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Looking around Amazon, it seems that different types of batteries are measured differently:

Does anyone know why?

I assume that Alkalines are not measured for some sort of historical reason with marketing departments?

... or is it that alkalines so mystical and unreliable that giving them a measurement is too aggressive? Or that switching to non-toxic / non-mercury was such a bad move in performance that measurements had to be removed in the 90s so people wouldn't know?

Perhaps NiMH are measured in mAh because the voltage can very so greatly and mWh doesn't make sense?

Are Li-ion measured in mWh because that's more consistent with non-battery measurements and they do deliver reliable voltage?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that you’ve only looked on amazon (unreputable in my book) and not uncovered any proper data sheets for reputable batteries, I’d say your question was flawed. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Dec 30 '19 at 9:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've only ever seen them measured in mAh regardless of type. \$\endgroup\$ – DKNguyen Dec 30 '19 at 20:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CoolAJ86 I notice. Presumably Stack Overflow benefits - and not the poster. Presumably SO has no problem with this :-). || More importantly to you - did you see how the links can be inserted so they are unseen in the displayed text - which was your originally given reason for using compressed links. eg when I remove the "~" this: [My pretty pictures]~(bit.ly/russellrr) becomes My pretty pictures <- yes. it's safe. Some of my photos from NZ and various other countries. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jan 2 at 5:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon: see Auto-inserting Stack Overflow affiliate into all Amazon links. Also here. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Tweed Jan 2 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaveTweed Thanks. And update here . I understand that to say that most Amazon links are automatically auto converted to S.O. affiliate links and that the problem with the originals is that the use of a URL shortened tended to bypass that process. No response required unless that's significantly wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jan 2 at 12:45
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cIt's complex, and some of the answers are "soft" and some of you assumptions are (reasonably enough) inexact.

Li-ion are measured in mWh

LiIon cells are frequently measured in mAh capacity.
LiIon batteries (1 or more cells) often have mWh and mAh markings.
Neither is a certain measure of what a user will receive.
Both are useful.
(cf George Box's "All models are wrong, some models are useful")

A LiIon cell have a mean voltage of 3.6 to 3.7V.
If you multiply the mAh rating x 3.6 or 3.7 you get the Wh capacity.
The true Ah capacity of ANY battery depends on usage profile - constant current, constant power, pulsed drain of X amps for xx ms every xxx ms etc.
LiIon is relatively close in mAh ratings across its capacity range compared to some other chemistries.

A LiIon cell in low to medium power applications (eg total discharge times of hours) has Vout of 4.2 V o/c fully charged and say 3V fully discharged at light or typical currents.
Vmean is say 3.6V.
If you discharge at constant power of say 10W then
at 4.2V I = P/V ~= 2.4A and
at 3V I = P/V = 10/ 3 = 3.33 A.
ie a change of 2.5:3.3 ~= 0.75:1 or 1.33.

If a mAh rating is used then a say 6Ah cell will give
t = Ah/I = 6/3.3 or 6/2.5
= 1.8 hours or 2.4 hours at the current extremes, and in practice somewhere in between.

The same cell will probably be rated as Wh = Ah x 3.6V = 6 x 3.6 = 21.6 Wh.
Run time = Wh/P = 21.6/10 = 2.6 hours.
In this case the true run time will probably not exactly match and of the above but is liable to be near or maybe above the 2.6 hour figure.

If discharge was at constant current different calculations apply.
Say we set 10W at 3.6V =~ 2.75A
At 4.2 V, P = V x I = 4.2 x 2.75 = 11.6 W
At 3V, P = 3 x 2.75 = 8.25W
Ah rating gives discharge life of t = Ah/I = 6/2.75 = 2.18 hours
Wh rating gives time of t = Wh/P_V3.6 = 21.6 / 10 = 2.16 hours.
Close enough.
Neither may be correct.

As you draw more current from a LiIon (or any other) cell the voltage will drop. Terminal voltage will depend on state of charge, current, capacity, past history, ... . A voltage is lower or much lower at very high drain, the chosen termination voltage will affect the apparent mAh capacity.

