Prepping for Grid Collapse with Iron-Nickel Batteries

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you'll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

Due to the actual collapse of the Venezuelan grid, I have put together this article, entirely from the survivalist/prepper point of view. I will discuss different types of batteries you can use if the grid goes down, including my favorite, iron-nickel batteries.

Here’s how batteries work

To understand how batteries work, I will start from the beginning. All kind of materials are constituted of atoms: an atom is formed by a nucleus with electrons orbiting around, at light speeds, and that makes a sort of a cloud, so fast that the atoms seem to be “solid”. Different materials have a different number of particles in their nucleus, and the shape, size, and orientation of their electronic “clouds” are different. The number of electrons forming this cloud is variable for each material as well. But the electrons can travel freely through the metallic materials, much better than in other materials, and their movement generates what we called electricity.

And we use this energy to light bulbs and lots of other useful activities.

In all kinds of batteries, the electrolyte is the media for the current to flow between the materials, internally. The specifications are very important for us: density, level, composition, all of this must be in the proper range so our battery works flawlessly.

There are metallic materials where this movement of the electrons is more efficient, indeed. Therefore, a variety of materials are used: nickel and iron, or lithium, phosphorus and lots of other different combinations. The objective is to provide the most efficient combination.

Here is where the merchandising comes into stage. Manufacturers love to use exotic materials for batteries. Obviously, they have done extensive research on materials, in order to produce to an industrial level, an optimized combination of power, durability, and reliability. Of course, many of us are not just willing to use sulfuric acid or some other similar chemical in our cellphones batteries.

The 101 of batteries, is, that whenever you make contact between two different metals, an electric current will be generated, as the electrons travel from the states, or orbits, of more energy to those of less energy; this is a natural phenomenon that usually does not require any energy activation except in some very special instances. Nature tries to balance the electronic charges in the mixture, in order to look for an equilibrium point. They will travel throughout any media that can conduct electric current; this can be liquid or gel. It is called electrolyte, in a battery. The good part is, that we use the energy of this search of such point to light bulbs and lots of other useful activities.

As the electrolyte is the media for the current to flow between the materials of the battery, the electron “donor” and the other one receiving the electrons, the specifications are very important for us: density, level, composition, all of this must be in the proper range so our battery works flawlessly.

There are metallic materials where this movement of the electrons is more efficient, indeed. Therefore, a variety of materials are used: nickel and iron, or lithium, phosphorus and lots of other different combinations. The objective is to provide the most efficient combination.

Nickel-iron batteries have special qualities.

Here is where the merchandising comes into the stage. Manufacturers love to use exotic materials for batteries. Obviously, they have done extensive research on materials, in order to produce to an industrial level, an optimized combination of power, durability, and reliability. Of course, many of us are not just willing to use sulfuric acid or some other similar chemical in our cellphones batteries. But these are intended to be used in a lifecycle close to two or three years.

As contaminant as it is, its low price and properties for electrical applications make it suitable, because it is easier to work with it: it’s soft, melts at low temperature, etc. This means advantages for the manufacturer. Not so much for the owner, as we all can see new: we have to buy a new battery for our car every year if we want to keep it running.

Nickel-iron batteries have been known to have a lifespan of over 50 years. That is one of their main attractions for preppers. Some commercial brands offer 10 years of warranty, and that is pretty much acceptable in my standards. Chemicals used are much less hazardous than those used in lead batteries. And less expensive, I think.

Therefore, in many applications, these batteries are not going to be used just because they last too long. This is not good for the manufacturer that expects continuous growth in sales. The expectation of the corporative executives is that the company should expand and grow; for them, the sky is the limit, even though, the planet remains the same size and the mankind keeps piling up.

Perhaps for some people weight is a concern, or some other feature could be a disadvantage. Yes, they are heavy but lead acid batteries are too. And another good feature that makes me like them, is that they don’t generate fumes emission. At least not the corrosive fume kind: lead acid batteries produce hydrogen, highly explosive and flammable gas that needs to be vented. For those of you who never heard or saw a lead acid battery exploding while charging, it is nasty. There is acid sprinkled all over the place, a very wise reason to charge the batteries in a safe and far away place.

The ability to use a car type charger is another plus. Therefore, these present several advantages over regular lead acid batteries, being the long life one of those that like me the most. The materials used in batteries is not just a bar, it is more like a sponge, to maximize the contact with the electrolyte and get all those electrons traveling between the metal plates. If you are environmentally aware, some heavy metals such as cadmium are harmful and toxic. Perhaps their performance is outstanding, but their lifespan is not close to that of the nickel-iron ones. There are even some home-made examples around with good results. With the wide amount of materials available, I believe that with some ingenuity it could be done by those with technical skills and some basic knowledge on electrochemistry. The original Edison battery has been modified, and their disadvantages have been overcome. Iron and nickel are plentiful, too. It would be much easier in the future to use low tech methods in order to repair or rebuild one of these devices. They don’t need cutting edge technology to be manufactured.

