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Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd) Batteries

Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd) Batteries were invented in 1899 by the Swedish engineer Waldemar Jungner.

A Type C Ni-Cd Battery - Photo from Wikipedia

A Type C Ni-Cd Battery – Photo from Wikipedia

Jungner’s development of the NiCd battery marked a significant advancement in rechargeable battery technology. and provided an alternative to the primary (non-rechargeable) batteries available at that time.

The NiCd battery is a type of rechargeable battery that uses nickel oxide hydroxide and metallic cadmium as its electrode materials. Its operation is based on the electrochemical reactions between these materials and an alkaline electrolyte.

Initially, NiCd batteries gained popularity due to their ability to be recharged multiple times (over 1000 cycles), making them suitable for applications where repetitive use and recharging were required, such as portable electronics, power tools, medical devices and aviation. They were particularly popular in devices requiring high discharge currents and applications that demanded robust and durable battery performance. Up until the mid-1990s, Ni-Cd batteries were the most used rechargeable batteries in home electronics.

However, NiCd batteries cause some concerns due to the presence of toxic cadmium.

Cadmium used in NiCd batteries is associated with a variety of health risks

Cadmium is highly toxic to humans and animals. Prolonged exposure to even low levels of cadmium can cause serious health problems.

Cancer: Cadmium is classified as a human carcinogen by several health organizations, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It has been linked to various types of cancers, such as lung, prostate, kidney, and breast cancer.

Respiratory Issues: Inhalation of cadmium dust or fumes can lead to respiratory problems, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Kidney Damage: Cadmium has a strong affinity for the kidneys, and long-term exposure can cause severe damage to the kidneys. It can lead to kidney failure, which is a potentially life-threatening condition.

Bone Disease: Cadmium can accumulate in bones, disrupting the balance of essential minerals like calcium and impairing bone health. It can lead to a condition called Itai-Itai disease, which causes severe pain and fractures.

Reproductive and Developmental Effects: Cadmium exposure can have adverse effects on reproductive health and development. It can cause infertility, fetal growth restriction, and developmental abnormalities in children.

Effects to the brain’s functionality: Researchers have discovered connection to alzheimers and persistence of memory impairment. You can read about that here.

NiCd batteries production also carries big environmental risks too

Soil Contamination: Cadmium released into the environment through industrial activities, such as mining, smelting, and waste incineration, can contaminate soil. This contamination can persist for a long time and adversely affect plant growth.

Water Pollution: Cadmium can enter water bodies through industrial discharges and runoff from contaminated soil. It can accumulate in aquatic organisms, disrupting ecosystems and posing risks to aquatic life.

Bioaccumulation: Cadmium tends to accumulate in the food chain, particularly in organisms with high fat content. As a result, predators at the top of the food chain, including humans, can be exposed to higher levels of cadmium.

Negative Impact on Biodiversity: Cadmium pollution can harm a wide range of organisms, including plants, animals, and microorganisms. It can disrupt ecosystems and contribute to biodiversity loss.

Alternatives to NiCd batteries

Due to all the above, in recent years there has been a shift towards using more environmentally friendly battery chemistries, such as nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which offer similar or improved performance compared to NiCd batteries but with significantly fewer risks.