And more

So - a LiIon battery Wh rating from a reputable supplier is the approximate Wh achieved under typical use in a typical application. A battery in a laptop may (or may not) be rated differently than one in an eg power wall, or electric vehicle or power tool.

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NiMH are measured in mAh

More liable to be true.
NimH have a far flatter discharge voltage curve across their capacity range.
Usually we take Vmin = 1V or even higher.
Vavg may be around 1.2V at low to medium loads and l.2 - 1.15V as load increases - and lower under very heavy loads.

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Alkalines are typically not measured

Largely true.
Datasheets with extensive to extremely extensive information are available from reputable manufacturers. Those who know the fine detail of their requirements and wish to design for an application are generally well served.
Those who wish to pop in a new set of batteries are passed on to the marketing department.

Top AA Alkalines are nowadays about on par mAh wise with the top NimH AA cells.
Actual capacity can depend very substantially on the application and conditions. No/low/medium/high currents, pulsed versus intermittent versus continuous loads and more alter the results.

If you are an end user and you want a well performing battery then "long lasting" and "longest lasting" are less important than the brand name. mAh or Wh ratings would be a guide, but no better than the brand name for most users.

For longest lasting top energy AA cells Eveready Lithium primary cells seem currently to be "it". Other reputable brands products will not be far behind They have a very flat discharge curve at usefully higher voltages than Alkalines across the discharge range.

I personally never buy top brand Alkalines as I have found that "trustable"* volume-sold rebranded Alkalines provide better energy capacity per $.

  • Trustable:
    Usually those sold by larger chain stores or major outlets.
    MUST weigh >= 20 grams. 23g better. More again better still.

"New" Alkaline Vo/c:

1.65V+ New new.
1.6 - 1.65 V - 0-6 months. Maybe 1 year since manufacture.
1.55 - 1.6V - 12 -24 months old. Maybe more.
Under 1.55V - NOT Alkaline or very old.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer, but can you format it to be more legible? (subheadings and suchlike) \$\endgroup\$ – smci Jan 1 at 9:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ what smci said, and also could you re-check units and symbols? it's not a big issue, but I suppose things like The same cell will probably be rated as C = Ah x 3.6V = 6 x 3.6 = 21.6 Wh could confuse someone. C looks like Capacity (current x time = Ah ~= Coulomb) or Capacitance (just by letter C), while the right side is clearly Work or Energy (voltage x current x time = power x time = Joules, Calories). Similarly in other places you use time = C/I, time = C/P etc, so even the meaning of unclear 'C' fluctuates. I didn't check the text thoroughly, there may be more similar cases. \$\endgroup\$ – quetzalcoatl Jan 2 at 11:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @quetzalcoatl It's a problem. c / Celsius for temperature. C / coulomb for charge. BUT it is internationally common to use C for battery capacity in eg mAh. || Note that C/i = Ah/A = h = time. I agree that C/P is wrong in that sense - without looking I imagine I meant Wh/P = t. smci edit ed the answer unacceptably and I rolled it back. I'll consider headings. Maybe :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jan 2 at 12:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @quetzalcoatl I have up on C and changed all (hopefully) to Ah or Wh or whateverhour :-). Headings later maybe. | Sleep time. New Zealand \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jan 2 at 12:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! --someletterstoget15chars \$\endgroup\$ – quetzalcoatl Jan 2 at 13:01
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It's marketing, like PMPO watts. Big numbers sell!

If the battery is 1.2V nominal, there won't be a big difference between W.h and A.h numbers.

But if the battery is 3.6V nominal, the W.h number will be 3.6 times more bigger than the A.h number! So a 1200 mWh 3.6V battery sounds a lot better than a 330 mAh battery... even though it's the same battery of course, I bet one description sells more product than the other...

It's like ebay LEDs. 20000 millicandelas, wow! (and one lumen).

Any battery can be measured in W.h or A.h.

A.h is more relevant if the load draws constant current.

W.h is more relevant if the load draws constant power (for example, it uses a switching DC-DC).

