Survival Skills

Grid-down event planning – Disposable vs rechargeable batteries

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The blood of our modern society is electricity and all our devices depend on some sort of battery in order to function. You will need to stockpile rechargeable batteries for when the grid goes down, but one question remains: are you sure you’ve made the right choice? Picking the right batteries can be tricky and you need to make sure your batteries have a long and useful lifespan. Let’s take an in-depth look at the options we have.

On today’s market, there is an abundance of batteries from which one can choose. There are different types of batteries and there are a lot of brands promoting their products as “life-lasting” energy supplies. When choosing a battery, there are a few things to be considered. Before you decided on a certain type, make sure you know the following:

  • Capacity
  • Shelf life
  • Charging options
  • Crisis functionality

You should know that all rechargeable batteries are rated for Capacity (C) and nominal voltage (V). The capacity of a large battery is usually measured in amp hours (Ah) such as the ones that are lead acid types. For smaller cells, the capacity is measured in milliamp hours (mAh) and this information should be specified on the package.

When it comes to a batter’s capacity, this characteristic is defined by its ability to supply the specified current for one hour of time. So if you have a battery that has a rating of 12V 7Ah, this means that your battery will supply 7amps of current for 1 hour before being depleted.

It is important to know the capacity and time rating of the batteries you buy because this will help you in planning a power solution for off-grid survival. This will also help you extend the life of your batteries and avoid over or undercharging them.

Most rechargeable batteries that can be found on the market are capable of high current delivery, but the high rate of discharge will increase temperature and damage the cell in time.

Rechargeable Batteries Options for an off grid situation:

Nickel cadmium (NiCad) batteries

NiCad batteries are the most popular rechargeable batteries in use today an almost everyone uses them. They can be found in gadgets such as cordless phones or handled power tools. These types of batteries are able to supply very high peak currents, discharging more than 5C in some application. These are cells designed for being rechargeable around one thousand times. NiCad batteries are available in common sizes such as AAA, AA, C and D and they are rated 12V nominal in these sizes. The capacity will vary according to the cell size, but the AA types are usually rated at 1000 mAh.

The shelf life of NiCad battery is improved if the batteries are stored fully discharged for an extended period of time. Typical shelf storage losses are approximately 10 percent per month if the batteries are stored in proper conditions, in a cool, dry place with temperatures that do not exceed 85 degrees F.

Recharging NiCad batteries require proper cycling in order to prolong cell’s life. This means that you need to use the batteries until they are fully discharged before recharging again.

These batteries are crisis capable because they tolerate a large range of input current and alternative charging methods. You can use even household power transformers from old devices that no longer work or are “outdated”. The DC power sources can be wired to a simple battery holder like the ones available at electronic stores or you can improvise if you are careful enough. Tape the leads to the batteries themselves and that should do the trick.

Related reading: How to live without electricity

Nickel metal hybrid (NiMH) batteries

These batteries are somehow similar to the NiCad batteries as they are capable of high discharge rates but to a different extent. These batteries can be found in power electronics such as survival flashlights or two-way radios and even remote controlled toys. NiMH batteries are capable of rapid charging as long as you have the proper gear. There is also a trend spreading rapidly and it seems that NiMH batteries are overtaking the NiCad cells. A good NiMH battery is one that goes for more than five hundred recharge cycles.

The NiMH batteries are available in most consumer sizes at a 1.2V nominal rating, but the capacity is double compared to the NiCad cells.

When it comes to the shelf life of NiMH batteries, it is important to know that they do not last as long as NiCad cells. The charge drops off rapidly after the first day and some noticed a 5 to 20 percent drop (source). After the initial drop, they will gradually discharge at a rate between 0.5 and 3 percent per day at room temperatures. There are companies that claim they have improved the self-discharge rate and they managed to lower it considerably. Personally, I think it’s just a marketing campaign and I haven’t seen a NiMH battery that can maintain the majority of its charge for more than a year. Discharge rates are affected by temperature variations and if you plan to store them for a long period of time, you will need to keep them in a cool place, fully charged. Some of my prepper friends keep them in airtight containers in their fridge.

Recharging NiMH batteries should be done on a monthly basis if you plan for a long-term storage without a charge. It is recommended to charge them at a 1/10C rate and discharge them a few times to regain normal capacity. Do no recharge NiMH and NiCad batteries for more than 24 hours because it will create crystal growth and voltage depression.

These rechargeable batteries can be stockpiled for a crisis because there are inexpensive solutions available to charge them, even when there is no electricity. I personally use a Suntactics solar charger for my stash and it takes around 3 hours to charge four AAA batteries at the same time.