There are some differences with other technologies: the energy density is not as high as other types of batteries. This was the main reason to abandon them as sources for electric cars in the 70s. However, their advantages allow me to think that they would have been a wonderful addition to my equipment. Of course, conveniently disguised in an RV. I have thought about the placement of the batteries array, and now I believe it is pretty convenient to install them flat, with the longer side against the wall, one next to the other, and in both sides of the camper, high enough, and perhaps behind the cabinets. The reason? Weight balancing, in the first place. Keep reading to understand why.

Protecting your iron-nickel batteries

Upon seeing some recent news, I have come to ask myself plenty of questions about the nature of events that could involve us, regardless if it is here or in some other place. I watched some alarming videos a few weeks ago, where heavy rain filled some streets in Caracas and some other cities in Venezuela and could see how big a disaster could be to try to circulate in such climate with a large camper truck.

Therefore, batteries should not be in a compartment close to the ground in any way. The truck should have a large clearance, and the structure of the camper itself must be sturdy and robust. I was not particularly a fan of this, but after watching those floods (and some of them very close) I realize now that it is going to be a need. The truck must be waterproofed, and the engine too: snorkel, water protection, zero electronics. Diesel, if I can get my paws in enough cash. There exist some check-type valves for the transmission fumes vents, so water does not come into the gearbox. Off roads guys know a lot about this.

How many batteries do you need?

Regarding the batteries, there are some deals offering some units volts 1.2, with a 1000 Ah capacity. Ten of these units will give you 12 volts. Whether this is or not suited to the needs, it is something that I will try to elucidate in the next few paragraphs. Of course, I will use our own values, based on what is average in most of the Venezuelan medium class homes: laundry machine, microwave (not often), a couple of air conditioners, a refrigerator, the usual blender, a couple of TVs and lighting.

With the kind of sun in Venezuela we don’t use much power for dryers. I have never understood why so many people love to shower with electric core heaters showers. I love cold water. If you have some resources, build or procure yourself a solar heater.

Why I trust so much in this combination of metal for batteries?

Because I am a metallurgist. Maybe there are some other setups that work for the industry based on their features: lightweight, dry electrolyte, meaning no spills of potentially hazardous chemicals and similar stuff. But for me, provided that the first batteries created are still working with the same performance, it says a lot. Lithium-ion batteries are now the thing because of the features I mentioned.

But if you have a homestead that is going to be there a long time…I would invest in a good setup of this for my rack. I will do it, as a matter of fact. No hard-to-find chemicals to replace, other than the solution used as an electrolyte, the materials used are plentiful and abundant, meaning that with some more research in the near future could lead to good improvements in this technology. I have checked some websites and the general consensus in them are that Iron Nickel batteries need lots of maintenance, and are not recommended for solar arrangements because of the amortization cost on time.

Of course, if you are in the top of a mountain without access to the grid, or simply don’t want to deal (because perhaps you don’t even need to depend on an external energy source) with the problems that paying a monthly bill brings along, then the best decision would be to use the much cheaper lead-acid options available. But…what will happen if you don’t have access to replace those racks in the future if something happens?

I have to think like an engineer, finding the most logical and affordable solution.

And for me, it is a battery rack that can be passed on to my descendants because they may need it someday. If they are dumb enough to neglect their maintenance, they did not deserve it in the first place. Just leave them without their videogames and TV for a couple of weeks and they will be the best battery rack maintenance technicians ever.

As a side note, I will try to find some foreign providers to send me a couple of these batteries and give them a try so I can talk to you with facts on hand. I have a friend with a Ph.D. in Electrochemistry and will propose him to start a business in this area. We have plenty of nickel and iron in the country, as well as the petrochemical industry for polymers.

Most of my advice is based in *some* research, but facts are the best source of reliable data.

I am in the process of uploading material to a new YouTube channel, where I will answer your questions on this website and will expand some concepts in a practical, and fact-based manner.

Thank you.

Thanks for your reading! And for your inestimable support to keep me writing for you!

About Jose

Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls.

Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations:

Picture of J.G. Martinez D

J.G. Martinez D

About Jose Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations:

Leave a Reply

  • Jose, I’m sorry, but I didn’t quite understand why Lithium batteries are NOT a good option if you can afford them. Are they hard to maintain? I thought the idea was that they would last longer with less maintenance.

