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A solid energy source is (literally) power when it comes to the prepper lifestyle. While many of us rely on our own brute strength to get things done, even the human body has its limits.

When the SHTF, you’ll need some sort of power to keep things running. While many preppers rely on old-school ways to heat themselves by way of a fire, a fire won’t power an emergency radio.

Keeping a steady source of combustible fuel on the farm is important, but you’ll also want to have a supply of rechargeable batteries. For those of us who know what a rechargeable battery is but may not know much beyond that, check out this guide to rechargeable batteries for preppers. 

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Table Of Contents

Rechargeable Battery Overview

So, first things first: what is a rechargeable battery, and how do they work?

Parts of a Rechargeable Battery

The science behind batteries may be over some of our heads, but it is important to understand the basic parts of a rechargeable battery if we are ever going to use them in an emergency situation.

Primary vs. Secondary Cells

A primary cell is a battery that cannot be recharged, whereas a secondary cell can be recharged.

Basic Components

A battery involves an anode (negative), a cathode (positive), and an electrolyte that provide an electrochemical reaction to create a current. Electrons travel from the anode to the cathode to create energy.

Rechargeable batteries have the capability to reverse this reaction to restore the charge within the battery itself, where the energy is sent from the cathode to the anode.

Different Types of Rechargeable Batteries

When stocking up on rechargeable batteries for the homestead, you’ll come across a few different types to choose from.

Lead Acid (12V)

A lead acid battery is often referred to as a 12-volt battery, often found in vehicles. This large battery comes in a box formation and powers electrical circuits within the car. The voltage of the lead acid battery should be 12.6 volts when charged. It will drop to 12.4 volts at 50% charged, 12.0 volts at 25% charged, and 10.5 volts when discharged fully.

These batteries are great to use on the homestead but do contain lead, which is a known toxin. It is important to dispose of lead batteries properly so that the lead doesn’t contaminate the homestead or environment.

Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd)

As one of the first rechargeable batteries on the market, NiCd batteries are an option when it comes to stockpiling a power source. However, as with any first of its kind, NiCd batteries are known to have a memory issue when trying to put power back into the cell itself.

NiCd batteries will lose their capacity if they aren’t fully discharged with each use. The battery would lose its ability to contain the same amount of power that it had before. 

NiCd batteries are often used in very hot or cold climates due to being able to perform better in those extremes. However, NiCd batteries fell out of favor when environmental concerns arose regarding the chemicals involved. These batteries also have less energy density in comparison to other rechargeable batteries.

Nickel-Cadmium batteries come in standard sizes that include AA, AAA, C, and 9V and are primarily used for high-drain devices like toys, flashlights, or cameras.

Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH)

The second wave of rechargeable batteries brought NiMH versions that had less memory issues than NiCd batteries. This option has a higher capacity and often is deemed low self-discharge (LSD). Batteries with this label will not lose a lot of charge while in storage, making them a good candidate for long-term rechargeable batteries. 

NiMH batteries can also be recharged and used hundreds of times. This makes them a great addition to your long-term emergency storage. However, just like anything in life, the battery will eventually lose the capacity to store energy with damage done to the chemicals inside over time. Still, NiMH batteries have a higher energy density than NiCd options. 

Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries come in standard sizes that include AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V. There are also some specialty versions available.

Nickel-Zinc (NiZn)

An alternative to NiMH batteries includes the Nickel-Zinc option. These batteries are non-toxic and have a high discharge rate, meaning they are good for those things that eat up energy. NiZn batteries have a higher voltage than NiMH, meaning that they are good options for powered devices like flashlights.

Nickel-Zinc batteries come in standard sizes, but some users report that the diameter of the batteries is slightly larger than other types.

Lithium-Ion (LiOn)

Lithium-ion batteries are very popular to use in powered devices like a cell phone or tablet.  Manufacturers use lithium-ion batteries to recharge their products because the battery is small, lightweight, and can hold a charge better.

