Rechargeable batteries are not only a great way to save money – but can be a valuable resource in a disaster.
Rechargeable batteries, more technically known as “secondary” cells, function similarly to non-rechargeable batteries in regular gadgets but have the advantage of being able to be recharged by direct application of electricity to the battery.
This restores the reactants in the electrolytes, allowing the battery to go back into action after a while. Rechargeable batteries are used in a wide range of small devices and personal electronics all the way up to large, high-output and heavy-duty vehicle batteries.
Legacy rechargeable batteries stereotypically suffered from far reduced energy capacity and maximum output compared to their disposable cousins, but advances in current electrolyte formulas and other technology have closed the gap significantly with modern rechargeables, and in some cases even surpassed the difference!
You aren’t trading economy for performance with rechargeable cells any longer! Ever prepper should know what benefits good rechargeable batteries can give you, and in this article I will tell you everything you need to know.
Understanding Rechargeable Battery Performance
You might believe that the chemical complexity of electrolyte composition is unimportant, but you’d be incorrect. You don’t have to be a scientist to get the most out of your batteries, it’s just worth knowing something about the most frequent electrolyte mixtures.
They all have benefits and drawbacks, and adding to the complications is that the main chemicals in the electrolytes may provide varying performance results depending on what device they are used in.
If you want to get the most out of your money, you’ll need to learn a thing or two about electrolyte compositions and their performance.
More importantly, do you want to be certain that your batteries will operate and perform well in a particular device when you need it? The only way you’ll know for sure is if you understand how electrolyte chemistries work!
The Most Common Rechargeable Battery Formulations
It’s difficult to assess exactly how many distinct types of batteries exist.
Batteries as we know them today in the form of an over-the-counter product have been around for a long time and have seen numerous changes and formats come and go. Some chemistries that began as peerless, state-of-the-art formulations didn’t stay that way, as with most things.
Other times it is these older chemical combinations may be revitalized as production processes are improved or new applications are discovered, making them viable or even ideal once again. This is a constantly changing field!
Even though the following will go into great detail regarding various standard sizes, it’s worth noting that these standards are complicated somewhat by the numerous corporate and technical interests that have established various different regional and international rules.
In Europe and Asia, for example, standard measurements do not always correspond to those in North America and so on.
Today, there are numerous rechargeable battery chemistries that you might select, but all of them emphasize energy density and minimizing self-discharge over time.
We’ll talk a little more about self-discharging later on, but for now the name should tell you everything you need to know:
Even if a fully charged secondary battery is stored in a box on the shelf doing nothing, it will slowly “leak” or lose its charge.
Familiarize yourself with the following compositions:
Commonly encountered as automobile and small vehicle batteries.
Although they have good energy density and slow self-discharge rates, these batteries can be difficult to work with because they are extremely weighty and the lead and acid components present in them may be harmful if the battery is ruptured or otherwise damaged.
Not a great choice for the most demanding, power-hungry applications, but generally dependable.
Nickel metal hydride rechargeable batteries, unlike non-rechargeable versions, perform well in high energy consumption situations and are also inexpensive when compared to other rechargeable formulations.
The newest modifications to this mix have resulted in good energy density and low self-discharge rates, but the same cannot be said for prior types.
The energy density was there, but they would self-discharge rather quickly, making them unsuitable for long-term storage or crisis-readiness applications.
Rechargeable batteries with a nickel-cadmium electrolyte formulation are popular, inexpensive, and have good overall performance.
They have average energy density and strong performance over time when subjected to rapid discharging.
Another advantage is that they work well in high or low drain applications, but they also have a rapid self-discharge rate.
Outside the United States, this type of battery will not be found often since the health and environmental dangers associated with cadmium exposure are perceived as too great.
Nickel-zinc is a relatively recent electrolyte formulation on the rechargeable battery market, having initially been marketed only in 2009.
Nickel-zinc batteries have a low self-discharge rate, especially when compared to nickel-cadmium batteries from earlier eras.
Reasonably priced and capable of solid performance in high drain devices. Major drawback is a lack of various sizes, although they are gradually improving.
Now that everyone has heard of lithium batteries, the majority of people use them on a daily basis even if they aren’t aware.
Lithium electrolyte formulations are extremely powerful yet also very energetic and susceptible to damage or destruction, therefore special handling and storage precautions are required.
Mentioned these here because we will talk about the hazards associated with lithium battery use later!
Lithium-iron-phosphate is not a commonly encountered lithium electrolyte. Unlike most lithium-base formulations, this one does not contain cobalt or nickel.
Lithium-iron-phosphate is comparatively lacking in conductivity compared to competing formulations, yet it performs well in situations where energy maintenance over long durations is essential.
Increasingly utilized in automobile batteries and other applications where dependable backup power is needed or a surge of on-demand power that won’t fail in a crisis.
Lithium ion: Lithium ion batteries are more of a class than a specific formulation since lithium ion may refer to a wide range of distinct lithium-dependent chemistries.
Lithium ion batteries have extremely low self-discharge rates and high peak output, but they are expensive and combustible.
These batteries, more than any other, are to blame for the breathtaking videos you see floating around the internet showing batteries catching fire or exploding.
These batteries are becoming increasingly prevalent, but you must handle them with care if you want to use them safely and preserve them!
