Editorial Feature

Advantages and Limitations of Zinc Carbon Batteries

The technological cornerstone of today’s expanding battery market is the zinc carbon battery, also known as the dry cell. This article discusses zinc carbon batteries, their components, as well as their applications and limitations. It also provides a comparison between zinc carbon and alkaline batteries.

zinc carbon batteries, what are zinc carbon batteries, advantages of zinc carbon batteries, disadvantages of zinc carbon batteries

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Zinc Carbon Batteries

The zinc carbon cell, also known as the dry cell or Leclanche cell after its inventor Georges Leclanche, is the ancestor of modern cells. Over the past 100 years, zinc carbon batteries have become widely used. Leclanche batteries and zinc chloride batteries are the two most common varieties of zinc carbon batteries.

There are two primary kinds of zinc carbon dry cells: cylinder cells and flat cells. While flat cells are typically offered from four to 300 or more cells in a stack or set of stacks, cylindrical cells are either sold alone or with two more in a battery.

Making Zinc Carbon Batteries

A zinc anode, a manganese dioxide cathode, and an ammonium chloride or zinc chloride electrolyte that is dissolved in water make up the zinc carbon cell. The cathode mix is often a moist mixture of specific carbon black, manganese dioxide powder, an electrolyte, and a solution.

An equal amount of salts from the electrode material must move or change for a galvanic cell to produce one unit of electrical energy. The cathode contains solid ammonium chloride, which serves as a fuel reserve for the cell during intermittent operation. Materials like gum karaya and ion exchange resins are added to the cathode to increase the discharge efficiency. Ammonium chloride and zinc chloride combine to form a moist mixture in an aqueous solution.

Additionally, zinc carbon cells have separators up to 3.5 mm thick constructed of cereal paste and electrolyte solution that act as a membrane between the electrodes and a reservoir for the electrolyte.

Characteristics of Zinc Carbon Batteries

During normal operation, zinc carbon batteries deliver 1.4 to 1.7 V of D.C. electric power, which progressively drops to 0.9 V. The cells remain affordable whether employed on large or low electrical loads since they are unaffected by the numerous contaminants included in their constituents. Despite being inexpensive, the cells have a very long shelf life and very little leakage when left idle for extended periods of time.

The type of anode and cathode materials used in the battery cell determines the standard voltage rating of a zinc carbon battery. Zinc has an electrode potential of -0.7 V, but manganese dioxide has an electrode potential of 1.28 V. Theoretically, each cell should have a voltage of - (-0.76) + 1.23 = 1.99 V; however, due to a variety of real-world factors, the maximum voltage that a typical zinc carbon battery can produce is only 1.5 V.

Each electrode and packaging material used in zinc carbon batteries must be of the highest quality; otherwise, the performance of the cell will be somewhat diminished. The majority of dry cells combine zinc with mercury, which greatly increases their corrosion resistance over time. Due to the cadmium's refinement of the grain and ability to make the alloy tougher and more corrosion resistant, the zinc may additionally contain up to 0.05% cadmium and 0.25% lead. Another crucial element is the manganese dioxide cathode material, which needs to be extremely pure. Graphite or acetylene (carbon) black is always added to the manganese dioxide to improve the conductivity and absorption of the electrolyte.

Advantages of Zinc Carbon Batteries

The Leclanche batteries are low-cost and come in various shapes, sizes, and capacities. The zinc chloride batteries have higher energy density and high efficiency under heavy discharge conditions. They also have better low-temperature performance and smaller leakage resistance.

Disadvantages of Zinc Carbon Batteries

The disadvantages of Leclanche batteries include low energy density, poor service in low temperatures, poor leakage resistance, and inefficient performance in high current drain applications. Additionally, their shelf life is poor, and their voltage falls steadily with discharge. Other disadvantages of zinc carbon batteries include a high gassing rate and extreme sensitivity to oxygen.

Applications of Zinc Carbon Batteries

In a recent study published in the journal RSC Advances, the authors discussed a straightforward, environment-friendly method for recycling using zinc carbon batteries to produce carbon dots and porous carbon. They proposed the hydrothermal treatment of a carbon rod in a solution of de-ionized (DI) water and pure ethanol to produce a blue fluorescence under ultraviolet (UV) light, which was employed as a fluorescence ink to produce the carbon dots. The as-prepared carbon dots ranged in size from 3 to 8 nm and had a strong light blue fluorescence. The porous carbon material was also regenerated from carbon powder in a used battery using a one-step green annealing process with a hierarchically porous structure and no chemical activation.

The team provided a promising method to recycle used zinc carbon batteries by the simple, environment-friendly hydrothermal and calcination processes, which could have numerous applications.

Zinc Carbon Batteries vs. Alkaline Batteries

The energy density of alkaline batteries is higher than that of zinc carbon batteries. They are more tolerant of high current discharge and have more capacity, and alkaline batteries outlast zinc carbon batteries in terms of shelf life. Zinc carbon batteries are utilized in low-energy gadgets, whereas devices with continuous higher energy use alkaline batteries. Alkaline batteries are less likely to leak than zinc carbon batteries, which are more dangerous overall.

More from AZoM: Can Sea Water Power Batteries of the Future?

References and Further Reading

Molecular expressions: Electricity and magnetism: Zinc-carbon battery. Available at: https://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/electromag/electricity/batteries/zinccarbon.html (Accessed: January 23, 2023).

Electrical4U (2020) Zinc carbon battery: Types of zinc carbon battery: Advantages and disadvantages, Electrical4U. Available at: https://www.electrical4u.com/zinc carbon-battery/ (Accessed: January 23, 2023).

Dehghani-Sanij, A. R., Tharumalingam, E., Dusseault, M. B., et. al., Study of energy storage systems and environmental challenges of batteries, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 104, 192-208 (2019). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1364032119300334

Le, P-A., Le, V. Q., Nguyen, N. T., et. al., Multifunctional applications for waste zinc–carbon battery to synthesize carbon dots and symmetrical solid-state supercapacitors, RSC Advances, 17 (2022). https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2022/ra/d2ra00978a

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Surbhi Jain

Written by

Surbhi Jain

Surbhi Jain is a freelance Technical writer based in Delhi, India. She holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Delhi and has participated in several scientific, cultural, and sports events. Her academic background is in Material Science research with a specialization in the development of optical devices and sensors. She has extensive experience in content writing, editing, experimental data analysis, and project management and has published 7 research papers in Scopus-indexed journals and filed 2 Indian patents based on her research work. She is passionate about reading, writing, research, and technology, and enjoys cooking, acting, gardening, and sports.


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