American Survival Guide - - CONTENTS - By Jim Jef­fries

Part 1 of Amer­i­can Sur­vival Guide's ex­clu­sive two-part bat­tery guide

In the pre­pared­ness com­mu­nity, we strive to avoid, or at least min­i­mize, our re­liance on things we can’t con­trol. Much of our gear re­quires only the mind, eye and hand of the op­er­a­tor to use and main­tain—as it should be. But some of our gear de­pends on some­thing of­ten in short sup­ply when an emer­gency arises: elec­tric­ity.

Mis­sion-crit­i­cal equip­ment, such as flash­lights, il­lu­mi­nated or holo­graphic weapon sights, night vi­sion de­vices and com­mu­ni­ca­tions gear, re­quires elec­tric­ity in the form of bat­ter­ies. Com­pound­ing mat­ters: There is no one-size-fits-all so­lu­tion, so it’s likely that each de­vice re­quires a dif­fer­ent kind of bat­ter than the oth­ers, mak­ing in­ter­change­abil­ity im­pos­si­ble. To make use of these gad­gets, we are forced to stock­pile sev­eral dif­fer­ent kinds of bat­ter­ies and hope we have enough of each in re­serve to make it through a pro­longed crisi

Al­most ev­ery home has a drawer full of bat­ter­ies, neatly ar­ranged by size and or­ga­nized with the old­est ones in the front ranks, ready for use, while the fresh­est wait their turn at th back. (Okay; maybe that’s push­ing it a bit.)

More of­ten than not, bat­ter­ies are hap­haz ardly tossed in the drawer and al­lowed to spill out of their pack­ag­ing, re­sult­ing in new bat­ter­ies be­ing dis­persed among old, par­tially de­pleted cells. When the time comes for some­one to re­place the nearly dead bat­ter­ies in the flash­light needed to con­ten with yet an­other power out­age, they find them­selves sort­ing through mixed bat­ter­ies of dif­fer­ent ca­pac­i­ties or dif­fer­ent chemistrie from mul­ti­ple man­u­fac­tur­ers.

The life of even the best bat­tery could be se­verely short­ened as it fights against the in­ter­nal re­sis­tance of a nearly ex­hausted or in­com­pat­i­ble com­pan­ion. These mar­velous, lit­tle power plants are fre­quently mis­un­der­stood and of­ten abused; and, when ne­glected they can bleed out and die in­side our elec­tron de­vice, ren­der­ing it ... use­less.

In this ar­ti­cle (part one of two), we will shed some light on the ba­sics of bat­ter­ies and arm you with in­for­ma­tion that will make manag­ing that over­flow­ing bat­tery drawer eas­ier—and pos­si­bly save you some money in the process.


In the sim­plest terms, a bat­tery pro­duces elec­tri­cal en­ergy as a prod­uct of elec­trochem ical re­ac­tions that take place in­side it at the pos­i­tive and nega­tive elec­trodes through a

on­duc­tive chem­i­cal so­lu­tion called an “ele­crolyte.” When a cir­cuit is at­tached to the ex­teor ter­mi­nals, the metal­lic elec­trodes un­dergo re­dox (re­duc­tion-ox­i­da­tion) re­ac­tion in which ne elec­trode is re­duced (gains an elec­tron); imul­ta­ne­ously, the other is ox­i­dized (gives up n elec­tron) to and through the elec­trolyte in he form of ions.

The me­tals (or metal­lic com­pounds) that orm the elec­trodes de­ter­mine the spe­cific olt­age of the cell.

For ex­am­ple, if one elec­trode is zinc and he other is man­ganese diox­ide, the meau­red ter­mi­nal volt­age of a fully charged ell is a bit over 1.5 volts (open cir­cuit olt­age). This zinc-man­ganese diox­ide lec­trode com­bi­na­tion is com­monly found n the dis­pos­able bat­ter­ies we use to power any of our por­ta­ble de­vices.

In an­other ex­am­ple, if one elec­trode is nickel nd the other is cad­mium (or other me­tal lloy), the cell volt­age would be about 1.2 olts (open cir­cuit). These com­bi­na­tions are nown as nickel-cad­mium (Nicd or Ni­cad) or Nickel-me­tal Hy­dride (NIMH) cells. They are recharge­able bat­ter­ies that can be sub­sti­tuted for non-recharge­able bat­ter­ies of the same size and form (such as the Aa—or “dou­ble A”—bat­ter­ies so com­mon in small elec­tronic de­vices). If more en­ergy (higher volt­age) is re­quired, mul­ti­ple cell are used to­gether in series; their in­di­vid­ual volt­ages add to­gether to give a greater dif­fer­ence in elec­tri­cal po­ten­tial from one end of the chain to the other.

While there are sev­eral elec­trode and elec­trolyte com­bi­na­tions, as well as many dif­fer­ent bat­tery sizes, shapes and volt­age rat­ings, all bat­ter­ies fall into one of two types: pri­mary or se­condary.


