Rechargeable batteries can sometimes be a hard sell thanks to retail pricing. When you are looking at a USB rechargeable cell that costs roughly $7.00 per unit, an alkaline disposable at $1.00 - 2.00 per unit suddenly seems attractive. So why such a large price disparity?
This post will explain why reusable batteries are so expensive on a per unit basis. But it will also break down the costs in terms of overall expenditure. If you did not know it before, you will discover that reusable batteries cost less in the long run even though the price at the register is higher.
Higher Retail Prices
Most of the cost of reusable batteries is found in the chemicals they contain. In the case of our lithium ion batteries, the chemistry is pretty straightforward. A typical lithium-ion battery utilizes lithium cobalt oxide as the cathode, graphite as the anode, and a lithium salt as the solution that carries ions in both directions.
Although lithium is quite expensive, it only makes up about 3% of the total volume of a USB rechargeable battery. So even if the lithium were free, reusable batteries would still be more expensive. The real cost is in the cobalt.
Cobalt is hard to come by because it is not mined directly. Instead, it is a byproduct of mining other materials. Furthermore, most of the world supply of cobalt comes from a single country. That makes it very expensive.
Again, reusable batteries are often a hard sell. Consumers look at the battery rack and see they can get a 4-pack of disposal batteries for a fraction of the cost of lithium-ion reusable batteries. At that moment, retail price is all they see, so they buy the disposables.
Consumers indeed save money in the moment by going the disposable. But what about over time? What must be understood is that a USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery can be recharged 1000 times or more.
We went to Walmart's website and checked out a well-known brand of AA batteries sold as a 4-pack. At a retail price of $4.34, each cell cost $1.09. Compare that to our $29.99 price for a 4-pack of AA reusable batteries. Our per unit price is about $7.50 per cell.
The higher price should be easier to swallow because you can charge one of our cells more than 1000 times. You cannot recharge disposable batteries. So if you were to buy 1,000 of the brand-name disposables we found at Walmart, you would spend $1,090. Which one is more expensive now?
Buying Disposables in Bulk
We will not deny that you can buy disposal batteries in bulk for next to nothing. Again, we did some checking. We visited the Amazon website and found AA disposables as cheap as $.32 per unit. But let us do the math again. Buying 1,000 batteries at $.32 each would run you $320. One of our USB rechargeable cells is still only $7.50.
In the end, it might boil down to how often you buy batteries. If your needs are such that you only buy a single pack of disposable batteries per year, it is going to be cheaper for you to stick with that format. That is because disposable batteries have a superior shelf life. Such infrequent use doesn't justify the higher cost of rechargeables.
On the other hand, if you find yourself constantly buying disposables to power everything from your headlamp to your electric razor, it's a pretty safe bet that the math would bear out similar results to what we've offered here. You are probably spending more on disposables than you would on rechargeable batteries.