Juicing Up Rechargeable Batteries

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Rechargeable batteries have their appeal, including cost savings over time and ecofriendliness, but they have been too inconvenient to be wildly popular. It's hard to keep them charged–the power fades quickly, much more quickly than in traditional alkaline batteries. You also have to charge them for initial use.

That could change with a new class of rechargeables. Some Hybrio batteries that I recently tried, for example, were ready to use right out of the pack. And their manufacturer, North American Battery Co., says they'll retain their charge while sitting on a shelf–after a year, the batteries should lose only about 15 percent. A typical rechargeable loses all its power in a couple of months, if not sooner.

Quick-fading power has made rechargeables too inconvenient for replacing alkalines around the house. I've tried–which meant rotating AAs through the charger to make sure I've got some ready. What a pain.

Not that Hybrio is the answer either, at $3 a battery ($12 for a pack of four AAs). That compares with as low as $1 apiece for generic rechargeables and maybe half that for an alkaline. But a number of companies, including Sanyo and Sony, are making low-discharge rechargeables. If we're lucky, prices will fall, maybe even faster than their juice fades.