Lithium vs. Lithium Ion Batteries

By Jay Leone; Updated April 24, 2017
Lithium batteries are increasingly common.

Lithium and lithium ion batteries, or cells, provide portable electricity. They both work by moving electrons from one place to another which creates an electrical current. There are both advantages and disadvantages to either type.

Cell Type

The main difference between lithium and lithium ion batteries is that lithium batteries are a primary cell and lithium ion batteries are secondary cells. The term primary cell refers to cells that must be discarded after one use. Secondary cell is a term that refers to a battery's ability to be recharged.


Lithium batteries are not easily and safely rechargeable, this is why lithium ion batteries were invented. They can be charged several times before becoming ineffective. Lithium batteries however are not rechargeable, but do offer more in the way of capacity than lithium ion batteries. They have a higher energy density than lithium ion batteries. Lithium batteries use lithium metal as their anode unlike lithium ion batteries that use a number of other materials to form their anode. Lithium ion batteries are disadvantaged in that their shelf life is about three years, after that, they are worthless.

How They Work

In both types, electrical currents occur because of a chemical reaction that takes place inside the battery. The anode in a cell moves electrons to the cathode which is located at the opposite end of the cell. Electrolyte is used to separate the anode from the cathode, assuring they never touch.


The idea for the lithium battery was first introduced in 1912. The first lithium battery was made available to consumers in the 1970s and it was not rechargeable. Lithium metal was found to be unstable which is why a rechargeable lithium battery was never developed. Nonmetallic lithium was used to create a battery in 1991. This lithium ion battery was rechargeable and much safer to use than the standard lithium battery.


Both types of batteries offer a lot of power for their size. They can be used in any number of devices from flashlights to compact disc players. Lithium ion batteries can be formed into many shapes which makes them ideal for items such as laptop computers, iPods and cell phones. They are also widely used in these devices because of their ability to recharge. Lithium batteries are the battery of choice when it comes to powering artificial pacemakers because of the amount of power they can offer.