    By the way, a group of us in AZ (ham operators mostly) went in together on a bulk buy of lithium batteries from a manufacturer in CA and also saved money by taking a Uhaul out to pick them up ourselves.

    • Lithium has Colbalt 60 inside them. It is dangerous. (That information came from my husband whose expertise was non-conventional weapons and nukes).

    • Dear Julie, thanks for your very accurate and timely question.

      Yes, indeed Lithium offers plenty of advantages, indeed. They have long life, and they don´t need any maintenance. But at the end of the day they are disposable. There is no way to replenish their power storage capacity. Nickel Iron are going to be a good bet. I am actively communicating with some manufacturers to get a free sample for long term trial, so stay tuned in these matter so you can keep track of the results.

  • There are three places to get these batteries that I know of. We have two of the ten-cell batteries. Ours are refurbished original Edison Batteries from Zapps Works out of Montana. A German battery company brought the patent and moved the original factory to China in 1972. I believe the patent has expired now. The other place that is making these batteries is out of Russia. I don’t know if the Russian battery is stilled banned from the U.S. There are two Canadian suppliers, but the are selling the Chinese made batteries. There are some stateside companies that also sell the Chinese batteries. NiFe batteries can be run down to zero with no problems, but you can’t do that to a lead acid battery.

    • Yes, that was a feature that for some reason miss to include. Sorry about that. They can need some maintenance, but I like them a lot, and I plan to invest on them. I have my reasons, though. And after that I will be able to offer a real life, facts based, review, with a proper, technically savvy, tracking review.

  • Ok I’ll throw my hat into the ring.

    I have been off-grid for 9 years now. I have a 1000ah NiFe set and a 920ah NiCd set of batteries for my solar system.

    Here are the facts about lead acid batteries.

    1.) Once you commission a lead acid cell you cannot service it beyond regular watering and equalization charging. Electrolyte cannot be added to a cell once it has been activated. If your battery boils out, spills, or runs dry it will have a diminished lifespan.

    2.) For every 15°F over 77°F you can cut the life span of the battery in half. If you operate a cell rated for 3000 cycles at an electrolyte temperature greater than 92°F your battery is estimated to fail within 1500 cycles.

    3.) A cycle is defined as a change from a charging state to a discharging state. If you operate an intermittent heavy load it is possible for there to be several “cycles” in the course of one 24 hour period.

    4.) Any state of charge less than 100% causes sulfation which may be partially mitigated by equalization. Also known as intentional over charging.

    5.) Overcharging causes the plates to shed material and in some cases deform. This will lower the capacity, or kill the cell.

    6.) Repeated discharges greater than 30% decrease the lifespan of the battery. Discharges beyond 50% can be life threatening. Only the first 20% of energy stored in a lead acid bank is safely usable.

    7.) Charging batteries in parallel results in unequal charging, either overcharging or undercharging the parallel legs.

    8.) Cells in series are only as strong as the weakest cell. During charge, the stronger cells sulfate. The weaker cells overcharge.

    9.) If a cell in a multi battery string goes bad you cannot just plug in a replacement battery. If you do, inequalities will cause some cells to over charge and some to sulfate.

    These traits taken together mean that if a single cell in your system weakens or fails, You are facing a cascading loss of bank capacity and early replacement of the entire bank.

    Lithium cells have better temperature tolerances. They have a higher energy density. A lower footprint. But they require a separate layer of electronics to function. A Battery Management System. And like lead acid cells are not serviceable.

    Nickel cells are really tough. But they are really inefficient. I am in the tropics with an active tracking array. I get about 50% return round trip. So if you are interested in Nickel batteries double up on your panels.

    At 20% Depth of Discharge, (DOD), most nickel cells have a projected lifespan in excess of 20 years. I have cells in production that are 35 years old.

    It is not good for them but you can run them down flat and they will come back. Doing that will kill a L.A. cell.

    Nickel cells are maintainable. You can change the electrolyte in part or whole. You can drain the cell completely, disassemble it and work on it. You can purchase KOH dry, vacuum seal it and store it for years. Then mix your electrolyte when you need it. All of this is extensively documented.

    For Nickel Cells the most important thing to know is the level of carbon in your electrolyte. It has a direct effect on performance. To do this you need to be able to titrate the electrolyte. That is a bit of a learning curve but definitely do-able for the dedicated.

    Hope this helps

    • Wow PlataoPlomo

      That was a h*** of a comment. Really complete. Great to know from your actual experience I had written some technical stuff but it was not suitable and had to re-write it. I will try to add something so people can understand and not to be afraid of NiFe Batteries.