Alkalines typically aren't rated in mAh because 1) the internal resistance is a bit high so capacity decreases at high load current. So a single capacity number would only be correct at a certain load current. And 2) since pretty much all alkaline batteries are the same, how the hell would they sell you "brand name" for 5x the price of "low end" if you knew they had the same capacity?.......

Also there is no 18650 cell on the market with more than about 4000mAh capacity, and usually it's around 3000-3600, so all the "9999mAh" cells are counterfeit. They are basically "whatever we found and could slap a label on." There are tons of counterfeit batteries for sale, especially lithium. My personal opinion is that if someone lies on the capacity, I'm not going to trust them to sell a safe product either.

enter image description here

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So what I'm hearing is that a rechargeable lithium AA will typically have less capacity than NiMH. So do you think a 3000mWh li-ion AA is measured on the stepped-down 1.5v (approx 2000 mAh) or the original 3.6v (approx 833 mAh)? \$\endgroup\$ – CoolAJ86 Dec 30 '19 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that depends on the honesty of the seller... Quite often power-packs with 5V USB output are marketed with the mAh rating of the internal 3.6V batteries. Of course the mAh rating of 5V output would be lower. \$\endgroup\$ – peufeu Dec 30 '19 at 21:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ IF a LiIon AA had a 833 mAh 3.6V mean LiIon AA core and a 1.5V constant output then - LiIon energy = 833 x 3.6 =~ 3000 mWh capacity. The max likely output would be about 90% of that (a good buck converter) so say 2700 mWh. So mAh of output at 1.5V constant = 2700/1.5 = 1800 mAh at 1.5V delivered. I'd not be surprised if the LiIon Wh and 1.5V mAh were advertised :-) :-( \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jan 1 at 8:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice picture ! :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jan 1 at 11:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a dude on youtube who bought a 4x18650 cells USB power bank, disassembled it, one 18650 was legit and all the others filled with sand XD \$\endgroup\$ – peufeu Jan 1 at 12:45
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Not all loads are constant power or constant resistance or constant current or constant in any other category as the voltage drops at 20% and the double layer effects in all batteries as well as the double C (Farads) and ESR (milliohms) products affect the high drain capacity reductions more.

Squeezing out the last 10% SoC might result in 30% drop in initial voltage which for constant power loads results in a >30% increase in current.

There is no perfect metric but many graphs of constant R,P,I help predict capacity.

More important than single use capacity might be lifetime capacity which as reported by Battery University can be significantly extended by reducing the usage between the range of 50 to 90% with something like 10x the charge cycles vs using 0 to to 100% State of Charge.

For a broader perspective comparing all batteries

Lithium has much higher Coulombic efficiency than NiMH, but mWh is a more useful value as a unit of energy.

Lithium are often rated for a 20% drop in voltage 3.8 to 3.0 NiMH are often rated for a 30% drop in voltage 1.3 to 0.9V but only 20% in large strings to prevent reverse V. So that is similar.

Alkalines do have a very good mAh rating , it's just not advertised to consumers on Amazon. Shopping on Amazon, EBay etc. , don't expect to find any decent engineering specs. on these shopping channels. Buyer Beware. Go to the OEM website.

https://www.duracell.com/en-us/techlibrary/product-technical-data-sheets
http://data.energizer.com/pdfs/e91.pdf <= ~ 5Wh @ 25mA for AA from 1.5 to 0.9V or 40% V drop.

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Alkaline battery capacity depends too much on load, it's too complex for the average consumer to understand and the difference between brands is small. Primary (non-rechargeable) lithium AA cells have more stable capacity but they are oriented to the same market.

Capacity for NIMH batteries actually is quite stable under load. There is a trade-off between capacity,self-discharge and cycle life (and price), so low self-discharge batteries with high cycle life are often recommended even if their capacity is inferior. Li-ion batteries with a built-in buck converter maintain around 1.5V for the entire discharge duration, so rating them in mAh at 1.5V would look disfavourable when comparing against 1.2V nominal NiMH, they have a smaller lithium-cell inside as the converter needs some room so their capacity in Wh is lower than a 14500 li-ion cell of the same size. The recent increment in capacity for such batteries is mainly product of better production processes in chinese cell companies, as large occidental li-ion companies are not very interested in small cell formats.

