Does Cold Temperature Affect the Life of a Battery?

by Keith Evans

Despite their inanimate state, batteries appear to have a preference for lukewarm temperatures in moderate climates. Batteries rely on differing voltages in different parts of the battery housing to function properly, and cold weather can inhibit the flow of electrons inside the device. For this reason, cold weather can cause batteries to discharge more quickly or even stop working altogether.

Function

To fully evaluate the effects of temperature on a battery, users should first understand how a battery works. The battery and electronics website Battery Education explains that batteries consist of two sets of reactive plates separated by a small barrier. These reactive plates maintain a consistent polarization that keeps all electrons on one side of a fully charged battery. When a user installs the battery into an electronic device or connects battery cables, the device creates a connection between the two charged plates; electrons flow from the negatively charged plate to the positively charged plate through this connection. This flow of electrons creates an electrical current that powers many devices.

Cold Weather Effects

Changes in temperature can have a significant effect on the flow of electrons from one side of a battery to the other. In a January 2011 "Washington Post" article discussing the effects of cold weather on electric cars, columnist Charles Lane explained that cold weather causes the chemical reactions that spur the flow of electrons to occur more slowly than they do in warmer temperatures. Battery Education elaborates that the electrons themselves also flow more slowly, reducing the amount of energy that the battery can provide. This reduction in electrical current can make a cold battery appear sluggish or even dead.

Other Factors

In his "Washington Post" article, Lane goes on to note that a number of other factors can deplete batteries more quickly in cold weather. In electric cars, for example, drivers' tendencies to run energy-intensive accessories such as heaters and seat heaters can quickly deplete a battery's charge. In addition, the same factors that reduce the flow of current from one side of a battery to the other also inhibit the delivery of a charge to rechargeable batteries; for this reason, cold temperatures can lead to significantly longer recharging times and even make rechargeable batteries appear faulty.

Considerations

Despite the effects of cold weather, users may be able to improve battery performance by simply warming the batteries before use. In areas with extreme cold weather, users should keep batteries inside or in warm garages when possible. In addition, Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineer Yet-Ming Chiang explained in a 2008 article that certain types of batteries may perform better in cold weather than other types, and engineers can develop batteries specifically tailored to perform in very low temperatures.

About the Author

Keith Evans has been writing professionally since 1994 and now works from his office outside of Orlando. He has written for various print and online publications and wrote the book, "Appearances: The Art of Class." Evans holds a Bachelor of Arts in organizational communication from Rollins College and is pursuing a Master of Business Administration in strategic leadership from Andrew Jackson University.

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