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Old 09-20-2012, 08:35 AM
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Default Small Batteries 101 Crash Course (not Solar Batteries)

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I'm talking about batteries for small lights, etc. What is everything a person should know before buying batteries or battery operated gizmo-gadgets.

For example... which is better? AA vs C? Which brand is better? Which is better? lithium or <whatever else is out there>?

What about those re-charging batteries? Is there a small (CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP) portable Solar unit that could recharge these batteries?

I'm thinking about investing in battery lights, etc, and am thinking that trying to keep all items to using the same type battery the best? (that way I'm not searching thru umpteen items trying to figure out which battery goes to which gizmo-gadget)

I'm thinking re-charging batteries with a small portable solar unit would be the closest to Off-Grid as I can get?

I don't want this thread to be directed at me, as much as I want this to be useful for everybody.
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Old 09-20-2012, 12:05 PM
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I’ve been going round and round on this subject for a while now. It started with NiCd rechargeable AA cells for a mini-mag light. Those things are junk, the NiCds that is. The voltage is not high enough, they self-discharge too fast and they short out internally and go bad. Same goes for NiMh cells. Been through a lot of those. Alkaline AAs are pretty good for storage but I have had some never used ones leak in an un-opened box. The wall-brick type AA chargers seem to work okay if you don’t get a 4-slot one that requires all four to be occupied for the thing to work. Solar AA cell chargers? Meh… Maybe if you are backpacking in the wilderness. Those things take too long due to the tiny size of the solar cell that comes with it. And the real cheap ones are useless.

I have switched to Lithium Ion 18650 cells for my modified and recently acquired flashlights. Problem with these cells is that they only work in devices designed for them. The voltage is more than double that of a AA alkaline cell and is physically longer and bigger around. Won’t work in any of your AA sized devices without extensive modification. They do last a very long time and don’t self-discharge.

C and D sized cells are much less common than they used to be because nothing uses them anymore except for the larger Mag flashlights.

What I have done is purchase some PV solar panels (70w total), an inexpensive 400w inverter, and 12 volt deep cycle battery to run my existing low wattage electrical devices. This is strictly for emergency use, but the battery is kept charged all the time with a battery maintainer. The inverter would also charge all of your phones, tablets, run your laptop etc. This type of setup does require looking after, what with a big honking lead-acid car battery to deal with. A “serious” solar setup is very expensive.

Did you know that modern CFLs are as energy efficient as LEDs?

Here is another thing you might want to check out. I found some relatively cheap LED solar garden-type flood lights at Walmart that have Lithium Ion batteries in them. I have been using them for a couple of years now without any failures. Charge them in the day, bring them in the house at night. For emergency use only because of poor light quality.

I hope this helps.

Here is a link to Amazon with some chargers. Read the reviews and note the very long charging times on the cheap ones.

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Old 09-20-2012, 12:15 PM
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What's your opinion of this site?

(Although, to be honest, trying to make sense of that site, makes my brain turn to mush. LOL)
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Old 09-20-2012, 12:21 PM
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About the best I can say is when it comes to batteries Cheap is Bad. There are bargains on Quality batteries, but they aren't the cheap ones.

More and more equipment is going to the high output/long life AA batteries with AAA somewhat behind but in the race. Still a lot Cs an Ds are used in equipment, but it is usually large and bulky. You can get AA to C and D battery adapters that use up to 4 AAs in a D holder (one in a C). Not as much life, but the initial power level is there.

CR123A batteries are used in high output, small footprint devices. With the high draw they don't last long and are rather more expensive, including the rechargeables.

For long storage times Lithium are good. Have your average power and life once being used, but can be stored for long periods and still be good. This includes Lithium CR123A batteries.

I don't have much experience with the new rechargables. The old ones I gave up on. However, I think the new chargers that condition the batteries, and the new rechargable batteris are much better than the old.

I think this is the best and most useful battery charger available for a reasonable price. Works on 120v AC, 12V DC, and can be run off a 10 watt to 20 watt 12v solar panel.

Charges at a charge rate of 700mA (which is fast) and will charge rechargeable alkaline, Ni-Cd or Ni-Mh batteries. It will charge 4 AAA, AA, C, D and 2 9V rechargeable batteries.

Rechargeable lithium batteries need their own charger.

For non-rechargeable AA, AAA, C, D, & 9v batteries I prefer the Copper Top.

I haven't decided on rechargeables. I'll leave that to someone with more experience with them.

Again, the main thing is, stay away from cheap. Buy bargains when on sale and in large packages.

Just my opinion.
Jerry D Young
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Old 09-20-2012, 12:28 PM
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when purchasing batteries for RC projects which are very demanding on batteries. I find ones with Japanese text on them are the best but all joking aside if you want someone to really explain batteries to you and the good and bad of each type go to you local hobby shop and just ask. These guys know small batteries.
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Old 09-20-2012, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Emerald Eyes View Post
What's your opinion of this site?

