Test proves expensive batteries don’t last longer

The Dutch TV show ‘De Rekenkamer‘ has revealed the price of the materials used in batteries and whether more expensive batteries are worth the money. The TV show tested batteries of German discounter Lidl, Dutch retail chain Hema, widely known German battery brand and manufacturer Varta, batteries of Panasonic and the world’s most famous battery brand Duracell.

For each brand the cost of four batteries was calculated,  Lidl sells four batteries at €0.95 / $1.30, the Hema at €3.50 / $4.85, Varta batteries cost €3.99 / $5.50 per four, Panasonic sells them at €5.50 / $7.60 and Duracell is by far the most expensive at €7.99 / $11.00 for four batteries. While Duracell is likely the best known battery brand in the world, they also come at a cost. The batteries are 8x more expensive than those of  Lidl, the cheapest brand.

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All tested batteries were Alkaline AA, had a voltage of 1.5V but none of the batteries showed the capacity on the package. The question the TV show asked is; do batteries that cost 8x times more also last 8x times longer than the cheaper ones? 

The question was answered by Marnix Wagemaker, a battery researcher of the Technical University of Delft, the Netherlands. He tested the batteries in a camera and in a remote control. Both were specially prepared for the test, to make it possible to measure the time the batteries lasted. The results are surprising and show that more expensive batteries do not necessarily last longer.

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In the camera the Varta batteries lasted longer than the other ones, but the difference can hardly be called significant. Especially when the price of the batteries is taken in account, the least expensive battery is the best value for money by far.

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In the remote control, a device that consumes only a little energy each time used, the differences are also hardly noticeable, again the cheap battery is by far the best value for money. Although real world performance doesn’t differ much between the brands, by adding Ultra Power, Extra Power, High Energy and similar terms, the brands hope to convince consumers their batteries last longer.

And their marketing works, when the TV show asked people on the streets they thought Ultra Ultra Power batteries would last longer than Ultra Power batteries. One person even argued that more expensive batteries resulted in better audio quality.

The show also investigated the cost of the material of which each battery is made. A battery consists of a steel can, manganese dioxide for the positive electrode, zinc for the negative electrode and an electrolyte. According to the TV show, the cost of the material of a battery is no more than € 0.03 / $0.04. This means that the four batteries combined cost €0.12 / $0.17. Obviously this only the material, actual production costs, transportation, marketing and profit margins are not included.

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Last but not least, the batteries from Lidl and Varta are likely produced in the same factory. The TV show visited the only battery factory in Germany, the one that makes Varta branded ones. However as it’s the only battery factory in Germany, all batteries that state ‘manufactured in Germany’ are likely coming from that factory. And guess what, that’s exactly what the package of the cheapest Lidl batteries say.