Choosing between Nickel Cadmium or Lithium-Ion Batteries

Anything that’s powered by electricity or a battery is going to have an impact on the environment – that’s unavoidable. That doesn’t mean that all battery technology is created equal and we certainly have come a long way in the past couple of decades. Thirty years ago you would have not have found lithium-ion batteries in any technology, but these days they’re in just about every electrical device we use. What did we use before lithium-ion technology? The most common form of rechargeable battery, before lithium-ion technology became the battery of choice, was nickel cadmium.

There are a couple of reasons why lithium-ion technology has for the most part replaced nickel cadmium technology. However, there are still benefits to using the nickel cadmium technology and that’s why you still find them in some electric toothbrushes. Below we look at the advantages versus disadvantages of both types of technology, and which one you should look for in an electric toothbrush.

Nickel Cadmium

Nickel Cadmium technology is not new – it’s been around for a long time. In fact, its first recorded use was by a Swedish inventor by the name of Waldemar Junger way back in 1899. It’s highly unlikely that this Swedish scientist envisioned all of the products that his nickel cadmium technology would be used in, but there’s no doubt he sparked a revolution in how we power our products.

The main benefit of this technology was that it allowed us to make our electrical products more portable – we didn’t have to have an electrical outlet for them to work. When the first electric toothbrushes were released onto the market in the late 50s and early 60s, nickel cadmium wasn’t just the main choice, it was really the only choice for a rechargeable battery.

Environmental Impact of Nickel Cadmium

The reason that we began to look for an alternative to nickel cadmium rechargeable batteries was because of their significant environmental impact. Cadmium is a hazardous heavy metal which can have a serious impact on the environment around us. That makes disposal of these types of batteries a very difficult proposition. This type of battery is still widely used today, but you’ll generally find it used in cheaper products or older technology. The batteries that power our smart devices and computers are almost exclusively lithium-ion.

The Growing Popularity of Lithium-Ion

In contrast to nickel cadmium battery technology, lithium ion technology is a much more recent invention. The first actual commercial use of lithium-ion batteries didn’t begin until 1991. While this technology is still relatively new, it has become the battery of choice in almost all modern rechargeable equipment.

The reason for lithium-ion’s popularity is twofold. For one thing, it holds a charge much better than its nickel cadmium counterpart and tends to have a longer shelf life. Nickel cadmium technology is notorious for spikes in voltage, whereas lithium-ion technology offers a much more steady and reliable energy source.

Perhaps the more important reason that we began the switch to lithium-ion technology is that it has a much lower impact on the environment. Lithium-ion batteries are not hazardous waste as are nickel cadmium batteries. This makes them much easier to dispose of and lessens the environmental impact. In the case of electric toothbrushes, this means your brush will not only work better, when you do have to finally throw it away your conscience will be a little clearer as you’re reducing your footprint on the environment.

Issues with Lithium-Ion Technology

The biggest issue with lithium-ion technology is that these batteries don’t have an extremely long shelf life. Most lithium-ion batteries will start to lose their charging capabilities after only one year and are usually at the end of their life within 2 to 3 years. With respect to electric toothbrushes, in most cases you can’t replace the batteries, so once the lithium-ion battery begins to fail you have to replace the whole unit. Essentially what that means is you’re probably going to have to replace your rechargeable electric toothbrush after three years at the most. If you can find one that does allow you to replace the battery, that’s a big plus; otherwise, you’d probably do best to avoid overly-expensive brushes that will only have to be replaced within three years.

One other thing that may affect your purchase decision is that lithium-ion battery technology is also more expensive to produce; that means you’re probably going to pay more for products that include this type of battery. This explains why the cheaper electric toothbrushes use nickel cadmium batteries almost exclusively. If you’re on a strict budget and you’re not overly concerned about the environmental impact of your purchase decision, the nickel cadmium charged electric toothbrushes may be your best choice.

Go with the Lithium

In spite of a few limitations, lithium-ion charged electric toothbrushes are almost certainly the better choice. Yes, they may be a little bit more expensive, but you get a much more consistent level of power from your brush as you use it, and your conscience will thank you because of the lower impact on the environment.

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