(Although, to be honest, trying to make sense of that site, makes my brain turn to mush. LOL)
Looks pretty accurate to me. I tried some of the NiZn (re-chargable) cells too. I was excited until they started failing ... one after another. Worked great in my digicam.

I think the trend is toward Li Ion batteries in newer rechargable stuff. Look at all the 18volt cordless tools; and all newer cell-phones, laptops and tablets have Li Ion batteries. I paid $14 for a 4-slot charger and 2 18650 cells. (flashlight takes one cell)
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Old 09-20-2012, 02:15 PM
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The 18650 is the common pc battery. Keep an eye out at garage sales for pc battery packs and led xmas lights if you want to experiment on the cheap. The 18650 is about 3.7v, perfect for led's, here is a battery pack running 3 leds in series, 11.7v or so. There are 9 batteries, 3 in series, and 3 leds in series. The "charger" is a 12v 200ma wallwart, plugged in overnite charges the pack w/o overheating. This pack has been running for about 65 hours, enough light for a room at night. The little IC strip is the original charger from the pack, not used. These lights are Armadillo approved. Have fun...
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Old 09-21-2012, 02:33 PM
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In terms of capacity: D is better than C which is better than AA which is better than AAA. But the extra capacity comes at the expense of larger size and weight. That is the difference between the 4 sizes: size - bigger batteries are heavier and higher capacity. In rechargeable, however, many C and D batteries are AA in disguise and you can also get adapters that let you put AA batteries in a C or D device; you will only be getting AA capacity. So getting a bulkier device which runs on C or D doesn't make much sense if you will really be using lower capacity batteries unless it is a D device with a 4AA battery adapter. AA is a close as you will get to a standard size among these 4 sizes - you can run more off that size than any other size. AA has more than twice as much capacity as AAA. AAA is mostly used by some remote controls (others use AA) and crappy LED flashlights.

A flashlight with 2 AA batteries has more capacity than one that takes 3 AAA batteries (it takes 4.5 AAA batteries to equal the capacity of 2 AA batteries). Also, devices which take odd numbers of batteries are problematic. Most older chargers and many new chargers only charge batteries in pairs (look for one which charges individually). It is a bad idea to mismatch batteries between charging and discharging (i.e. discharging in tripples but charging in pairs) if they are not charged individually; this causes imbalance and is likely to result in premature failure.

Use alkaline batteries for AAA, AA, C, D, 9V sizes. Ignore the weaker "heavy duty" batteries; they have lower capacity and will fail to run many modern devices. Some devices require expensive harder to find disposable lithium batteries but you can usually get a similar device that uses standard batteries. Except for coin cells and button cells used in small devices. Energizer or Duracell alkaline batteries are generally considered ok. Ray-o-vac has a poor reputation for leaking. Store brands, who knows? Rumor has it that the sam's club house brand (member's mark) is made by energizer and the costco house brand (kirkland) is made by duracell. I have seen a couple reports of informal tests in LED flashlights where they were disappointed in the performance of duracells vs member mark. An informal test showed eveready capacity was poor:
And this one reports harbor freight was really bad at leakage, many duracells leaked, a few evereadys, and that the poster switched from fuji batteries that used to be good because of leakage.
There seemed to be comparatively few reports of energizer leakage though one youtube video showed some energizers three years past expiration leaked while duracells of the same age didn't and there were reports of discontinued energizer e2 batteries leaking. All this is anecdotal. And note that manufacturers keep changing their batteries.

Energizer, Duracell, and Rayovac will repair or replace equipment damaged by battery leakage for their branded batteries. Store branded batteries may not.

Sometimes alkaline batteries explode even when apparently not abused. Most reports seem to be duracell, particularly in the 9V size, and frequently in certain smoke detectors.

Some LED flashlights with electronic switching are never fully off. This could increase the chances of leakage.

There are some non-rechargable lithium batteries that have their battery chemistry modified to produce the same voltage as alkaline batteries but offer significantly higher capacity at higher cost. This could be an advantage in bug out on foot applications due to size and weight savings. Note that lithium batteries have a higher explosion risk if abused and that their is an elevated risk of short circuits or abrasion in hiking.

Chances are you have some devices that take button or coin batteries, whether you realize it or not. It is easy to forget to stock up on these. The CR2032 (coin) and SR44/LR44 (button) are the most common sizes and should probably be stocked whether you think you need them or not but you should check what size each device you have needs.

The CR2032 lithium coin cell is used as a memory/clock battery backup in computers and many other devices. There are other sizes but this is the most common.