Pri­mary bat­ter­ies are sin­gle-use and are not recharge­able power sources. Im­me­di­ately upon their con­struc­tion, they are ca­pa­ble of full power out­put at their spec­i­fied volt­age. As the bat­ter is used, the elec­trode ma­te­ri­als and elec­trolyte un­dergo chem­i­cal changes that are not eas­ily re­versed by ap­pli­ca­tion of an ex­ter­nal cur­rent, mean­ing they can­not be recharged for re­use.

Sin­gle-use bat­ter­ies can last a long time, pro­vided they are used in de­vices for which they are in­tended and are stored prop­erly. Many small elec­tronic de­vices have min­i­mal cur­rent re­quire­ments, and the bat­tery seems to last for­ever. For in­stance, wrist watches, tele­vi­sion re­mote con­trols and garage door open­ers can op­er­ate for years on a sin­gle or a set of small, in­ex­pen­sive bat­ter­ies. Those same bat­ter­ies might only last for a few hours in a high-out­put flash­light. Choos­ing a bat­tery with a dif­fer­ent chem­istry can more than dou­ble or triple the run time of the de­vice be­fore chang­ing bat­ter­ies is nec­es­sary.


Se­condary bat­ter­ies are recharge­able and can be reused many times over. The man­u­fac­tur­ing process is com­plex, and the ma­te­ri­als are costlier, com­pared to those in most pri­mary bat­ter­ies. How­ever, be­cause they can be reused, they are usu­ally much more eco­nom­i­cal than a com­pa­ra­ble pri­mary bat­tery. Se­condary bat­ter­ies of­ten re­quire charg­ing be­fore be­ing placed in use or af­ter (and some­times, dur­ing) an ex­tended time in stor­age.

Recharge­able bat­ter­ies can have vastly dif­fer­ent life­spans or num­ber of charge/dis­charge cy­cle based on the chem­istry and in­tended use of the bat­tery; the en­vi­ron­ment dur­ing use and storag and the charge/dis­charge con­di­tions.

For ex­am­ple, a lead-acid start­ing bat­tery in an au­to­mo­bile is de­signed to pro­vide a brief high cur­rent to start the en­gine and then be quickly recharged by the al­ter­na­tor as the en­gine runs. Al­though the bat­tery is ca­pa­ble of this high out­put for brief pe­ri­ods, leav­ing the head­lights on can drain the bat­tery in a rel­a­tively short time. Short-dis­tance driv­ing, when the en­gine is shut

ff and restarted fre­quently, can of­ten pre­vent the bat­tery from be­ing fully charged. In both stances (deep dis­charge or in­com­plete recharg­ing), the life­span of the bat­tery could be dras­tially short­ened. A com­mon trait in many recharge­able bat­ter­ies is self-dis­charge. Some can lose con­sid­er­able amount of power in stor­age; and, if they are al­lowed to go low enough, they might ot take a charge again.


Bat­ter­ies "like" op­er­at­ing tem­per­a­tures in about the same range as we hu­mans do, with em­per­a­tures in the 70s (F) be­ing the sweet spot. Just as we sleep bet­ter when the room is a bit ooler, most bat­ter­ies store best at lower tem­per­a­tures; some­where in the mid-40s (F).

Both types of bat­ter­ies per­form best dur­ing use and store long­est in a cool, dry en­vi­ron­ment. xces­sive heat can shorten the life of the bat­tery due to ac­cel­er­ated chem­i­cal re­ac­tions in­side.


Tem­per­a­tures too low cause the bat­tery to be slug­gish when power is de­manded, and out­put will drop ac­cord­ingly (but the bat­tery will re­turn to nor­mal once it warms up). Ex­treme cold can cause the elec­trolyte to freeze, which can cause in­ter­nal cell dam­age or rup­ture of the bat­tery hous­ing or case.

The freez­ing point of the elec­trolyte is de­pen­dent upon a cou­ple of fac­tors, but fully charged bat­ter­ies can with­stand much colder tem­per­a­tures than those that are par­tially or fully dis­charged. For in­stance, a deep-cy­cle lead-acid bat­tery, such as those used in recre­ational ve­hi­cles and boats, can

ith­stand tem­per­a­tures as low as -90 de­grees F) with­out fear of the sul­fu­ric acid elec­trolyte eez­ing if the bat­tery is at a 100 per­cent state f charge (SOC). That same bat­tery with 40 er­cent SOC is safe to about -16 de­grees (F), ut at 20 per­cent SOC, it is sub­ject to freez­ing t +19 de­grees (F). Dur­ing the win­ter months, is very im­por­tant to keep lead-acid bat­ter­ies hat are in stor­age fully charged to re­duce the sk of freeze dam­age.


Stor­age of dry-cell bat­ter­ies is best done

their orig­i­nal pack­ag­ing. This will en­sure heir ter­mi­nals will not come in con­tact with ne an­other and that when tak­ing them out f stor­age to use, all bat­ter­ies will be at the ame charge level. Keep them cool and dry o achieve the long­est life. Stor­ing them at oom tem­per­a­ture is fine, but many peo­ple re­fer to keep them in­side their re­frig­eraors. They also keep the bat­ter­ies in their ack­ag­ing while they warm up to re­duce the ke­li­hood of caus­ing con­den­sa­tion is­sues side the de­vice they are to be placed. Do ot store them in the freezer!

