones come at 250-300 mAH. They will tolerate a floating voltage forever. They may cost about the same price as an alkaline AA. Also, you can get them in any mAH you may require, and AH/price seems to be almost linear for all sizes.

NiMH does have some limitations. They are expensive, cannot be trickle charged, risk of polarity reversal when a bunch of them are in series.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The best AA cells are now Eneloop by Panasonic which use super-lattice crystal aligned secondary NiMH with the highest capacity but not best Wh/$/ Duracell Alkaline are still the most economical cells. here. ( @misunderstood proved that in a answer.) panasonic-eneloop.eu/en/eneloop-self-discharge \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2019 at 23:43

Rechargeable batteries including RAM (rechargeable alkaline manganese) batteries are specially designed to help reduce this risk. REF

If you limit the voltage the the battery can never reach over voltage which is the primary risk cause of constant current failure. So you could charge it with 100mA forever as long as the voltage is shunt limited to 9.0V.

The reason everybody says DO NOT CHARGE more than xx uA is because the voltage can increase beyond the safe limit of 1.525V per cell. So if you have a 9.0V clamp, you are safe to charge any reasonable power in mA you want. ( <100mA <= 1/4W from ESR ) I said SAFE but it may reduce life expectancy on some depending on quality leaks. so 100uA is harmless if voltage limited. But they dont tell the public this so they can sell more batteries.


I had once re-charged Alk. 9V batteries safely with 10mA for long periods. You can recover 10% of the capacity or keep on float at 9V from occasional drain.

To do this use a 9V limiter with series R for ~3mA from 12V or 1k Ohms.

9V limiter can be 3 white 3mm LEDs in series with 33 Ohms ( or 100 Ohms with 5mm LEDs) across battery


simulate this circuit – Schematic created using CircuitLab


But that was 40 yrs ago and I never did long term testing on every battery OEM.


-cheap Alkaline batteries can self discharge when left alone , then leak H2 , break seal then leak strong Potassium Alkaline that dries to white powder and cleaned with Vinegar. Reverse charge might accelerate this leakage on good batteries like Energizer with guaranteed shelf life..


Alkalines are pretty linear 1.10 being dead and 1.535 or so being new/full. and 9V cells use 6S cells in series.


We know Ah capacity are often linked to mass of the battery.

Energizers are 50gm per 9V cell in bulk

Sony 9V cells are 57 gms. (better?)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I threw away yet another new leaking Duracell AAA today (in sealed bubble pack). Expiry date was 2022. \$\endgroup\$
    – Indraneel
    Jan 11, 2019 at 20:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Which country was it made in? I had 3 dead AAA's in a box of 100 cheap alk.s \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2019 at 20:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ DUR. Duracell was by Gillette. then merged with Procter & Gamble so the quality has suffered. China? India? Belgium? USA? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2019 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am in India, but cells are made in China. Eveready have away millions of alkalines with LED bulbs in the last 5 years. House cleaning? I don't know, but had to throw away about 50% of them. Energizer probably fares better, but I don't remember exactly how many I threw away. It may be the summer heat here, but still... However, unlike alkalines, Zinc Chloride does better at higher temps. Last unused zinc chloride I threw away was in the last century. \$\endgroup\$
    – Indraneel
    Jan 11, 2019 at 21:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps in your case, yet the conventional experience is opposite. with acidic cases differencebetween.net/technology/… \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2019 at 22:06

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