Tuesday Obituary: Battery

Tuesday Obituary: Battery

by Sahar Tavakoli

Returning the reaction: The battery that powered my toothbrush is dead. Made in China and marked best used by September 2028, the 1.5 volt AAA LR03 Philips battery emitted its final electric charge about a month and a half ago.

Batteries of all shapes, sizes, and purposes contain within themselves a positively charged anode and a negatively charged cathode.* The release of electrons from a battery’s anode terminal to its cathode end, the resultant release of ions by the cathode, and the adoption of those electrons by the anode constitute the circuit by which chemical potential energy is converted into an electric charge. The transfer of ions from cathode to anode, however, requires the mediation of an electrolyte, and whether a battery is marked acid- or alkaline- depends on that electrolyte’s particular potential of hydrogen. In the late AAA, zinc powder and manganese dioxide met in a solution of potassium hydroxide, which, though any precise measurement of its alkalinity here would require knowledge of its solution concentration, placed the battery’s electrolyte pH somewhere in the range of 10-13. All to say that in the technical sense of the term, the battery was basic.

Still, in a message printed on its metalized plastic film coating, the AAA expressed a plea that read more vulnerable than salty. A tiny, cylindrical Rosetta Stone, all it asked for was kindness. Kindness and a poetic YOLO:

Do not misuse. Non rechargeable.

Nur sachgerecht verwenden. Nicht wiederaufladbar.

Utiliser correctement. Non rechargeable.

I’m rather new to the electric toothbrush world and so, as its buzzing tapered out to a halt, I assumed failure on the part of the brush rather than the associated fuel cell. I kept using the toothbrush, now manual rather than electric, for a few days before it occurred to me to check the AAA. I pressed its positive end to my tongue and felt both relief and disappointment that I didn’t experience the sharp pain of electrocution.** I then took the battery over to my kitchen counter where it’s been sitting since as I continuously forget to take it to my local Ace Hardware for safe disposal.

1.5 volt AAA LR03 Philips battery is survived by my Philips One by Sonicare toothbrush and by a tube of Colgate Optic White, though it might be reunited with the latter in the water closet of the firmament some time soon.

*A brief point on taxonomies. No single system of classifications exists for batteries. Even within the category of ‘cylindrical batteries,’ batteries can be organized into groups on the basis of cell number, chemical composition, or size. The AAA is neither specific in nominal voltage nor typical capacity. It also goes by names other than AAA, including but not limited to U16, Type 286, and Microlight

**A note from friend and scholar of energy systems, Camillo Stubenberg: You would never feel anything only licking a single side of the battery. would have to somehow touch both plus and minus at the same time.

Having only ever licked 9-volt batteries in the past (where the positive and negative terminals are placed side by side on a single battery end), I was unaware of this. 

Sahar Tavakoli writes The Stopgap’s late news (10 letters). 

Tip Sahar