Silver-zinc batteries are pricey, but they no longer as spendy as they once were owing to declining silver prices.
Despite having a lower volume than comparable lithium batteries, they perform similarly and do particularly well in applications requiring high energy density and drain over time.
Certain modern specialized applications have demonstrated that silver-zinc formulations are an excellent option, which is why these batteries are becoming increasingly prevalent on the market again. Perhaps also due in part to the ascendant price of lithium.
Batteries are one thing, the Chargers are Another!
Batteries are costly, and they never seem to last as long as you’d like. As a result, making the most of modern, dependable energy-dense rechargeable batteries is a fantastic idea.
Not only will you save money in the long run, but you’ll have turned something that was traditionally considered a consumable good into an almost renewable resource.
For long term use and cost savings, what could be better than simply tossing your batteries into a charger and “refueling” them again for another round in your devices?
Not much, of course! But there is only one problem with rechargeable batteries and it is still that they require electricity to recharge, a resource which itself might be in extremely short supply in the middle of an event.
Talk about irony: Getting a large quantity of batteries so you don’t have to rely on on-grid electricity sources during any grid-down scenario only to discover that your chosen batteries are now even more reliant on the grid in order to function at their fullest. Major bummer!
But, you don’t need to fall victim to this prepping fallacy: you, yourself, may now create enough electricity to keep your rechargeable batteries charged and operating, unlike in some decades past.
Solar power, windmills, and even small hydrodynamic generators have provided preppers previously unimaginable ability.
A gasoline-fueled generator may also be used to feed energy into a larger battery pack or bank, which you can then literally trickle down to your smaller gadgets, including battery chargers.
Even if you don’t want to rely on technology like this, or if you just prefer not to, it would be a good idea for preppers to install a little battery bank in their homes.
With the right equipment, including high capacity deep cycle batteries, your smaller cells could be refueled hundreds of times.
You may consider it as a solid defense against a national, regional or community-wide power outage of any duration.
You might think the extra expense and labor of installing this beneficial tech is a major headache or unneeded expense, but I guarantee you’ll think differently should you ever need it for real!
The Dangers of Lithium Batteries
In fact, as it turns out, the spectacular and highly publicized failures of some lithium batteries is not only the stuff of sensationalist reporting or internet urban legend.
These batteries are extremely energetic and compared to other battery types, rechargeable or not, are some of the most fragile on the market.
The fact that they’re becoming increasingly common just raises the odds that at some point, somewhere, you or someone you know will have a bad day with these cells.
The primary goal of most types of widely available lithium cells is to create a lot of electricity over a long time and retain a very low rate of self-discharge.
If you ever wanted to examine one of these common lithium batteries up close, you’d be amazed at how complicated the insides are.
The contents are also kept under pressure, which means that lithium batteries must be manufactured to an extremely high level in order for them to operate safely. Accordingly these wondrously intricate little things are quite susceptible to damage.
If a lithium battery is crushed, penetrated or damaged in some other way it will be made very hazardous. The lively lithium chemistry will instantly produce a blazing fire because from sparking.
Worse, poor manufacturing techniques (from a cheapskate seller) or faulty QC from a reputable manufacturer might result in thermal runaway, a vicious cycle of rising temperature and ever-increasing pressure that ends with the battery bursting open with potentially deadly force.
Either event can destroy your devices and damage property, but it could potentially kill you! At best, you might have serious injuries or an accidental fire to tend to.
Because of these hazards, don’t buy bargain bin lithium batteries as a rule, and handle the ones you already have with care, keeping them in protective cases whenever they might be exposed to rough handling or damage.
My Rechargeable Battery Setup
Most of my battery-powered components use a standard AA battery. I am trying to keep it this way as the AA alkaline battery is relatively inexpensive and many can stored taking up little space.
One of the things I look at when I buy electrical devices is if they come with batteries, can they also run on regular store-bought alkalines, and do they have alternative powering methods such as a car charger. These are good selling points for me.
Above shows a few rechargeables from my supplies. Upper left-hand corner is a battery for my digital camera with a car charger cable attached.
The charger itself will plug into a standard wall-outlet. To the right of that is a set of Midland walkie-talkies sitting in its charging station. Inside each radio are a set of rechargeable batteries that came with the set.
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The radios are also capable of being powered by any standard AA-battery. Below the Midland’s is a complete charging station by Energizer along with several Energizer Ni-MH AA batteries each holding 2500 mAh of power. This unit can be charged in a wall outlet or in a car.
Just to the right of that is a simple car charger adapter for a Sony PSP for my kids. Power goes out – they can play with the PSP to save my sanity.
Finally – in the bottom left-hand corner is another charging station fo Ni-MH AA or AAA batteries. This is a cheap model I ordered off Amazon. Works.
The batteries included each hold 2300 mAh of energy – a little less than the Energizer model. It can be charged via wall outlet or in a car.
My small solar system can do a lot to help charge any batteries I have.
So – in a long term power outage I can keep many electrical devices running – from radio’s to flashlights. Being able to charge batteries while driving around or running a vehicle is a bonus.
I am looking at getting some other smaller solar system specifically for charging batteries as back ups. Here is an example – HERE.
Due to the number of cables, cords, and charger – I have labeled all of them so that there is no confusion as to what goes to what. Definitely helps.