You can find testing results for several types of batteries at lygte-info, results for AA can be found at the AA/AAA comparator.

For a Ikea 23050 AA (alkaline) the approximated capacity and energy measured at different loads were:

  • 0.01A: 3.1Ah -
  • 0.1A: 2.6Ah 3.2Wh
  • 0.2A: 2.05Ah 2.5Wh
  • 0.5A: 1.25Ah 1.45Wh
  • 1.0A: 1.0Ah 1.1Wh
  • 2.0A: 0.85Ah 0.85Wh

Non-rechargeable Energizer "Ultimate" Lithium AA (2019):

  • 0.1A: 3.6Ah 5.25Wh
  • 2.0A: 2.9Ah 3.3Wh

1900mAh Eneloop (low self-discharge NiMH):

  • 0.1A: 1.9Ah 2.45Wh
  • 2.0A: 1.8Ah 2.15Wh

2700mAh Powerex (low self-discharge NiMH but to a lesser extent than Eneloops):

  • 0.1A: 2.55Ah 3.25Wh
  • 2.0A: 2.4Ah 2.75Wh

3000mWh Kentli (li-ion with built-in buck converter to 1.5V):

  • 0.1A: 2.0Ah 3.0Wh
  • 2.0A: 1.5AH 2.25Wh

For comparison a 3.7V 1000mAh Keeppowers 14500 (li-ion):

  • 0.1A: 0.98Ah 3.6Wh
  • 2.0A: 0.9Ah 3.1Wh
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Traditionally, battery capacity was specified in mAh or Ah. When the only rechargeable types commonly used were Nicad, NiMH and Lead-acid, it wasn't hard to relate to because only two voltages were involved - 1.2V for Nicad/NimH and 2.0V for lead-acid.

But then Li-ion cells became available with various nominal voltages, which made relating their energy densities more difficult. Modern devices often use switching DC/DC converters which raise or lower the voltage, making run time calculations more difficult. Using Wh capacity instead means you don't have to take into account the battery voltage.

However most Li-ion cells are still rated by mAh capacity. The Wh rating is more commonly used in consumer products, ostensibly to make comparing different devices easier, but perhaps also because a larger number sounds more impressive. Such marketing tricks may also explain why power banks are often rated by mAh capacity of the cell, when the output capacity is lower because the voltage is boosted from 3.7V to 5V.

Another marketing tactic commonly used for rechargeable cells is quoting an 'optimistic' theoretical rating that is almost never achieved in practice. Some more reputable manufacturers have bucked this trend by quoting a 'minimum' capacity that should be achieved at the standard discharge rate.

Primary cells have traditionally not been given a capacity rating because it varies so much depending on usage, and since they won't be recharged it is of less importance. However once again marketing rules. Customers might be less inclined to buy non-rechargeable cells if they knew the actual energy they would get out of them, and manufacturers could be liable for cells not meeting their stated capacity. So instead they describe them with names like 'super' and 'ultra' which have no quantitative meaning. That way customers can't do the math to determine whether they are worth paying for.

The website lygte-info.dk has independent test data for many different consumer cells, including Alkaline, NiMH and Li-ion. Most of the Li-ion cells I looked at had the mAh capacity written on them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. Duracell etc publish capacity data for their alkaline batteries if you dig around on their website. Like you say, there is not one number. It varies a lot depending on the load. \$\endgroup\$ – mkeith Dec 30 '19 at 9:22
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Lithium has much higher Coulombic efficiency than NiMH, but mWh is a more useful value as a unit of energy.

Lithium are often rated for a 20% drop in voltage 3.8 to 3.0
NiMH are often rated for a 30% drop in voltage 1.3 to 0.9V but only 20% in large strings to prevent reverse V. So that is similar.

Alkalines do have a very good mAh rating , it's just not advertised to consumers on Amazon.
https://www.duracell.com/en-us/techlibrary/product-technical-data-sheets http://data.energizer.com/pdfs/e91.pdf <= ~ 5Wh @ 25mA for AA from 1.5 to 0.9V or 40% V drop.

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