Alkaline Batteries

These are the most common batteries for electronic appliances and you can find a few of them in drawers from every household. They are available everywhere and they have low to moderate current capability. The capacity of alkaline batteries is around 3000 mAh for the quality brands (no China trash) although many manufactures won’t add this information on the label. The capacity of alkaline batteries varies greatly with load and at a 1A draw they will only provide 700mAh.

When it comes to shelf life, top brands guarantee that their products can last 10 years or more if stored in a cool place. The modern construction doesn’t require keeping them in the fridge as my parents did. Good batteries will self-discharge at a rate of less than 2 percent per year if kept at room temperature and the shelf life will greatly reduce at high temperatures.

Alkaline batteries can be recharged and reconditioned, but many don’t know about these features. This can be done with specialized chargers and the operation works best if the batteries are not completely discharged. The recharge cycles vary from brand to brand and it can be done a dozen of times depending on the use and load of cells. Recharging should be done with caution and only for the top-quality brands.

These batteries are the most stockpiled items when it comes to planning a source of energy. They will prove useful during a crisis, but the trick here is to know how to extend their life ten or more times. During a long-term scenario you could take dead batteries from others and give them “new ones” in exchange for items that you need. Getting your hands on a Maximal Power FC999 charger will make sure you will be able to revive dead alkaline batteries and turn them into rechargeable batteries.

Lead Acid batteries

These rechargeable batteries are the favorite solution for those who chose an off-grid lifestyle and the will run off-grid homes at night. The ratings of lead acid batteries are usually in Ah or reserve capacity (RC) and rate nominal at 6V or 12V. The downside of these types of batteries is that they are heavy and not portable. They can be found in various sizes and capacities and are able to sustain moderate current discharge and deep cycling.

The lead acid batteries have a moderate shelf life and it all depends on quality and the age of the batteries. These batteries have a self-discharge rate of 3 to 20 percent a month and overall, the lifespan is no longer than 5 years, and that if properly cared for. Within the lifetime of a lead acid battery, 500 to 800 charge cycles can be obtained. If you leave a lead acid battery discharged for long periods of time, crystallization of lead sulfate will form on the battery’s plates. If you plan to store them for long periods of time you should keep them on a trickle charger to offset the discharge rate. Store the batteries in a cool dry place.

Charging a lead acid battery can be done with a small taper charger and you should match charger current to battery. Deep cycle batteries should only be fast charged with a proper tapering current charger. A deep cycle battery is fully charged with a voltage of around 13V and completely discharged at around 12V.

These rechargeable batteries that can be used in a crisis because they can be charged with a generators’ secondary DC output (around 8 A) or by using 50 to 100W solar panels in conjunction with charge controller.

Check out this: Portable Electricity Generator

Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries

Li-ion batteries are rechargeable batteries with energy densities that must be properly handled, charged and protected. These batteries should be charged only using proper chargers suited specifically for these types of batteries. They require a constant current type of charging and are not compatible with standard constant-current type methods as the other batteries mentioned above. These are the batteries that can be found in smartphones and other high-tech consumer electronics.

If you plant to store these types of batteries, you should do it when they are in a partially charged state. They have an excellent shelf life and they can be stored this way up to a year.

A Li-ion battery can be recharged for up to one thousand full cycles and it doesn’t suffer from a memory effect, like NiMH and NiCad batteries. You can use a device to recharge the battery and it can be done even if the battery is not completely depleted. If you plan to store such batteries for long periods of time in a discharged state, you should check the cells before attempting to charge them. If they have swelled up you should discard them, otherwise you could cause a fire if you attempt to recharge them.

These rechargeable batteries are not recommended for a long-term disaster since they lack the roughness and versatility of the other batteries. They might hold a charge over long periods of time and have more charge cycles than their predecessors, but they are fragile and dangerous. You can bend them by hand or puncture them without much struggle and it will cause a fire. Moisture can also damage them or cause a fire. These batteries are only designed for specific products and they have multiple contacts (not the usual positive and negative ones), which makes them difficult to be charged once removed from the device.

Stockpiling on rechargeable batteries is indicated for a long-term disaster, but you need to know your stuff before going out on a shopping spree. Learning about the features described above will not only help you chose the right batteries, but it will also help you to preserve and charge them accordingly. Having rechargeable batteries with a good shelf life will make sure your gadgets work and provide you with the much needed light when the power grid is down.

I hope this article will help you make the right choice when planning your emergency electricity supplies and keep you out of the dark when time comes.

– This post is Syndicated. Original publish date 24 February 2016 | 1:46 pm on prepperswill.com

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