If you have devices which need small button cells, the issue is more complicated. These are used in watches, calculators, digital calipers/micrometers (measuring instruments), key fobs, laser pointers, hearing aids (though many use different sizes/types), laser scopes, etc. The silver oxide "SR" batteries are superior to the alkaline "LR" batteries. I.E. SR44 beats LR44. There is more than one type of SR44 battery. 357/303H is slightly better than EPX76 which is slightly better than 357 is much better than 357/303 (no H) which is much better than any LR44 battery such as A76. There isn't a huge difference in rated capacity between the SR44 and the LR44 batteries but the voltage of the LR44 batteries sags badly as they are used up to the point that some devices will stop working long before the rated capacity is used up. A very forgiving device may run 14.5 months instead of 12 months on the more expensive battery but a more demanding device may run 8 months instead of 2 on the better battery. The good batteries are significantly more expensive.

Any size disposable battery other than AAA, AA, C, D, and 9V is going to have much more limited availability.

Some electronic devices require 9V batteries. A 9V battery is 6 very small batteries (smaller than AAA) packaged together to give a higher voltage.

Rechargable batteries:
Some devices require rechargeable lithium batteries: lithium Ion (LiIon) or Lithium Polymer (LiPo). Very good capacity to weight and size ratio compared to other technologies but cost a lot more. These are higher voltage than alkaline batteries and do not come in the standard AAA, AA, C, and D sizes. While one battery size may fit multiple devices, in practice you are unlikely to ever own more than one non-identical device which takes the same lithium rechargable battery unless you put using the same battery above all other features in purchasing decisions and you are still very unlikely to get everything in the same size. Laptops, Cell Phones, Ham Radios, Portable TVs, and many other devices may use rechargable lithium batteries. Usually you won't have much choice - you either are forced to use a rechargable lithium battery or don't have the option to use one. Sometimes you can choose between two devices one which uses lithium rechargable and one which uses another type such as NiMH.

For AAA and AA sizes (and to a lesser extent C and D) get Low Self Discharge (LSD) NiMH batteries such as Eneloop. You can use the ordinary type of NiMH batteries but they tend to go dead when sitting in devices rather than in the charger.

Ignore Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) batteries. More toxic, lower capacity, memory effect, etc.

Some chargers can take AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V sizes. Others only take AA or AAA sizes or AA only; these are usually smaller but less versatile. Avoid battery chargers which run on 110VAC only. Using an inverter to power a battery charger or other small electronics devices is a very bad idea (inverter is inefficient and also draws power whenever it is on whether or not connected devices are using power). This is something you do in a pinch when you are missing the 12V "car" adapter for a device or foolishly bought a low power device that can't run on 12V. It should not be your primary plan. Get a charger that also runs on 12V DC.

While there is a use for very small solar panels in the 20W range if you are backpack portable, in general avoid buying panels smaller than 185W as these toy panels have poor price/performance ratios (dollars/watt). Chances are, you will want to run a lot more than these small panels will handle. Real panels cost about $1/watt while small panels are around $2.50-$5/watt and folding/roll-up panels can be well over $10/watt. Even worse, the charge controllers for these small panels are crappy and will waste 1/3 of your power so a 20W panel only makes 13W in full sun and less most of the time. It isn't until you get to around 240W that a decent charge controller is economically viable. Real panels are 24V output while the small toy panels are 12V. You will need a charge controller that converts 24V to 12V if you use a 12V battery system. You will probably need a charge controller even if you don't have a battery bank as the output of a "12V" panel can be up to 21V (and even higher for a "24V" panel) and this is enough to damage many 12V devices. Even then, some cheap charge controllers won't work without a battery (i.e. they will output much more than 12V and damage devices). A 240W panel will cost around $240 plus about $150 for a charge controller.
See my previous posts on solar (click on user name) for more details. That said, it isn't bad to have a 20W or 50W solar panel around and they may be adequate if your needs are very modest.
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Old 09-21-2012, 03:06 PM
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A survivalist CANNOT rely on alkaline primary batteries - they are too prone to leakage (not surprising given their chemistry)

Stick with either eneloop (low self-discharge NiMh) or energizer lithium for AA/AAA applications.

Energizer lithium are cheapest off ebay, but avoid the china-based sellers (those might well be counterfeit)

For survival applications, lithium-ion 18650 cells are the cutting edge flashlight batteries, but require their own charger, can be finicky, and are expensive.

I don't recommend 18650 or even CR123, given their limited survival applications.

For devices that use primary cells, I believe AA is the best all-around choice (2x-3x the capacity of AAA) for multi-purpose use.

Even my headlamps are AA instead of AAA.

Use AA w/ a battery spacer for 'C' applications.

For 'D' devices, either use a spacer for low-drain applications, or alkaline for high-drain devices (as long as you remember to remove alkaline batteries when not in use)

I stock 'button' and 'coin' cells but wouldn't rely on any device that used them.
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