      Those features you mention about lead acid are the very same reason I don´t like them too much to using in the long run. In Venezuela, with temperatures over 30C the entire year, some of our car batteries barely made it to the end of the year. Interestingly the shops were full of new batteries in December. My dad has 24V heavy duty batteries that were decommissioned about…30 years maybe?…but he uses it mostly for testing alternators and starters, not constantly, and these would not hold regular service.

      The design of the battery is different, in concordance with the intended application, of course. But the traits mentioned are too negative for me considering them. You can´t add them electrolyte, and on time this will degrade. There is a supposed procedure to try to recover them but I have not tried it. However once I get back (a few months maybe?) I will test it and write about it. Not easy because the shops require you to provide the old battery to sell you a new one. Communism is great, isn´t it?.

      In my opinion Lithium has not been around, at least in the application that concern to us, time enough to evaluate their performance as a prepper´s main equipment. If someone has experience with them it would be great to learn about this.

      Regarding the inefficiency of the NiFe, yes, the reason Lithium and other materials are used is for a good reason (that explanation was in the scientific part of the article I had to rewrite) but, what I DO like definitely, is that with a blueprint, some tools and the technical specifications, someone can repair them, given the case. Lithium is an exotic material, and I won´t dedicate too much time to this because it is unsafe to work with it to restore a battery.. Even the sponge lead used in the conventional batteries needs some special techniques to be manufactured to make the plates, and it´s not as easy. The plates need to have porosity to maximize the contact with the electrolyte and be efficient. Otherwise, a sulfate layer will be formed in the plates surface and there will be no capacity to store energy. This is true for the NiFe, too, but in a much lesser degree, because of the mechanical properties of both metals and the nature of the layer itself.

      To finish, I need to add that the carbon level PlataoPlomo mentions, can be easily measured with the titration process he mentions. It´s a common lab procedure, and very accurate if done properly. The theoretical chemistry involved maybe is a little complicated for those non-technical, but the process itself can be resumed and if executed properly, the results are reliable and useful. And of course, the capability of replenishing fresh electrolyte was one of its main attractive to me, because that means that the porous metal can be rinsed with some cleaning solution to dissolve whatever layer they could have, and with fresh electrolytic solution, we should be good and 97-100% capacity the next 15 or 20 years.

      Thanks for your very interesting comments!
      Stay tuned.

      • Thank you for allowing me into your article space.

        We are “preppers” because we have survived more natural/man-made disasters than we have a right to. I figure we are on #7 or #8 of our allotted 9 lives. Living through those events, and their aftermath, has taught us that access to energy and clean water is PARAMOUNT.

        In my opinion that is the only reason to have an energy generation system. Renewable energy systems as they are produced today will never be cheaper than the grid. Equipment, installation, regulatory, depreciation, and on-going maintenance costs insure this.

        My first battery bank was a large L.A. bank. It died in 18 months from heat and pond water mis-marketed as distilled water.

        HINT: Make your own distilled water. It is the only way to be sure. One bad bottle can ruin your day.

        In addition, D.W. is usually acidic from absorbed atmospheric carbon. That accumulates in Nickel cells over time and drags down their ability. Learn how to make Low Carbon Distilled Water. That process has the added benefit of packaging the D.W. for long term storage.

        Here is a link that outlines how to do it. “”

        NiFe cells are very thirsty. You will use double the D.W. I don’t know about Venezuela but our ambient humidity is too high for solar distillers to work. So figure out a method. D.W. is a consumable that is overlooked. An added benefit it that you can use it for hygiene, medical, and drinking purposes.

        After that L.A. bank died, I obtained a few books on rebuilding L.A. batteries and tried salvage. Lot’s of hard work with toxic stuff that in the end was a waste of resources. Big learning expense.

        I am gonna have to call B.S. on the “5000 plus cycle at 80 dod” post. Here is a link to the current Rolls user guide. Please note page 30.


        My second bank was a wet NiCd bank retired from rail service. It is 35 years old with 86% of its OEM capacity after overhaul/rebuild. Great bank that is still in daily production. NiCd cells are much more efficient than NiFe. They can reach 90% efficiency which is close to L.A. standards.

        The main complaint against NiCd cells is the toxicity of cadmium. Read the EPA study for yourself. Most of that fear is hype. Folks will blather on about cadmium is while living in galvanized structures. It’s ironic. I believe that NiCd technology was regulated out of existence because it worked.

        The materials in all batteries are toxic. The lead is not lead, it is a calcium-ate of lead. The Nickel is not Nickel, it is Nickel Oxy-Hydroxide. The antimony and iron used are derivatives of the base substances. All of these materials require special synthesis, handling, and fabrication abilities that are not available to the average family.