They also have a longer overall life and can operate at higher voltages than other rechargeable batteries. There have been some reports of this type of battery being a fire hazard, which could be dangerous.

Lithium-Ion batteries usually come in a brick or button shape for electronics use but could also be found in more standard sizes like AA.

Lithium-Ion Polymer (LiPo)

One of the newest options on the market includes the Lithium-Ion Polymer, which is an alternative to LiOn batteries. This option is safer in terms of not being a fire hazard, but they are more expensive to manufacture.

LiPo batteries also are larger and have lower energy density than LiOn options. These batteries should be used for items that aren’t slim in profile and require more charge life.

Lithium-Ion Polymer batteries are available in a closed pack, but some manufacturers are offering a AA size as well.

Rechargeable Battery LifeSpan

Batteries come already charged, meaning that they are ready to be used upon purchase. However, what about the batteries that we don’t need to use right now? How long do the batteries run when in use?

Shelf Life 

The shelf life of a battery consists of the amount of time it can sit on the shelf with a full charge before it starts to deteriorate. 

Cycle Life

The cycle life of a battery involves how many times you can use and charge the battery before it no longer holds a valid charge. A full life cycle means the battery has been discharged fully to the point of emptiness and then recharged to full capacity. 

Battery Type Shelf Life Cycle Life
Lead Acid 6 Months 200 Cycles
Nickel-Cadmium  18 Months-3 Years 1,000 Cycles
Nickel-Hydride 3-5 Years 700-1,000 Cycles
Nickel-Zinc 12-15 Years 600+
Lithium-Ion 2-4 Years 600-1,000 Cycles
Lithium-Ion Polymer 6 Months 200 Cycles

In theory, a better manufacturer and high price point should offer longer-lasting shelf and cycle life capacity in rechargeable batteries.

How to Charge Rechargeable Batteries

NiCd and NiMH batteries are easy to overcharge, which could affect the overall performance and capacity of the battery itself.

Many chargers for these batteries have an auto shut-off option or a trickle charge to prevent an overcharge from happening. Both of these types of batteries should also be reconditioned by completely discharging them and then recharging them for best use. 

LiOn and LiPo batteries feature more modern capabilities that prevent overcharging and do not require reconditioning. 

Power Chargers

If your home is still connected to a power grid, the easiest way to recharge these batteries is to connect them to a power charging unit.

This is often a handheld unit that easily holds rechargeable batteries and plugs into an electrical outlet. Some units also come with a USB charging slot where you could power the batteries using a USB cord from a computer or other device.

The problem with power chargers in a survival situation is that it is highly unlikely that you will have access to the power grid. This means that there would be no electricity to use for these types of power chargers. If the unit came with a USB connection, you can power it using your vehicle if it is equipped with a 12 Volt to USB connection itself.

Solar Chargers

By far the best way to recharge your batteries is to use the natural power of the sun. Investing in a high-quality solar charger is a great way to ensure that you can power up anything you need just by setting out the charger during daylight hours.

There are plenty of options on the market that range in size, but choosing a solar charger is easy enough to do with today’s technology and a no-brainer when it comes to survival.

How to Store Rechargeable Batteries

With any kind of battery, it is important to store them in a cool and dry area. Never store them in a way where they could fall over or create a current between positive and negative ends. Heat can greatly affect the chemicals within the battery, so take every precaution to store them in a cooler area.

Storing in a low-humidity environment is also best so that condensation doesn’t corrode the batteries. Make sure to store rechargeable batteries in an area where you can easily reach them in an emergency. Labeling and sorting the batteries as well is also important.

It is important to always dispose of batteries properly when they are no longer needed. Consider storing dead batteries in a safe space until you can find a battery disposal center. Never throw batteries away into the trash, as it could cause environmental harm in the future.

No matter what kind of rechargeable battery you choose, make sure that you have plenty on hand in storage. Purchase a few different solar chargers as well to use the natural power of the sun to help provide energy when you need it most in a survival situation.

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