N batteries are small, stocky cylindrical batteries about three-fifths the size of a standard AA battery. They are 30.2 mm long with a diameter of 12.0 mm.
N battery cells come in a variety of chemistries and depending on the brand, you’ll find them with one of the following designations:
N batteries are defined by their size (12 mm width x 30.2 mm length), but they come in a range of electrochemical systems.
The table below shows the different electrochemical systems that N batteries come in.
As you can see, all N batteries operate between 1.2 and 1.5 volts. They also have a capacity of between 200 and 1000 mAh (depending on the battery chemistry).
Zinc-Carbon N Cells
The zinc-carbon N cell uses a zinc anode and manganese oxide for the cathode. The cathode is mixed with carbon to increase the cell’s conductivity and to help it maintain moisture. However, the carbon doesn’t participate in the chemical reactions; only the manganese oxide does.
Zinc-carbon N cells typically have:
- A voltage of 1.5 V
- A useful life allowing for 110 minutes of continuous use
- A shelf life of 1–2 years when stored at room temperature
The cells have a basic structure. The zinc, along with the mixture of carbon and manganese oxide electrodes, are shaped to form a cylinder. This mixture is then dipped into the electrolyte with a carbon rod in the centre. This supports and facilitates the movement of ions.
As a result of this simple structure, the cells offer basic functionality with the shortest lifespan among the N cells.
N-sized zinc-carbon cells work best for devices that don’t use a lot of power, such as
- Simple toys
- Remote controls
- Hand-held calculators
Alkaline N Batteries
Alkaline N batteries produce electricity when the manganese dioxide cathode is reduced. At the same time, the zinc anode is oxidised through the following chemical reaction:
Zn + 2 MnO2 + H2O → ZnO +2 MnOO
The higher density of the manganese dioxide gives the alkaline version a longer and more useful life than zinc carbon batteries.
They range in capacity, and can fall anywhere between 700 to 1000mAh depending on the brand.
N-size alkaline batteries weigh 9 grams and have a volume of approximately 3.4 cm3.
You can use alkaline N batteries for higher drain devices such as:
- Digital cameras
- Handheld game devices
- Wireless mouse
- Bluetooth headsets
- Portable clocks and radios
- Laser pointers
Nickel-Cadmium N Batteries
Nickel-cadmium (NiCd) N batteries are rechargeable cells suitable for lower drain applications. They use nickel oxide hydroxide and metallic cadmium as electrodes featuring a nominal voltage of 1.2 volts and a nominal capacity of 200–500 mAh.
The electrodes are rolled in a spiral jellyroll shape inside the casing and separated from each other by a divider. This structure increases the surface area allowing the cells to provide strong currents with over a hundred times of rechargeable life.
Note: NiCd N batteries have a strong memory effect, so you need to let them discharge completely and then charge them fully each time. The cells also have a high self-discharge rate, so you can’t buy them in bulk (they only last about 1.5 years in storage).
N-sized NiCd cells support devices such as:
- Desk clocks
- Remote controls
- Door alarm chimes
- Automated toys
Nickel Metal Hydride N Cells
As a result of the toxicity of cadmium, nickel metal hydride (NiMH) cells were designed to provide a safer, more environmentally friendly rechargeable option.
They feature a nominal voltage of 1.2 volts with 350–700 mAh of capacity and 1000+ charging/discharging cycles.
Nickel metal hydrides use nickel oxyhydroxide (NiOOH) at the positive terminal. On the negative side, they use an alloy that absorbs hydrogen.
The anode, nickel hydroxide, only exchanges one proton, and the aqueous potassium hydroxide electrolyte doesn’t take part in the chemical reactions. As such, it’s never depleted throughout the battery’s life. This means the cells offer a stable performance with a longer useful life.
In addition, since the potassium hydroxide doesn’t take part in the reaction, the cells don’t suffer from the memory effect that NiCd batteries do.
Note: Memory effect occurs because of how metal reacts with electrolyte salt. Together, they create imperfections that “teach” the battery to function at a new level of charge/discharge.
NiMH batteries are best for high drain devices such as:
- Battery-powered toys
- Portable radios
- Laser pointers
Choosing an N Battery to Meet Your Needs
Choosing the right N-size chemistry depends on your needs.
Cheaper zinc-carbon batteries will do just fine for low power devices such as remote controls. However, they have a shorter life, low capacity and tend to leak.
To power high use gadgets with medium to high drain, opt for the nickel-metal hydride rechargeables, which are safer and longer-lasting.
The most versatile option is the alkaline battery which is most common because it’s:
- Cost-effective, considering its efficiency and good discharge characteristics
- Long-lasting with a wider operating temperature range from as low as -18°C
Alkaline N batteries cater to a wider range of capacities, which means you can use them for both low and high drain devices.
Remember to opt for tried and tested brands, such as Duracell, Ansmann and Energizer, which perform well and give a more stable performance over their useful life.
Here are some examples of the best alkaline N batteries.
|Nominal Voltage||1.5 V|
|Internal Impedance||420 m-ohm @ 1kHz|
|Average Weight||9 g|
|Operating Temperature||-20 to 54°C|
|Shelf Life||3 to 5 years|
|Nominal Voltage||1.5 V|
|Nominal Internal Resistance||150 to 300 milliohms (fresh)|
|Operating Temperature||-18 to 55°C|
|Shelf Life||5 years|
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Paul D Bundaberg, Australia
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a difference between the N battery and the A23?
The A23 battery has physical dimensions (height and width) of 10.3 x 28.5 mm. In contrast, the N battery is 12.0 x 30.2 mm. They have comparable dimensions; however, they are not interchangeable.
A23s are designed for high capacity devices with a nominal voltage of 12 volts. Compared with the N battery’s nominal voltage of 1.5V, A23s can severely damage your devices.
Do N cells have mercury?
No, mercury oxide cells were phased out due to the toxicity of mercury which poses high risks of nervous, digestive and immune system problems.
Can I use an N-size E90 battery to replace an AA?
AA batteries (14.5 x 50.5 mm) are larger than N-sized batteries. As a result of the larger size, they aren’t directly compatible. However, some devices have a smaller holder in the battery compartment that allows them to work with N-sized cells.