        With any disruption to our infrastructure, these things will not be had at any price. This situation highlights the attributes of longevity and service-ability above all other concerns. Plan, purchase, and install accordingly.

        Hope we help.

        • Dear PlataoPlomo,

          I can´t refuse any of your observations, as they are accurate. You must have been a really smart cookie in high School! LOL.

          Yes, generation and clean water, if you intend to live off the land are the first needs to deal with. I am sorry to learn what happened with your bank. .That sucks. Batteries in Venezuela are so “well” made, than they die one week after their expiration date. That´s what I call detail engineering!.

          And you´re right, the manufacturing of the materials is not exactly obvious but…as a metallurgist, some sort of a legacy can be transmitted. And there is plenty of room still, for some designs. Yep, the Cadmium stuff, BTW, actually works, but I believe that processing it is so harmful for the environment that it must be one of the reasons that it was discarded. The real problem is, that the disposable batteries in the landfills were leaking the Cd to water sources, as far as I remember. And I remember some process that extracted this Cd from water, but it needed quite some energy though.
          On the other hand, Venezuela is extremely humid, as well. Except in the desert areas, of course, but no one can live there, so solar distillers perhaps don´t work that well. Air conditioning drain water, on the other hand, has been used for people I know and it has worked.
          Great post :).

          • Thank you for the response.

            Thank you for the article and bringing this topic up. Thanks to Daisy for hosting it.

            I have been running NiFe and NiCd cells side by side in an off-grid plant for years. I find no significant differences in operation, maintenance, and repair between the two chemistries.

            Real world operational information on NiFe banks is almost impossible to find. But there is a ton of available documentation on NiCd banks. Particularly from the NASA space programs and various patents.

            That is why I have referenced NiCd so much in my comments. Thank you for the patience.

            I have put together a pretty big compendium over the years. If you are interested please contact me derecho via email.

            Maraming Salamat Po.

  • You can add electrolyte to a in service battery it’s done all the time. The info on poisoning and Sulfation are correct but there is a nano material, that can be added to double life.

    Using good quality lead acid from a good company like surrette rolls makes a huge difference. 5000 plus cycle at 80 dod add nano 10 000.

    The nano cuts charge time by 10 to 15 percent this reducing over heat. Also use a 48 v system less draw heat and cooling. Bigger cabling (gauge) helps.

    Jose use a root cellar or mound cellar above ground where wet to house batteries in hot weather earth is a great heat maintainer.

    The non full charge…. it’s never a full charge unless you over charge. Which adds to over heating of batteries.

    Dc does not travel well over distance make dc to ac inverter runs short and heavy cabled to reduce losses.

    The second part is the energy provider. Without a good inverter the energy supplied during charge can vary while small amounts it’s ok under large swings it causes problems as well. Ie super windy day in gusts.

    Also the higher ac voltage output the the bigger the dc volts of the system should be to minimize stress and heat from cycling.

    Nife work but for weight to energy output are less per kilo.
    The full discharge while not harming battery will brown out the down stream electronics causing issues with sensitive ones to this.

    • Dear Namelus,

      Yes, you’re right. But I did not wanted to make a complicated article in a topic already complicated per se. LOL. Including nanomaterials science was going to be a little too much for most of us! however, it’s extremely useful your comment on this. Those who can afford this equipment can keep on researching and try. However, I am particularly fond of investing on equipment that could be passed on to my grandchildren, should one day they need it. (It’s a shame my dad did not think like that LOL)

      Regarding the electronics, I would suggest as well using a sine wave inverter for all of it. Nowadays they’re quite affordable, and your sensitive equipment will be well fed. By doing so, we can divide better the remaining load in the non-sine wave inverter for the other appliances.

      In my humble opinion, their durability and the possibility to stash electrolyte overcome the rest of the disadvantages.
      Here’s why. Should I had bought some of these in the fat cows era, say…investing 1000 bucks or so in the entire rack and in some closet, just ready for adding the chemicals, charge and go, we could have covered at least the 70% of our energy needs. And certainly we could have lived without that 30% remaining, I mean using an electric water heater, ironing, or using the electric appliances (I would have converted the laundry machine to be powered with a rack attached to my bicycle and used the kids as energy source LOL)

  • You Need More Than Food to Survive

    In the event of a long-term disaster, there are non-food essentials that can be vital to your survival and well-being. Make certain you have these 50 non-food stockpile essentials. Sign up for your FREE report and get prepared.

    We respect your privacy.
    Malcare WordPress Security