Larger bat­ter­ies, such as au­to­mo­tive or eep-cy­cle RV bat­ter­ies, should be stored in cool en­vi­ron­ment, tak­ing care to pro­tect he ter­mi­nals or posts against con­tact with on­duc­tive ma­te­ri­als. Cov­er­ing with a piece of las­tic sheet­ing or a card­board box is usu­ally uf­fi­cient to pro­tect the bat­tery, but make ure not to set any heavy ob­jects on top of he stored bat­tery.

There used to be a con­cern about stor­ing n au­to­mo­tive or RV bat­tery di­rectly on a on­crete floor, but im­prove­ments in bat­tery on­struc­tion and case ma­te­ri­als have re­duced he pos­si­bil­ity of the cells dis­charg­ing through he bot­tom of the bat­tery. That said, I still lace any stored bat­tery on a piece of ply­wood


Al­ways keep in mind that bat­ter­ies, even at a low state of charge, can be haz­ardous if any­thing con­duc­tive short-cir­cuits their ter­mi­nals. Large, lead-acid bat­ter­ies can turn a cres­cent wrench red-hot in a mat­ter of sec­onds if it falls across the pos­i­tive and nega­tive ter­mi­nals. The wrench can even be­come welded to the ter­mi­nals im­me­di­ately as sparks fly upon con­tact, mak­ing it dif fi­cult or im­pos­si­ble to re­move. Even small bat­ter­ies can pro­vide sur­prises (a good friend swappe out a lithium bat­tery and put the weak cell in his pants pocket. The bat­tery ter­mi­nals be­came shorted by loose change in his pocket, and he re­ceived a rather nasty burn from the in­ci­dent!).


Bat­ter­ies con­tain caus­tic or cor­ro­sive sub­stances that can pose health risks or dam­age ma­te­ri­als they come in con­tact with if they leak out of the cell. Bat­ter­ies can rup­ture and leak for sev­eral rea­sons, in­clud­ing mix­ing bat­ter­ies of dif­fer­ent chem­istry or ca­pac­ity in the same de­vice, at­tempt­ing to charge a non-recharge­able bat­tery, im­proper stor­age, dis­posal, over­heat­ing or freez­ing.

A list of warn­ings is printed on the bat­tery or its pack­ag­ing. Heed these warn­ings, and your bat­tery should safely live up to its spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

In the sec­ond in­stall­ment of our two-part bat­tery guide, we will take a deeper look at bat­ter­ies com­monly used in our ev­ery­day gear and some of our more-spe­cial­ized de­vices ... and we’ll put that “bunny” up against the cop­per in a real-world test to see which one ac­tu­ally lasts the long­est.


Keep­ing bat­ter­ies in their orig­i­nal pack­ag­ing en­sures new bat­ter­ies don’t get mixed with used, par­tially dis­charged cells. h Be­low: For the sake of sim­plic­ity and ef­fi­ciency, keep your bat­ter­ies in their orig­i­nal pack­ag­ing in one lo­ca­tion so they're easy to find and move when the need arises.


A 9-volt bat­tery gets its power from six AAAA cells con­tained within.

All these Aa-size bat­ter­ies will fit into the same de­vice, but mix­ing dif­fer­ent bat­tery chemisies or cell ca­pac­i­ties can re­sult in early bat­tery death.

i Right: Lithium ter­ies are made for evices de­mand­ing high cur­rent.

i Be­low: There are four 1.5-volt cells on­nected in series in­side this 6-volt ntern bat­tery. From left to right, this oup of AA bat­ter­ies in­cludes a “gen­eral pur­pose” (zinc-caron), a “su­per heavy uty” (zinc-chlo­ride) the longer-last­ing, her-out­put al­ka­line ver­sion.

This zinc-car­bon dry cell con­sists of a zinc outer shell, pow­dered man­ganese diox­ide and an in­ert car­bon rod. There is just enough am­mo­nium chlo­ride elec­trolyte to moisten the in­sid of the cell.

i Right: Ex­posed bat­tery ter­mi­nals can pose a haz­ard when us­ing con­duc­tive me­tal tools nearby. In stor­age, cover the top of the bat­tery to pro­tect it against ob­jects that might come in con­tact with the ter­mi­nals. or thick plas­tic—more out of habit than any­thing else.h Far left: Au­to­moti start­ing and Rv/ma­rine deep-cy­cle batt ies last long­est whe they are fully charg Stor­ing lead-acid bat­ter­ies for ex­tend pe­ri­ods of time in a par­tially charged st can shorten their lif span con­sid­er­ably.i Near left: Potas­sium car­bon­ate, formed by the hy­drox­ide so­lu­tion leak­ing from an alk line bat­tery (Photo by Túre­lio, Wikime dia Commons)

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