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December 12, 2004
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  Why do people put batteries in the refrigerator?    

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Esther Takeuchi, chair of the battery division of The Electrochemical Society, and vice president of research and development for Wilson Great Batch Limited, replies

Their intention is to try to make them last longer prior to use. I think everybody has had the experience of putting a bunch of batteries in a flashlight and then putting it in the trunk of their car, and they go back when they need the flashlight and it doesn’t work. Because just on standing, batteries actually deplete themselves. So the idea is that there’s a certain amount of chemical inside—it’s a chemical reaction that’s taking place in the battery—and the chemicals basically get used up. They basically just run out of active material.

Most chemical reactions are affected by temperature, and the lower the temperature the slower the chemical reaction. So what people are trying to do is slow down the self-depletion mechanisms of the batteries by keeping them cold.

In general, it does extend the battery’s life. Whether there’s a significant difference that would be measurable to the consumer between room temperature and a refrigerator.... To be honest, I don’t know. But in general it does work—that if batteries are kept cooler while they’re not in use it will extend their shelf life.

So then what about the freezer? Is it even better?

I think one would have to be careful about that. Because it’s the freezer, and the freezer is quite cold. Depending upon the type of batteries, you can actually freeze some of the internal components, and that would not be good. So probably the refrigerator is a safe bet and it will improve things a little bit.

What if there are batteries that you’ve been using but will not use again for a while. Would placing them in the fridge in the meantime help at all?

Yeah, if you plan on storing them for a long time, it probably would. I think typically people put them in the refrigerator before use. Certainly people should not try to use the battery or activate the battery while it’s cold. It may not work very well. But if they let it warm up before they use it, it should help.

What about batteries that are starting to run low?

No, that won’t help. When they start to run low they’re basically used up.

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