The Amateur Amateur: Assaulting the Battery
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
I wrote this column to share with you what I've learned about batteries.
Some of what I'm about to say is going to make me look pretty stupid.
January 14, 2002
Some of you amateur-amateurs just cannot relate to my stories. You do not
have a mobile radio mounted in your car. You do not climb onto the roof of
your house to mess with antennas. Above all, you never, ever plan to
learn Morse code. This column is for you (and I apologize for its
being a two parter). You'll be able to relate to this one, guys. I'm
going to talk about the nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries that you may
have in your hand-held radio (many manufacturers now are turning to
nickel metal hydride (NiMH) or lithium ion batteries--Ed
As did many of you, my wife and I got our Technician licenses, then ran out
and bought hand-held radios. Ours came with 7-V batteries and could
transmit with 2 W of power. My radio's manual said that if I used a
12-V battery instead, the radio would transmit with 5 Ws of power.
Naturally, I felt that I had to have that extra power
, so I
called a well-known battery seller and ordered a pair of 12 V
batteries. Being an impatient sort of fellow, I also ordered two of
their special "fast charger" units. We got the 12-V
batteries and fast battery chargers and were able to transmit with 5
W of power. All was right with the world.
Fast forward to one year later. My wife told me that the 12-V battery in her
hand-held radio was not holding a full charge. Even though we
recharged our batteries every night, and the batteries usually lasted
all day, hers was suddenly going flat by mid-afternoon. I figured it
must be a fluke. Her battery must have had some flaw in it and we
just had the bad fortune to get one of the rare duds. Three weeks
battery started failing by mid-afternoon.
I called the well-known battery seller and ordered two more batteries.
Here's how the conversation with that vendor went:
Slow charger and fast charger: Don't be in too much of a hurry
"I noticed that the batteries have a 'recycle' emblem on
them, and I was wondering . . ."
"We don't buy them back."
But since it says to recycle the battery, I was wondering what I
should . . ."
"We don't take them back." Click
. She'd hung up on me.
This conversation was only one
of the problems I'd had with this
particular vendor. The vendor's fast chargers had some sort of design
flaw and failed to start about one time in every ten uses. I sent one
of the chargers back, but the vendor returned it almost immediately,
saying only that it worked "within specifications." All
this led me to cease dealing with this particular battery dealer,
whom I shall not name.
Freezing the battery: This doesn't work
I did not, however, write this column to blast a particular battery seller
(well-known, state of New York). I wrote it to share with you what
I've learned about batteries. Now, some of what I'm about to say is
going to make me look pretty stupid. Just remember, you never learn
unless you try (common sense notwithstanding).
are not cheap, so after buying a second set for our two radios, I
figured I really needed to learn something about making them last.
Perhaps I could even learn how to revive our first set. I read books.
I talked to experienced hams. I looked up battery information at
various Web sites. I read suggestions from Internet news groups. I
even sought the advice of a chemist.
There was a
of information around. Unfortunately, not all of it was
good, and it was often difficult to tell the good advice from the bad
advice. I started with the easiest
advice. I froze my battery.
Okay, okay! I know it sounds dumb. But you have to remember that my
head was buzzing with talk of "memory effect," NiCads
developing "whiskers," and all manner of strange advice. It
seemed plausible at the time. So I put my battery in the
freezer--right next to the ice cubes.
Zapping the battery: This doesn't work either
Are you back?
Have you picked yourself up off the floor, wiped the tears from your
eyes, and finished howling, "What a dweeb!
"? I will
say the following in my defense. It actually worked!
24 hours. The battery actually held its full charge for one day.
After that, it returned to its former, half-functional state.
Subsequent re-freezings didn't help. The whiskers must have put on
tiny little overcoats.
I moved on to a slightly more difficult--and infinitely more
dangerous--suggestion. I zapped
the battery. You've probably
heard about this one. Briefly connect your NiCad battery to your car
battery and it "explodes" those nasty little whiskers.
Well, I was really reluctant to try this. I had a lot of
conversations with the chemist (who actually recommended the
procedure). I wore heavy gloves. I wore eye protection. I kept the
NiCad in a sturdy enclosure just in case
it exploded. And I
made a closed circuit with my car battery for the briefest possible
amount of time.
All I learned was how to make sparks. There are probably still
electrons zinging around in my garage. Zapping my battery did not
Whiskers 2, Gary 0.
If there is a way to revive failing NiCad batteries, that information is buried
underneath a mound of dis
information, and I have yet to find it.
note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's
name--"The Amateur Amateur"--suggests the explorations of a
rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to
contact the author
via e-mail, [email protected].
© 2002 American Radio Relay League